It was 2008. I was chosen for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the biggest presentation of my life. I had eight make-or-break minutes to launch my career.

It was the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN. For traditional storytellers, it's the Super Bowl. If I nailed it, I was guaranteed and endless supply of clients and fame. Mess it up? Be forgotten forever. There were no second chances.

In the weeks leading up to that stage, I lived by the mantra: Practice makes perfect.

I wrote every word of those eight minutes and practiced them incessantly. In the car, in the shower, even as I walked through the produce section of the grocery store. The day of the presentation, I was ready.

Or so I thought...

I'd fallen into one of the most common public speaking myths. Whether it's your first time speaking or you're an old pro, there are several public speaking myths that can kill even the best presentation.

Here are three of them for you to avoid:

1. Practice Makes Perfect

That fateful day in 2008, I stood in front of 500 people and delivered a flawless, eight-minute speech. Every word was accounted for. My practice paid off.

Or did it?

In the moments following my presentation, there were no hive-fives or future opportunities. My greatest fear realized, I was escorted off stage and forgotten.

Why Ignore This Myth:

Practice is essential to a successful presentation, but too much practice can ruin it. Excessive practicing makes you sound rigid and unapproachable.

Instead:

Aim for preparedness. Practice enough to be confident and comfortable with your major points and the content to support them, but not so practiced that the presentation is memorized or rote. Leave room for spontaneity and audience connection.

2. Avoid Using Slides

Slidedecks have become so common and poorly executed that an anti-culture has formed. Articles and leaders like Jeff Bezos encourage speakers to abandon the deck all together.

For years I was a part of this anti-slide movement, delivering presentations ranging from forty-five minutes to several hours without any deck support. I wore my no-slides-approach like a badge of honor: evidence I was "so good" I didn't need slides.

Why Ignore This Myth:

One day a friend admitted to me he preferred presentations with slides, "It helps me organize and understand what I'm learning."

I had to agree. When I'm in the audience, I like a good deck to accompany a great speaker. Effective slide presentations add visual interest, organize complicated information, and perhaps most importantly keep speakers on message so you don't have to memorize every word (see Myth #1).

Instead:

Use slides! Just remember: You are the main attraction, your slides are just the support. If, heaven forbid, your computer eats your deck, you should be able to speak without it.

3. Imagine Everyone in Their Underwear

Why Ignore This Myth:

So. Many. Reasons.

Instead:

Seriously, if you have pre-presentation nerves, imaging what the audience is (or is not) wearing is not going to help. Instead, remind yourself why you're delivering the message and imagine what the audience will gain by hearing it.

The One Myth that Can Save You

Though there are many myths working against you, there is one that can save your presentation.

Myth #4: Public Speaking Is Feared More than Death.

In 2012, a Psychology Today article titled, "The Thing we Fear More Than Death," stated "public speaking" commonly outranks "death" in surveys about what people fear most. Jerry Seinfeld famously put this information into context with his quote, "... This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy."

While that statement oversimplifies the reality--if a gun really was to your head and your children were standing in front of you and you were given a choice to die or speak, which would you really choose?--this "myth" can save you when stakes are highest.

Fear is speaking's arch-nemesis. Your ability to re-frame your fear is critical to your success. In those moments right before you speak, give yourself a calming pat on the back for having the courage to do what most people avoid like the plague, and then go kill it up there.

Though I can't undo those over-practiced eight minutes in 2008, my hope is you'll ignore the myths and nail every presentation you give.

Published on: Mar 15, 2017
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