Bad advice on communication and public speaking abounds, both online and from the mouths of communication professionals.
At a networking event, I mentioned that I was a presentation coach. It was met with this reply: “Oh, when I speak I always look right above my audience’s head so I don’t have to make eye contact. That’s what my high school public speaking teacher told me to do.”
I pondered whether I should correct her or just smile and move on. In order to become better communicators, the myths of communication must be debunked. Little did my networking friend know that she would be the inspiration for this article. Here we go:
1. 93 percent of communication meaning is nonverbal.
Have you ever tried to watch a foreign film without subtitles? According to this “rule,” you should be able to follow 93 percent of the plot based on vocal intonation and nonverbal signals. Heck, I couldn’t even follow the plot of “Trainspotting” without subtitles, and that movie was in English (kind of). The Mehrabian Myth has been perpetuated throughout the Internet as an undeniable rule of communication. Except that is not what Mehrabian found in his study of communication; he was actually researching emotionally congruent versus incongruent messages. Martin Shovel at Creativity Works does an excellent job debunking this myth in his short video.
2. Public speaking is the No. 1 fear.
No one has ever died or been gravely injured while giving a speech. Ambulances are not on standby outside Toastmasters meetings worldwide. Basically, this myth comes from a book called The Book of Lists by David Wallenchinsky. Public speaking is No. 1, insects are No. 3, and death ranks at No. 7. The problem is that people were given a list of fears to check and people checked fear of public speaking most often. Public speaking is not the No. 1 fear; it is just the most commonly reported fear.
3. Picturing an audience naked will calm your nerves.
The reasoning behind this myth is that it will make your audience appear as vulnerable as you feel. It never works and, not only that, can be rather distracting. Some people you just don’t want to imagine naked. Knowing the introduction to your presentation so well you could deliver it drunk is a far better and less disturbing way to cope with the jitters. By the way, I am not advocating drunken presenting.
4. Introverts are shy.
Introverts might be shy, but often they are gregarious and outgoing. In fact, you might not even know someone is introverted. Being introverted means getting more energy from internal thoughts and feeling then the external world. You can be both introverted and outgoing.
5. You can wing it.
No, you can’t. Practice your presentation, elevator pitch, or even that tough conversation you need to have with your boss. If you know what you want to say beforehand, you’ll be more successful delivering a clear message.
6. Don’t make eye contact; look at their foreheads.
The problem with this advice is that the entire audience knows you are not looking at them. The better advice is to find several friendly faces in the audience to make eye contact. As your get more comfortable while speaking, make eye contact with several more.
7. Jargon makes me sound smarter.
It actually just makes you sound incomprehensible. As a communicator, you always have to speak the language of those you want to reach. Jargon, acronyms, and corporate-speak don’t belong if you want people to get your message.
8. It’s OK if I go over time.
No. It’s not ever OK to go over time in a presentation. You will lose your audience and tick people off. If anything, end early.
9. The more information I can stuff in, the more effective my communication will be.
Simple messages that are easy for the audiences to comprehend are the best messages for presentations. However, it takes a lot more work to distill a complex idea to its essence instead of just spewing information.
10. Start with a joke.
Starting a presentation or conversation with joke puts a tremendous amount of pressure on you. If your joke flops, you face a room so silent you can hear the air conditioning whirring in the background or, worse, you’ll get a pity laugh from the crowd. Unless you are Jon Stewart or Gilbert Gottfried, never add humor to a presentation; instead, let humor flow naturally.
11. You must be perfect.
Your presentation will never be perfect. Speakers are human; we make mistakes. The good news is that audiences are very forgiving of mistakes. Your audience is on your side; they want you to succeed. Most of the time, the mistakes made in a presentation are bigger to you than to your audience. Embrace imperfection.
12. What you say is what is understood.
We would live in a perfect world if what we said was understood perfectly. Communication is filtered through a person’s perception. It’s entirely possible that no matter how clearly you deliver your message, the recipient might still miss the point. It’s always best to check whether the other person got the message.
Becoming better communicators is paramount to be successful in business. Communication is essential to growing your client base or getting promoted at work. I hope that by debunking these communication myths that you are on your way to being all you can be as a communicator and presenter.
Do you disagree with any myths that I’ve offered? Did I miss any?