As a public-speaking coach who works with CEOs and top global business leaders, I hear many people repeat commonly-held beliefs that hold back their progress. These myths are popular but mistaken.
Erase these four public-speaking myths from your mind (and vocabulary), and you’ll rapidly improve your confidence.
Myth #1: A speaker can practice too much
There’s no such thing as ‘too much’ practice.
I’ve rarely heard a professional athlete say they practiced too much for a game. Public speaking is a skill, too. And any skill can be sharpened with practice.
Leaders who have built a reputation as great public speakers put in the reps. Steve Jobs rehearsed every line, every gesture, and every demo for weeks ahead of his now famous product launches.
Great public speakers make it look effortless because they put in the effort to make it great.
Myth #2: Great speakers are ‘naturally gifted’
If you believe that others have a natural gift for public speaking, then you’re implying that you don’t have the gift.
Here’s the reality: show me a ‘gifted’ speaker, and I’ll show you a person who dedicated time (usually years) to hone their skill.
The myth of the gifted speaker is prevalent because we only see the final results or the speech or presentation that made them famous. We don’t see the years of dedication they put into building their skill.
For example, by the time Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his now famous ‘Dream Speech’ on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he had already delivered more than 2,500 speeches or sermons. When he was in college, King spent hours in his dorm room reading sermons out loud from well-known preachers of the day. He was attempting to replicate their cadence and delivery.
Great speakers are made, not born.
Myth #3: You’ll never conquer the fear of public speaking
This is a simple myth to debunk if you reframe the belief.
While it’s true that it’s nearly impossible to ‘conquer’ the butterflies you might feel before a speech or presentation, your goal shouldn’t be to eliminate fear altogether. Instead, great speakers learn to manage their anxiety, turning it into positive energy to perform their best when the pressure is on.
If you care about the quality of your performance, you’ll most likely feel a few jitters before you get in front of an audience. It’s okay because we’re hardwired to feel anxious. Anthropologists say we have a deep-seated desire to be liked because our earliest ancestors who were rejected by their tribes didn’t live very long.
I’ve met TED speakers, billionaires, and CEOs who were once terrified of public speaking but today are considered charismatic communicators. Once again, it comes down to putting in the time and, more importantly, knowing that you can build your confidence.
Myth #4: Public speaking is a ‘soft’ skill
I’ll admit that I’m still working on eliminating this phrase from my vocabulary–and I’m a speaking coach.
Although public speaking as a ‘soft’ skill is ingrained in our conversations, the hard evidence shows that public speaking is the most desirable skill to cultivate.
I remember the first time a famed venture capitalist debunked the myth. I met with Geoff Ralston, the president of seed accelerator Y Combinator (early investors in Airbnb, DoorDash, Reddit, and thousands of other startups). During our conversation, I called public speaking a “soft skill.” Ralston corrected me before I finished the question. “You might call it ‘soft.’ I call it fundamental,” he said.
Ralston’s point was that an entrepreneur can have a great idea, but if they can’t persuade investors, partners, and potential employees to join them, their startup won’t even get off the ground.
Building confidence in public speaking has a lot to do with what you feed your mind. Start by shattering these popular myths so your thoughts don’t get in the way of your success.