7 Public Speaking Tips that Fail (and Why)

As some of you may have noticed, I’m tweeting and posting more than I used to.  I stepped things up as part of my mission to make The Vocal Presence Path™ accessible and available to everyone.  I have to say, I love Hootsuite and Klout. They search the web for articles that might be of interest to my followers.  While they are doing their job and finding articles about speaking, I end up deleting most of them because I can’t bear to send out things that might do more harm than good.  So, I created this list of 7 Public Speaking Tips that Fail (and Why) so that I could send you something I believe in.

Before I dive into the list, let me share that the main issue that I have with the tips below (and with most advice that I find in cyber space) is that the focus is in the wrong place.  Most public speaking advice is focused on what the speaker does or says and overlooks how the speaker shows up to the speech.  And much of the advice out there that attempts to address how the speaker shows up focuses on the speaker, how they look and whether or not they are liked. That means working from the outside in, worrying about how the speaker “comes off” and crafting behavior that tries to make them look good.

It is far more effective as a speaker to focus on and embody the impact that you intend to have on the audience.

1 – Ignore advice to “Be interesting”
Sometimes it’s hard to believe this advice is even out there, and yet it is.  First of all, it’s incredibly generic – you might just as well say, “Be good.”  One of the main problems with generic advice or feedback is that it tends to draw out the inner critic.  “Be funny” and “Add Humor” also fall into the “Be Interesting” family.  Instead of worrying about being interesting, funny, or liked, shift your attention onto the impact that you want to have as a leader.  Do you think Martin Luther King Jr. was thinking, “Be interesting” as he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech?  No.  He focused on what he wanted to create in the audience.

2 – Replace “Animate your Voice” with “Enliven your Audience”
The advice to “Mark up your script with when you will raise your pitch, lower your pitch and pause” is another way of saying, “animate your voice.”  These are slightly more specific versions of #1 above.  There’s nothing wrong with being interesting, being funny or animating your voice.  The problem with these is that they draw focus to the speaker rather than the audience.  Instead of marking your script up with when you will raise and lower your pitch, know the impact that you want to have on them: do you want to inspire them or awaken them or invite them or rouse them?  After determining your intention, connect deeply to the audience and watch for signs of your intention coming to life before your eyes.  In doing so you will authentically animate your voice as you take them on an emotional journey.

3 – Replace “Pay Attention to your Body Language” with “Focus on your Audience”
If you are paying attention to your body language while speaking, you are disconnected from your audience.  You are focused on you instead of on them.  That’s analogous to worrying about how you look while a friend is telling you all about his current spiritual turmoil.  “Use your hands” is another example of this type of advice.  Instead of worrying about what you’re doing with your hands, connect with your audience as you lead them through an experience.  If you are present, alive and embodying your values, your hands will take care of themselves.

4 – Never “Practice in the Mirror”
Again, practicing in the mirror (or video-taping yourself) will put your attention on you when it’s not about you – it’s about them.  In addition, you won’t have a mirror during your speech, so practicing in the mirror is not going to help you discover anything that you will be able to repeat when you are in front of the audience.  Knowing the impact that you want to have on the audience and watching them for signs that they are moving toward that impact is repeatable.

5 – Don’t “Picture People in their Underwear”
There is no magic pill, trick or short cut for charismatic speaking.  Picturing the audience in their underwear takes you out of the present moment and therefore away from your presence as a speaker.  Instead, go through the nerves and connect with them.  It may be challenging and could include some uncomfortable sensation at first, and yet, once you do, you will unleash your individual charisma and maximize your impact.

6 – When someone says:
“Remember that, in a week, the attendees won’t remember you, they will remember the information that you gave them”
… Aim higher
!
Maya Angelou said “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  So, if you’re hoping that in a week the attendees remember the information and nothing about you, your presence or how you made them feel, you aren’t setting the bar high enough.  The way you will make them remember how you made them feel, and possibly create transformation, is more about who you be (your presence) than what you do or say.  Remember what’s important to you about your speech and what you want to create – then embody that yourself while inviting the audience to join you.

7 – Turn “Dress for Success” Inside-Out
Someone once advised me “When you speak at ________” (fill in the name of a large organization) you need to look like money!”  There’s nothing wrong with looking good.  And I’d suggest making sure that you feel like yourself and that what you wear is an outer reflection of your authentic self.  Going into _________ (large organization) “looking like money” would not have been authentic and would not have lined up with my values, purpose or intention.  Part of my intention was to meet them where they were and stretch them. (That’s often my intention.)  To do that I can’t dress like them, I have to dress like me – often in something that is a little bit of a stretch for their organization – in order to express on the outside what’s happening on the inside.  Get dressed with your focus on your intended impact rather than being liked or accepted.

Another problem I have with much of this advice is that it’s about surviving the experience.  Because many humans fear public speaking more than death, surviving it is an important goal.  If you want to lead, you need to go beyond surviving when it comes to public speaking.

Leaders don’t just survive … Leaders thrive.

8 Responses to 7 Public Speaking Tips that Fail (and Why)

  1. Lynn Fraley September 2, 2014 at 7:59 am #

    What a delightful read! Yes, being present with the audience and shifting attention to their needs is crucial. I appreciate all the myths you addressed including ones that belittle an audience! Why ever do that? Yes, being present and conscious ..

    • Lauri September 3, 2014 at 4:59 pm #

      Thank you Lynn!

  2. Debra September 2, 2014 at 8:40 am #

    Hi Lauri! Great article. I’ve always found that focusing on the service I’m sharing with the audience makes all the difference for how I show up. Your
    article is filled with wisdom. I’ve shared on LinkedIn and Twitter. Thank you! Hope our paths cross again soon, Debra

    • Lauri September 3, 2014 at 5:00 pm #

      Thank you so much Debra – for your kind words and for sharing. It’s wonderful to hear from you.

  3. lisa klein September 2, 2014 at 8:41 am #

    Lauri,
    I enjoyed and resonated with you tips/anti-‘tips’ – refreshing, timely for me, and a gift for a Monday – thanks! I hope all is well with you, and that you’re thriving!
    Lisa

  4. Lauri September 3, 2014 at 5:01 pm #

    So great to hear from you Lisa. I’m glad this resonated for you. I hope you’re thriving too!

  5. julie September 4, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

    thanks Lauri for the reality check. I shared your blog with a couple clients and just now with my gfriend as she has a big presentation to deliver.
    keep them coming – and appreciate your Hootsuite & Klout reminder – keep wanting to check it out. Bravo!

    • Lauri September 5, 2014 at 7:28 am #

      Thanks Julie. I’ve got a program launching in a week – Thursday July 11th – with three different levels to choose from. I’d love to see some of them there. They can check out the mid-level plan here: http://laurismith.com/store/fyv-comprehensive/

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