Ten Myths of Public Speaking and Presenting

Business Insights

People love to give advice on public speaking and presenting. Let’s look at ten myths you’ll have heard and what to do instead!

Myth One: Wearing a brand new outfit gives confidence

There is nothing worse than struggling with a new suit that doesn't quite fit while you are presenting. It is of course important to dress appropriately, but it is more important to feel comfortable. If you have to wear a hire suit at a wedding for example, spend a little extra time making sure you are comfortable in it before you leave the store.

Myth Two: A little Dutch courage will see you through

We've all been to weddings where one of the speakers has had too much to drink. The temptation when you have one, is to have one too many! Swaying gently and slurring your words frequently results in the audience laughing at, rather than with, you. Stay away from high energy drinks and coffee too, which will over-animate you before you begin.

Myth Three: The audience will notice I’m nervous

Nervousness often isn't visible to others because it's internal. And even if people realise you're nervous, they'll sympathise with you. Most audience members want you to do well. Don't start with the announcement: "I'm not very good at public speaking." Keep it to yourself! Don’t hold a sheet of paper in your hands. If your hand shakes, then the audience WILL see signs of nerves.

Myth Four: I don't give speeches or presentations

What happens when your boss asks for an update on the project you are working on at a meeting? What happens when you present ideas in front of other staff?

Many business and personal conversations are presentations, and the more care and attention you give to those conversations, the more professional they will be.

Myth Five: The best speeches are memorised

It is much better to speak from the heart, rather than deliver a rehearsed speech. Learning a speech word-by-word is dangerous, because if you forget a word or a sentence, it can throw you. You still need to practice, but you will be using your time in a much more effective way, refining and improving, rather than memorising.

Myth Six: Using notes will help you deliver a better presentation

How often have you seen a speaker spill their cue cards on the floor and then try reordering them? Or read from their notes without looking up? If you must carry notes, write single words to prompt you to speak on a particular topic. Once you start speaking on that topic, put the card down and consult it only when you need to.

Myth Seven: Always open with a joke

Depending on your audience, a little humour in a speech or presentation can work well. But in my experience, starting with a joke is a gamble which seldom pays off. Too often a joke at the start of a speech or presentation falls flat. If you feel humour is appropriate my advice would be to save it for later in the presentation.

Myth Eight: Don't speak with your hands

Speakers as still as statues, deliver their presentations with all the poise, charisma and presence of a store mannequin. Dynamic expressive speakers use their hands, so make good use of yours! Open palms are the key.

Watch and learn from the masterful body language of the Toastmasters International World Champions of Public Speaking, to guide you on your path.

Myth Nine: Great presenters talk impromptu

The trick is to appear not to have put in any effort, but every presenter worth their salt, practices, practices and practices some more. As Oscar winner, Sir Michael Caine said: “Rehearsal is the work; performance is the relaxation.” The more you practice, the better you get!

Myth Ten: You need YEARS to become a good public speaker

Replace the word' YEARS' in the sentence above with the word 'PRACTICE' and you'll turn a myth into a truth. Take every opportunity you can to speak in public - ace speaker, Darren La Croix calls this "stage time" - whether it's volunteering to chair meetings at your local charity, presenting at work, or offering to say a few words at a local function. Drop into your local Toastmaster club, where you'll have the opportunity to speak in front of audience in a positive, encouraging environment. The more you practice, the better the speaker you'll become. It really is that simple.

Good luck. Keep practicing and enjoy the journey.

By Anthony Garvey, Toastmasters International


Anthony Garvey is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org