Bad communication and public speaking advice abounds on the Internet and even from communication professionals. At a networking event, I mentioned that I was a presentation coach. It was met with a reply “Oh, when I speak I always look right above my audience’s head so I don’t have to make eye contact. That’s what my high school public speaking teacher told me to do.”
I pondered whether I should correct her or just smile and move on. In order to become better communicators, the myths of communication must be debunked. Little did my networking friend know that she would be the inspiration for the 12 Most Ridiculous Communication Myths that Everyone Needs to Stop Believing.
1. 93% of communication meaning is nonverbal
Have you ever tried to watch a foreign film without subtitles? According to his “rule”, you should be able to follow 93% of the plot based on vocal intonation and nonverbal signals. Heck, I couldn’t even follow the plot of Trainspotting without subtitles and that movie was in English (kind of). The Mehrabian Myth has been perpetuated throughout the Internet as an undeniable rule of communication. Except that is not what Mehrabian found in his study of communication – he was actually researching emotionally congruent versus incongruent messages. Martin Shovel at Creativity Works does an excellent job debunking this myth in his short video – Watch it and learn.
2. Public speaking is the #1 fear
No one has ever died or been gravely injured while giving a speech. Ambulances are not on standby outside of Toastmasters meetings across the globe. Basically, this myth comes from a book called The Book of Lists by David Wallenchinsky among others. Public Speaking is #1, insects and bugs are at #3 and death ranks at #7. The problem is that people were given a list of fears to check and simply people checked fear of public speaking most often. Public speaking is not the #1 fear it is just the most commonly reported fear!
3. Picturing an audience naked will totally help with your nerves
The reasoning behind this myth is that it will make your audience appear as vulnerable as you feel. It never works and not only that can be rather distracting. Some people you just don’t want to imagine naked! Knowing the introduction to your presentation so well you could deliver it drunk is a far better and less disturbing way to cope with the jitters. By the way, I am not advocating drunken presenting!
4. Introverts are shy
Introverts might be shy but often time they are gregarious and outgoing. In fact, you might not even know someone is introverted. Being introverted means getting more energy from internal thoughts and feeling then the external world. You can be introverted and be outgoing.
5. You can wing it
No. You can’t. Practice your presentation, elevator pitch or even that tough conversation you need to have with your boss. If you know what you want to say beforehand, you’ll be more successful delivering a clear message.
6. Don’t make eye contact – look at their forehead
The problem with this piece of advice is the ENTIRE audience knows you are not looking at them! The better advice is to find several friendly faces in the audience to make eye contact. As your get more comfortable while speaking, make eye contact with several more.
7. Jargon makes me sound smarter
It actually just makes you sound incomprehensible. As a communicator you always have to speak the language of those you want to reach. Jargon, acronyms, and corporate speak don’t belong if you want people to get your message.
8. It’s ok if I go over time
NO! NO! NO! It is NOT ever ok to go over time in a presentation. You will lose your audience and tick people off. If anything end early!
9. The more information I can stuff in the more effective my communication
Simple messages that are easy for the audiences to comprehend are the best messages for presentations. However, it takes a lot more work to distill a complex idea to its essence instead of just spewing information.
10. