As a speaking coach, I’m dedicated to helping my clients develop the skills and confidence they need to speak with power and purpose in any situation.
Sometimes, that means giving them tools they’ve never thought of using before. But just as often, I need to work to undo bad habits — habits that often come from well-meaning people with unfortunately poor advice.
Here are the top four myths about speaking that may be limiting your impact as a leader.
1. Take a big breath before you begin
If you tell a friend or colleague that you tend to get nervous when you speak, they might tell you to take a big breath to relax before you start speaking. While breathing is certainly an important component to speaking, taking a big breath isn’t helpful.
When you take a big breath, you’re focusing on the inhale when you really should be focusing on the exhale. So, instead of big breaths, take small sips of air and extend your exhales.
2. Want to relax? Imagine your audience is naked!
This piece of advice may seem like a joke, but it’s repeated often enough to be worth mentioning.
As with the first example, you may have heard this if you have issues with speaking anxiety. The thinking is that by picturing your audience naked, they become less intimidating, and so you will loosen up.
This is, frankly, absurd. Imagining that your audience is naked is a silly distraction that will do absolutely nothing to ease your speaking anxiety.
3. Buy a striking new outfit for that big presentation
What could be better for your confidence than a new outfit, right? Well, the problem with this is that when you buy a new outfit, it’s not “broken in.” You’re not comfortable wearing it yet, and the added distraction of discomfort is the last thing you want when you’re delivering a critical presentation.
So, instead of buying a new outfit, I recommend wearing your favorite outfit that you’ve already worn many times before.
4. If you want to command attention, you need to get louder
Finally, if you’re wanting to have more “gravitas,” you might think that means you need to get louder.
Wrong! Unless you’re speaking so quietly that people can’t understand you, commanding a room has nothing to do with the volume of your voice. Instead of raising your decibel level, focus on being relevant, staying on message, and getting into a rhythm.
Looking for advice to help you become a better speaker is certainly a great idea. But before you change the way you speak based on conventional wisdom, ask yourself if the advice is truly wise — or just conventional.