Top 3 Terrible Speaking Tips That Damage New Speakers

Public speaking “quick tips” are fashionable these days. But some tips actually stop you from being a good speaker, like these top 3.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was some “secret” to being a great speaker? Some quick tip which can turn you into an instantly inspiring presenter.

If you were to type “how to be a good speaker” into Google, you would soon find an abundance of supposedly “quick” tips.

The internet is packed with blog posts with titles like “5 Tips for Becoming a Great Public Speaker” or “The Top 3 Techniques That Make Anyone a Better Speaker” or “9 Simple Ways That Will Make You The Best Speaker Ever.” Online forums are also filled with conflicting advice.

Some of the advice you can find is okay, some of it is terrible, some of it is even quite good.

But, some tips are downright unhelpful for new speakers.

In this article, I explain the top 3 tips which personally make my skin crawl. These terrible tips are common both in online discussion forums and in offline settings — they are the sort of tips you might hear from your mates down the pub.

Whenever you hear these tips, beware!

Top 3 Terrible Speaking Tips That Hold New Speakers Back

Here are my top 3 terrible speaking tips. Unfortunately, they are very, very common.

Terrible Tip 1. Picture your audience naked

Let’s get this one out the way first. This is one of the most prevalent, pervasive, and downright perverse pieces of public speaking advice that you can find: imagine your audience is naked (or in their underwear) and it will make you less nervous.

How!?

How does imagining tens, hundreds or thousands of people naked make you less nervous?

In what area of life does being in a room full of naked people equate with being comfortable? (if you do have an answer to this question, it may be best to keep it to yourself)

Why it’s bad advice

Nerves are natural. In fact, nerves can actually be quite useful. They are accompanied by a rush of adrenaline. When you learn to handle your nerves, this adrenaline helps you to give a dynamic, energetic presentation.

Imagining your audience naked distracts you from preparing properly for your presentation. Trying to imagine anything that’s designed to “get rid of the nerves” distracts you from preparing properly.

Nerves will never go away completely. They require a different strategy.

What is better advice

What should you do instead?

Don’t imagine your audience naked? … you weirdo!

But, seriously. When you are a new speaker, the most important thing is to become familiar with the feeling of nerves. This feeling will never disappear completely so you have to make friends with it. This means “leaning into” the feeling of fear, not trying to avoid it by thinking about something else.

The most important thing that you should do before giving a presentation is:

  1. Prepare your body physically for the presentation.
  2. Accept the nerves.
  3. Clear your mind.

These three steps can all be achieved through voice and breathing exercises, for example:

When you feel nervous, breathe out.

Focus on your breathing.

Smile.

Tell yourself “I am nervous. And that’s okay.” Say it out loud if you are in a safe place to do so.

Breathe out again.

Thankfully, “the naked audience advice” is gradually becoming less common than it used to be. People now recognise that it doesn’t make much sense. However, occasionally people do still give this advice, especially those people who have never given a presentation in their lives.

Terrible Tip 2. Avoid Over-Rehearsal

Top 3 Terrible Speaking Tips That Damage New SpeakersThis terrible speaking tip is one of my least favourite pieces of crap advice. It really annoys me. I hear people saying it all the time — “Don’t rehearse too much” they say “or your presentation will sound unnatural.”

Bullshit.

The only thing this tip does is to stop new presenters from ever rehearsing enough to become as good as they can be.

Presentations need rehearsal. Often they need much more than you will ever be able to give them.

Here’s an example of a bizarre conversation that I have had a few times with people who have come up to me after I’ve given a speech or presentation:

Audience member: “You’re so natural on stage, Alex. I wish I could sound as natural as you. How many times did you rehearse the speech?”

Me: “Oh, at least 40 times. I probably rehearsed it out loud for at least 10 hours in total.”

Audience member: “I don’t rehearse that much. I just read my presentation through once or twice. I don’t want to sound over-rehearsed.”

Me: “???”

I sound natural because I rehearse a lot.

But Alex — you might be thinking — what about those experienced speakers who say they don’t need to rehearse many times?

It’s true. Very experienced speakers sometimes don’t rehearse a new presentation over and over before they present it to an audience. But, they have usually “rehearsed” the material many, many times before they ever put it into a presentation. When you are an expert talking on a single topic, every presentation is a rehearsal for the next one.

Why it’s bad advice

This is bad advice because it makes new speakers afraid of rehearsing their speech. They worry that their speech will not sound natural if they rehearse too much. As a result, their speech never sounds natural because they never rehearse it enough.

What is better advice

Don’t be that person! Rehearse your speech.

However, rehearse it properly.

It is possible to rehearse a speech so much that it starts to sound flat and boring. However, this is not the result of over-rehearsal, it is the result of bad rehearsal.

Avoid bad rehearsal.

I wrote an article a few months ago which explains how to avoid bad rehearsal: Overcoming Presentation Fear is Like Playing Basketball

Terrible Tip 3. Write It Out Word-For-Word

Writing out your presentations word-for-word is a bad habit. Unfortunately, it is a bad habit that is very prevalent among new speakers.

Writing and speaking are two completely different mediums.

Yes, it is possible to write a script which sounds good when spoken aloud (after all, that’s what professional speech writers do). However, this is an advanced writing skill which requires extra work, not less work as many people seem to think.

It’s much easier and more effective to work from an outline.

Why it’s bad advice

This is bad advice because it gives new speakers a bad habit right from the start of their speaking journey. It means that speakers focus all their time and energy in trying to get the written words sounding “exactly right”. As a result, they don’t have any time or energy left to focus on their performance and delivery.

What is better advice

Natural-sounding speech is much easier to produce by speaking your presentation aloud right from the start.

Decide on a rough outline of your presentation, stand up and speak through each point one by one.

I know this is hard for many people, but it’s well worth it.

Most of us will have much more success if we ditch the script and just speak.

This method can be quite a radical change for many people. However, it is well worth it. Just try it out!

If you’d like some more details about this method, just ask me in the comments.

 

What bad or good advice have you heard about speaking? Tell me in the comments below or join the discussion on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

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