Public Speaking Myths

The Five Worst Pieces of Advice for Public Speakers and How to Ignore Them

It’s not as though the job isn’t hard enough. Getting up in front of a roomful of people gathered to hear you speak can stymie even the most accomplished professional.

Making matters worse is the well-meaning but misguided advice on improving your public speaking performance. That bad advice is everywhere and it’s deadly, especially for those speakers on shaky ground to begin with.

Here then are the top five pieces of advice you’ll want to skip when you’re preparing for your next public speaking opportunity–followed by some alternatives.

1. Practice your speech in front of a mirror.
Come on now. Have you ever tried it? Anyone who has knows it’s nearly impossible to focus on your performance and avoid being distracted by your own image.

Instead, try practicing in front of a colleague, friend or coach who can give honest feedback. A videotaped performance can also help (provided you play it enough times to be able to begin to “see” your performance the way others might).

2. Start with a joke.
You may as well start with a dance number. What? Not good at dancing? Well, if you’re not someone who is extraordinarily good at telling jokes, better leave this one alone as well. A joke that falls flat is difficult to recover from, especially if you’re trying to establish credibility.

Instead, try a story, a true anecdote, or an attention-grabbing question or statement to your audience. If you want to start it off on a lighter note, try some self-effacing humor…but leave the canned jokes to the professional comics.

3. At all costs; move.
Sure we in the audience like to see some signs of life up there, but movement without purpose is called PACING. Walk endlessly from one point to another or move with repetitive motions and your audience will begin WISHING for a podium to put you behind.

Instead, try looking for opportunities within the context of what you’re saying to add movement. Got an important point to make? Take a step toward the audience, but vary your physical performance the way you vary the content and practice it the same way: purposefully.

4. Wear bright, eye-catching clothes and accessories.
Your audience is sure to notice that huge broach or bright tie, but after they do, are they listening to anything you have to say?

Instead, make sure your clothes ENHANCE what you say by speaking subtly of your credibility and authority. Don’t let them speak louder than you do, lest they drown out your message.

5. Memorize your speech.
This is as sure-fire a way to give a flat and uninteresting performance as reading your speech to your audience is. That’s because, in truth, most of us aren’t going to memorize an entire speech or presentation well enough to actually ACT IT OUT with dramatic conviction, as if it had flowed naturally from our thoughts. And if you lose your train of thought, finding it again in a memorized speech gets difficult.

Instead, commit your speech or presentation to memory. There’s a difference. Committing your information to memory means you will have practiced it enough times to know it thoroughly, in its essence. It means you know what’s coming so well you can ad-lib or change it, summarize it or reword it on the spot, without losing your train of thought. It will keep you engaged and that means your audience will stay engaged as well.

Aileen Pincus is President of The Pincus Group, an executive communications training firm providing coaching in presentation and speech skills, media training and crisis communications for clients in the public and private sector. She can be reached

Public Speaking: Tips, Tools and Techniques for Honing Your Skills

It’s a stubborn myth that public speakers are born, not made.

While we assume climbing the corporate ladder or being in the public eye takes hard work ,we cling to the notion that communication abilities come without effort, springing from the lucky few naturally.

Both Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, widely regarded as ‘natural’ born communicators, worked continually to hone their ‘natural’ skills. Clinton worked with speech coaches throughout his presidency. Ronald Reagan famously said he couldn’t imagine being president without having been an actor.

It’s not just the communication skills of politicians that people notice. An executive who assumes a strong track record of accomplishment and the right connections will “speak for themselves” assumes wrongly. More often, the lack of communication ability will erode confidence in leadership abilities, and at the very least, become a stumbling block in accomplishing goals.

Leaders must have a clear vision and be able to articulate that vision well enough to inspire others. Leaders are expected to display confidence, most readily by the way they communicate with confidence to others. Like so many other attributes, the communication skills so necessary for today’s leaders are not automatically acquired. They are learned and honed purposefully and with effort.

So what to do if your communication skills are not on par with the position of authority you’ve achieved? Here are five tips to get you started on the road to communicating with power:

Take every opportunity to practice.
It sounds obvious, but we generally avoid the things we don’t like to do and we generally don’t like doing the things we feel we’re not good at. If you’ve been delegating the public speaking to others, stop. If you’ve been avoiding those opportunities, stop.

Start small.
Many people’s fear of public speaking is directly proportionate to the number of people listening. If large audiences intimidate you, seek out opportunities to address smaller numbers of “friendly” audiences. You can work up to larger numbers and to audiences who don’t know you as you grow your confidence.

Never read a speech you haven’t rewritten.
Even if you have someone writing remarks or a speech for you, make sure you rewrite the final draft or at least key phrases in your own words. You know your own “voice” best. Unless you are a professional actor, or have an exceptional speechwriter, speaking someone else’s words will never sound as passionate and persuasive as your own.

Never give a speech you don’t believe in.
If you’re not a professional actor, now is not the time to try and become one. A lack of passion and conviction will show. Concentrate on what you do believe and what you can say with confidence and you’ll be much more likely to connect with your audience.

Learn to use your voice.
Our voices are as individual and as unique to us as our fingerprints. They provide an enormous amount of information to those listening about how we really feel about what we’re saying. Make sure your voice matches your message and says what you really want it to about you.

Aileen Pincus is founder of The Pincus Group, a training firm providing counsel to corporate, government and non-profit clients in the art of public communications.



Power Presentations: IT really is about YOU! Tips for Enhancing Your Presentation Skills

“There are two types of speakers; those that are nervous and those that are liars.”
— Mark Twain

Most of us put public speaking at the top of our list of things to avoid.

Then along comes that promotion or new opportunity, and with it, new responsibilities. Among them: communicating, powerfully and effectively in public. Before you rush to get out of that responsibility, or avoid it, consider what it can do for you.

