5 terrible pieces of public speaking advice

Are you standing in front of the mirror, practicing your opening joke for your naked audience? You might want to reconsider. Oh, and forget about the grass skirt, too.

Have you ever gotten bad advice?

Once I gave a speech about leaving a great job in paradise to pursue personal happiness, and a piece of feedback I got was, “You should wear a grass skirt and coconut bra when you give this speech.”

There’s about a million reasons why I didn’t take that advice, but it shows that not all public speaking advice is created equal.

The Internet is full of horrible tips that won’t improve your speaking. Here are my top five bad speaking tips and what you should do instead:

Picture your audience naked.

Unless your audience is filled with Channing Tatum or Angelina Jolie types, doing this will unnerve you (or if the audience is filled with beautiful people, it’s going to be highly distracting).

Picturing your audience naked is supposed to help you feel that the audience is as vulnerable as you are. It’s intended to ease your nerves, but it doesn’t help. It just makes you feel weird.

If you want to picture anything, visualize your presentation. Visualize stepping on the stage with your nerves working for you and giving a great presentation.

Practice in front of a mirror.

Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the fairest of them all?

Not you. Now, stop practicing in front of the mirror.

Why shouldn’t you gaze upon your reflection as you practice your speech? Easy. This turns the focus of the presentation on you and will make you self-conscious.

Pretty soon you’ll me more focused on the way your nose smooshes up when you say the word “onomatopoeia” instead of being concerned with connecting with the audience and getting your message across.

Start with a joke.

Is your name Jimmy Fallon? How about Bill Cosby? Perhaps you’re Bill Murray? If you’re not, then starting your presentation with a joke is a bad idea.

Audiences remember most what they hear first. If your joke bombs, your listeners are going to remember your flopping. If the jokes offends, well, that is even worse.

Additionally, you’re most nervous at the beginning of a presentation. Telling a joke puts a ton of pressure on you to perform. Why do that to yourself?

Instead tell a story, or ask a question that gets the audience involved.

Tell the audience you’re nervous, drunk, hung over, etc.

The belief is if you come clean about the fact that you’re nervous or had bad personal news before the presentation that this will humanize you and endear you to the audience.

It actually makes people think you are making excuses about why you didn’t bring your A-game to the presentation. Any nervousness will dissipate. You’ll be able to rally to give a great presentation despite the fact you’re tired or hung over.

You don’t want to give a world-class presentation then have your audience leave thinking, “Hmmmm. I wonder how much better that could have been if she hadn’t been so nervous.”

Do not look them in the eyes; the forehead will do.

At a networking event, one woman told me: “The best piece of speaking advice I ever got was to look at the audience members’ foreheads. I never feel nervous, because I don’t look at them.”

I hated to break it to her that the whole audience knows you’re not looking at them. I can tell when someone is not looking me in the eye. I bet you can too.

Better advice: Pick a couple of people you are comfortable making eye contact with, and focus on them. (These are your Spectacular Audience Members.) Then as you get more comfortable, start making eye contact with others in the audience.

Don’t be a victim of bad speaking advice that is bound to freak you out and make your audience frown. Not everything you read on the Internet is great advice. Trust a true expert, or ask your coach.

We’ve talked about bad public speaking advice, but what was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? Please leave it in the comments section below.

A version of this article first appeared on DrMichelleMazur.com.


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