Myths Of Public Speaking

by Stephen Boyd | September 30, 2006

In discussing public speaking with people over the years, I have often had to dispel myths or misconceptions. I'd like to address some of those in this article. Because of these myths, public speaking in general sometimes receives worse reviews than a specific speech.

Probably one of the most common is that fear of public speaking is bad. Actually having some fear heightens your awareness and sharpens your thinking to do a better job in the actual presentation than when you were practicing. Fear of speaking, also known as stage fright, makes you think more carefully about what you are doing. For example, in traffic anytime you anticipate a dangerous intersection coming up, you become much more attentive to your driving. This fear, or anxiety, makes you a better and more careful driver. The same is true in speaking. With some fear you become more conscientious with your preparation and your practice session and work harder to do a great job.

Every word in your speech has to be perfect. I've seen speakers write out every word and practice and even memorize what he or she is going to say. But humans are imperfect and will always make mistakes. Missing a word or having to pause a moment to think of your next sentence or thought is a natural part of conversation. In like manner, doing this in a presentation is a normal part of communication. When every word a speaker says is perfectly articulated and there are no pauses or misspoken words, the speaker may not relate as well to an audience because this seems unnatural to the listener. When you mess up on a word or phrase, you are simply being human and audience members will not hold it against you.

People will remember most of what I say in my speech. You will be fortunate if they remember what your speech was about a few days hence-let alone all of your main points and key evidence. Don't put too much pressure on yourself about the response of the audience to your ideas. They won't remember much and after a period of time passes, they probably won't even remember your name. Thus in your preparation, think of one thought you want the audience to take with them. Find ways of repeating this thought or forcing the audience to think about it because of your examples and explanations.

Public speaking is an art, and there are defined principles to learn. If you learn them and practice them you will improve as a speaker. When you are a new speaker and have a bad experience with a speech, you can easily get down on yourself. But every speech is an opportunity to improve because you get to practice the principles and work to perfect them.

Don't buy into the above myths; you can't help but have a better attitude about presenting, and you will improve as a speaker as well.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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