Top 5 Myths about Public Speaking Fears

January 31, 2010 by  

The Top Five (5) Biggest Myths about Public Speaking Fear and Stage Fright

It’s time to set the record straight. ANYONE can be a fantastic, world-class speaker with a little bit of training, a little bit of coaching, and a little bit of practice. It doesn’t take years of study and practice, and it doesn’t take thousands of dollars of investment. One of the hardest things to get across to new presenters is the immutable fact that just about everything that you have ever learned about public speaking and creating good business presentations is flat out WRONG!

The following are some of the biggest myths about stage fright and public speaking training:

Myth #1: Good Speakers have a Natural Talent (Born Speakers)

This one always makes me laugh because no one comes out of the womb speaking. In fact, for the first couple of years, our entire speech is “Goo goo gaa gaa”. Granted, if you have a nice sounding voice, you might have an advantage in front of a group, or if you are stunningly good looking, you might command attention better. However, most great speakers become great at presenting because they really work at it. Here is the real secret that the academics, the toasting clubs, and the seminar leaders won’t tell you. Public speaking is an EASY skill to master if you practice the right way. However, instead of doing things to decrease their nervousness, most new speakers work really hard to try to hide their nervousness. What tends to happen is that the tricks and gimmicks that we use only make us more nervous.

Myth #2: I’m Way More Nervous than Everyone Else

Surveys show that 95% of the population admit to feeling public speaking fear or stage fright. Surveys also show that over 45% of the population admit that the stage fright that they feel is so great that they avoid opportunities to present in front of groups. One of the first things that we share with people when we coach them as speakers, or when they come through one of our public speaking classes or presentation seminars, is that most of the stuff that happens to us when we get nervous is invisible to the audience. For example, just before we start to speak, most of us will start to feel our heart beating more quickly and forcefully. Some people will get sweaty palms or feel the butterflies in their stomach. We might feel light headed or even lose our train of thought. What do all of these things have in common? They are things that we FEEL, but are absolutely transparent to the audience. The problem that typically occurs, though, is that when we feel these symptoms of nervousness, we sometimes panic, and we might begin to feel even more nervous. What you want to remember is that other people who are presenting feel nervous too. You’re not alone. The good news is, that if you reduce your nervousness, you will have a distinct advantage over the other 95% of presenters.

Myth #3: Constructive Criticism (Critiques) is the Best Way to Improve

Ever since that first oral report or book report that we each gave in high school, we’ve been told that constructive criticism or critiquing our speeches will improve the way the we speak in front of groups. It was reinforced in speech class, communications class, or whatever your High School or University called it. It was reinforced again when we went to that Toastmasters group and the grammarian and another speaker-in-training gave us constructive feedback. However, this particular technique has never, ever worked. Here’s why. The only way to get constructive criticism is to first have a failure — and if you don’t have a failure, then the job of the critic is to find something wrong with what you did. Anytime we do something for the first time and have a failure, we get more nervous the next time that we attempt it (if we have the courage to do so). A good coach won’t use this technique much. Instead, the coach will show the person how to succeed in public speaking, and then praise the presenter as he/she moves toward that goal.

Myth #4: Video Tape Feedback for Presentation Skills Training is Valuable

Okay, this one is somewhat true, but in a lot of cases, watching yourself speak on video when you are nervous will just make you more nervous. However, watching your video with a coach who will help you see improvements along the way will improve your confidence exponentially. Most of us are very critical of ourselves, so we will nit-pick our presentation nine ways to Sunday if we review it alone. So get a good coach before you start trying to use video tape as a tool.

Myth #5: It Takes Years to Become a Great Speaker

Public Speaking skill is just like any other skill in that when you practice and have a success, you feel more confident about yourself and you get better next time. So the key to becoming a great speaker fast is to have a series of successes quickly. Toastmasters is a great organization, but a lucky speaker might get a chance to give five speeches in two or three years, and there is a good chance that not every one of those speeches are going to be winners. So, after a couple of years, a Toastmaster won’t see a great growth in public speaking skills. When you go to a class at a University or Junior College, you might get to speak three times in a 12 week class, and after each speech, you’ll get the dreaded constructive criticism. So that way will take a while as well. However, if you want gain presentation skills quickly, find a way to deliver four to six presentations with a really good coach in a short period of time. Ideally, if you can do it in a couple of days, you’ll grow quickly. However, I’ve seen people have a lot of success by setting up a series of weekly speeches at the office or as a guest speaker at a Rotary Club or Chamber of Commerce meeting to get practice.

If We Used “Normal” Presentation Skills Teaching to Develop Other Important Skills

Here’s an example of another type of training that would be ridiculous if we tried it the way that most people attempt to gain public speaking skills. Let’s say that we use “normal” public speaking techniques to teach someone how to drive a car. (You can insert any skill into this example, by the way — learning to ride a bike, operating a computer for the first time, building something, baking a cake for the first time, etc.)

Myth #1: Good Drivers have a Natural Talent. If we sent every 16 year-old kid out onto the freeway with no training. A few of them might do well, but most are going to have crashing failures. The few that do well will be seen as “Born Drivers,” but the rest would be scared spitless of driving.

Myth #2: I’m More Nervous than Everyone Else. If you’re one of the 95% who had a failure on the freeway, but you still see a lot of people driving, you might believe you are the only one who is scared.

Myth #3: Constructive Criticism is the Best Way to Improve. Again, you’re still one of the 95% who just had the hair-raising experience on the freeway. Now you sit down in a classroom as one of your peers (or a teacher) rips apart your experience and tells you every little thing that you did wrong. Feeling better about the experience now?

Myth #4: Video Tape Feedback for Driving is Valuable. Now you go back and watch the video of your fiery crash. I wouldn’t blame you if you never drove again.

Myth #5: It Takes Years to Become a Great Driver. If, after you had the above experience, you only attempted to drive once every three months or so for about two minutes at a time, guess what? It will take a LOOOOOONG time to get better. Sadly, you probably never will.

Instead, get a good coach who you trust and conquer the fear now — just like you did when you were 15 or 16 years-old and you took driver’s education. Remember the techniques that we used back then? We got a little training and practiced with a coach right away, and we didn’t move on until we had a success. Remember, you couldn’t leave the school parking lot until you got really good at pulling in and out of a parking space.

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