During a workshop, a client once cornered me and said, “Many years ago, I had a boss that thought I looked great in red. He told me that I should always wear red during presentations because it made the best impression. So I’ve always worn red. What do you think of that advice?”

Cue the “Twilight Zone” theme music.

When I hear stuff like this, I want to channel Bob Barker and shout “Come on down! You’re the next contestant on ‘Bad Public Speaking Advice from Your Boss.’”  I also want to hunt down the boss and tell him to cut it out. He’s fostering bad presenters.

The business world abounds with rotten presentation advice. And so as a public service, I’d like to debunk the five worst tidbits, in reverse order of badness.

“To reduce anxiety, imagine your audience naked.”

It’s silly. It’s troubling. And it doesn’t work. The best way to deal with nerves is to rehearse…a lot. Dr. Megan Neyer, a former world-class diver, dealt with incredible anxiety while competing in world championship events. She told me that her exhaustive practice and muscle memory pulled her through.

Similarly, to reduce stage fright, develop vocal muscle memory by practicing over and over again. I once gave a speech where an audience member chatted on his cell phone in the front row. It was distracting and nerve wracking, but I was so rehearsed that I got through it.

“You speak too fast. Slow down.”

Slowing down makes you sound dull and stilted. Instead of slowing down, you probably should pauseoccasionally to catch your breath and let listeners digest your ideas.

We speak at about 140-words-a-minute. Listeners can comprehend at more than twice that rate. No one speaks too fast.

“Put questions in the ‘parking lot’ and answer them at the end.” 

Many speakers like to “park” questions in the so-called “parking lot”, meaning they write them on a flip chart or whiteboard for answering later. The “parking lot” is one of the galactically stupid and wrong-headed creations of the corporate world.

Your listener asked the question because she’s bothered by something and needs help. As the speaker, your job is to help, not put their question in the stinkin’ parking lot. Answer the question!

“Always try to start your presentation with a joke.”

Jokes are best left to the professionals. When I took a stand-up comedy workshop, I learned that great comedians script their jokes with precision. One wrong word can make the joke flop.

Instead of jokes, tell humorous self-deprecating stories that have a point. I tell about helping my daughter write a speech. The story makes fun of my clumsy fathering while also making a point about writing speeches. If the humor doesn’t work (and it often doesn’t) then the story is still interesting and valuable because it makes a point.

“You don’t want to over-prepare.”

Many people think it’s best to “get up there and be spontaneous.”

I disagree. Please do over-prepare. Practice like a freakin’ maniac. In addition to dealing with anxiety, extensive rehearsal is the most important thing that determines whether you’re good or not. Yet few people practice their presentations. As a result they come off as amateurs.

Someone once approached me at a cocktail party and asked for “One sentence on how to be a great speaker.” I responded, “I don’t need a sentence. I only need one word – rehearse.”

So if your boss gives you any of this rotten advice, tell them to call me. I’ll set them straight. No charge. It’ll be my pleasure.

Speechworks is a communication and selling skills coaching firm. We teach professionals how to craft and deliver complex messages in a simple, persuasive manner. Since 1986, through workshops and one-on-one instruction, we have helped countless individuals become better presenters and communicators. You can reach us at 404.266.0888, speech@speechworks.net or on the web at www.speechworks.net

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