It never ceases to amaze me how much this one ability, the ability to communicate powerfully and effectively, can impact our professional success. Become an effective communicator, and you will cement your reputation as an effective leader.

Yet many otherwise accomplished executives never learn to do it well and take pains to avoid having to speak in public at all.

That’s a lot of wasted opportunity. As someone once said, “You don’t plough a field by turning it over in your mind.” You can’t expect your ideas to be considered or followed, much less admired, if they’re not communicated well.

Ok. Speaking to a group, even to a small group you know well, can be intimidating. It’s not lethal. We can all get past the fear factor with practice. And what a reward awaits us when we do!

The important thing is to understand the power you have, that we all have, to communicate effectively. Don’t hide behind charts, graphs and power point slides. Don’t stand off to the far corner and let your materials speak for themselves. Materials can only support your communication, not substitute for it.

Once you’ve accepted that presentations really are about you and your ability to connect with your audience, organize your materials to allow you to speak with confidence.

Rather than adding more slides to fill more time, use fewer and leave plenty of time for interaction and questions and answers from your audience. Try getting your conclusions down first. What is it you really want your audience to remember from your presentation?

Keep an eye on those bottom line conclusions and never stray too far from them. Support them as best you can with data, facts, examples and stories, but remember that less is more when speaking in public. Your mission is to offer the big picture, the context, for your ideas. More details can be supplied in handouts and collaterals later.

Remember that you are the best promoter of your ideas. If you don’t sound as though you believe them and are enthusiastic about them, you can hardly expect your audience to supply the excitement for you.

Stay organized. If you get off track when answering questions, simply return to your two or three main messages. A certain amount of repetition of those messages will add power to your presentation, not detract from it. Your goal is to have anyone listening understand and be able to remember your two or three key points.

And remember, your audience came to hear you. Reward them with powerful ideas, clearly stated, and they’ll be back, willingly. Before long, you’ll be wondering how you ever considered communicating powerful ideas any other way!

Aileen Pincus is a former local and national television reporter and senior Senate Staff, now a leading executive communication coach, training corporate, government and non-profit executives in the art of communication.

Writing That Works By David Griffiths

Poor writing is an obstacle to productivity, a hindrance to customer and client relations, and an impediment to effective management. Good writing is an opportunity to be creative and crystallize thinking while portraying a consistently professional image.

Why should a well-run organization care about writing training? Because meaningful communication — whether in reports, memos or the ubiquitous emails that make writers out of all of us — is the key to good management. To get the message across internally, it must be concise, unambiguous and logically structured. Overly long, badly organized writing can create confusion.

And without clear management expectations of what constitutes effective writing, you leave yourself vulnerable to erosions in productivity and morale. Nothing can slow the pace of decision making like the seemingly endless “rewrite cycle,” as one management layer above another finds fault with a document that would have been clearly written in the first place had there been writing guidelines, with leadership insistence on a concise message.

The penalties for inattention to the quality of writing can be just as severe when it comes to external communications with clients, customers and other constituents. Letters or emails that look rushed and shows signs of shoddy — or nonexistent — editing can leave a harmful impression of the writer, his or her superiors and even the whole organization. In fact, errors — grammatical and spelling blunders, run-on and fragmented sentences, misleading punctuation, redundant content, passive verbs, sloppy organization — can all lead the reader to ask: What else is wrong with this? Can I trust what the writer is trying to tell me?

So what constitutes Writing That Works?

  • Usa a writing process that starts with a free-wheeling exploratory phase and ends with a concise product that demonstrates a disciplined approach to business and/or government communications.
  • Knowing your audience is an absolute necessity. Writing that looks and sounds professional must edify with straightforward English, not try to impress with “insidey” and often (albeit unintentional) pompous language. Respect the reader.
  • Writing is thinking. The writing process forces you to analyze and be creative, and maybe even surprise yourself at how much you know. Good writers exercise their minds.
  • Revise and edit. No matter how well crafted, your message can be garbled and you can project a negative image of you and your organization if you don’t cast a critical eye on your own work. Effective writers must learn how to edit and revise. It’s all about “quality control.”

A recent Business Week magazine poll showed that 41 percent of employees who are dissatisfied with training efforts offered by their employer plan to leave the company within 12 months, compared to 12 percent who are satisfied with the training.

It’s not too late. Effective business writing can give employees a greater sense of cohesion. What business couldn’t benefit from more confident communicators who shun jargon and bureaucratic padding.

David Griffiths with the Pincus Group is a professional with over 30 years of experience in writing, editing and communications coaching. He can be reached at

Want To Be A Better Writer? Don’t Go It Alone By David Griffiths

“Everyone needs an editor.” Ernest Hemingway

Papa Hemingway, one of the great prose stylists of the last century, was dead on. Human nature is such that we find it difficult to be rigorously honest about our own work. We may be able to spot the occasional misspelling or misplaced comma, but we won’t catch them all without help. The fact is that it’s a rare writer who can look at his or her own work with an objective and critical eye.

Why is editing — and more extensive revising, where needed — so important? Because sloppy or nonexistent editing leaves the reader asking: “If he uses spell-check as a crutch and doesn’t know the difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’ and ‘they’re,’ why should I take the rest of his writing seriously? Where’s the pride?”

Professional editors assume that the copy they’re working on is far from perfect. Viewing themselves as “first readers,” they start with a clear understanding of the audience for any particular piece of writing. Then they edit for message, organization, paragraph and sentence structure and length, consistency in internal construction, word usage, and errors in punctuation and spelling as well as typos.

Think of it as quality control.

The result should be writing where clarity and brevity are natural partners, the message is clear, and style doesn’t get in the way of content. As the novelist Somerset Maugham said, “The best style is the style you don’t notice.”