When it comes to public speaking and delivering presentations, there’s no shortage of advice and shared experiences. As a result, I hear an awful lot of well-meaning advice, that in fact isn’t very helpful. Many tips have become accepted mantras but very often they are total myth.
Read on to discover the truth behind these common beliefs. You might be surprised by some of them!
Myth – The more eye contact you use the better.
Truth – This would make 100% eye contact perfection…. Which could be creepy, intimidating, aggressive but crucially – it’s unnatural.
With eye contact, it’s not how much we use but when we use it that’s key.
We all behave differently – but generally in conversation, we look at each other when we start speaking, to engage the listener, but might look away whilst we speak. More often than not we make eye contact again as we drive our point home or look to the listener to ask a question.
Myth – When answering questions, start by saying ‘that’s a good question’.
Truth – If everybody followed this rule it would become repetitive and robotic. You also risk causing offence to the next questioner if you don’t say it to them too! Use a Thinking Pause instead to show you’ve listened to the question and are now considering the best answer for the questioner. This makes a good impression and gives you a couple of seconds thinking time.
Myth – Use formal language – utilise, request, demonstrate, assist – to give an impression of credibility, knowledge and authority.
Truth – using formal language puts up barriers between you and your audience as they will have to subconsciously translate what you are saying into conversational language that they are used to hearing. Keep it simple – use, ask, show, help.
Myth – Using notes makes it look like you don’t know what you’re talking about.Memorise your presentation instead.
Truth – Using notes shows you are organised, prepared and have a plan to follow which makes an impression to the audience that you respect their time and attention. They also help you to feel more relaxed.
Not having notes could appear casual and you risk losing your place, waffling, forgetting key points or experiencing a brain freeze which all increase your stress levels.
Notes should be brief points on a subtle card/s which you can glance to occasionally to stay on track.
Myth – When using slides you should have 1 slide per minute
Truth – Be selective when using slides. Each slide should earn its place in your presentation. Plan the narrative of what you are going to say then decide if there are visuals which support the message. You might have several visuals… you might have none. Timing has nothing to do with it.
Myth – Practice makes perfect
Truth – It is really important to rehearse your presentation so you are familiar with your route through it, but don’t over rehearse so that you become completely word perfect. I believe we need to be agile, to be able to adapt if we need to. Becoming word perfect may prevent you from feeling agile if you need to be. I recommend practising a couple of times each day in the run up to a presentation so you feel confident and familiar with the content but also relaxed and able to flex if needed.
Myth – Always use storytelling to engage your audience
Truth – Stories can be incredibly powerful to help your audience remember your message. But think first about who your audience is. Stories must be relevant, appropriate and crucially you must feel comfortable and confident telling them. If a story doesn’t feel natural to you, it won’t come across well to the audience. Every presentation starts with your audience in mind, then the environment you are in. It’s unlikely a story can be crammed into a 1 minute pitch…. However it might work well in a longer pitch or conversation.
Myth – Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell it to them and then tell them again.
Truth – This is the fastest way to patronise your audience! Imagine applying this strategy to a 3 or a 5 minute presentation? There is no ‘one size fits all’ in creating content. First, consider your audience, think about what their expectations and interests are, building messaging around what they need to take away from the meeting or presentation. Then build out that messaging with interesting facts, stories, examples etc. Hook them at the start and wrap it up with an upbeat ending and a call to action.
Myth – Body language – use gestures, be animated and move around to create energy and engage your audience.
Truth – Do what feels comfortable to you, be yourself. There is not a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ around body language. If you use gestures or move around more than you would normally, you will feel uncomfortable and unnatural which means your audience is not getting a true feel for who you are. Equally, if you are someone who likes to move around and use your hands, unless what you are doing is really distracting, don’t tone that down – it’s all part of your personality.
What advice have you received that you’re questioning now? Send it to me and I’ll help you demystify it.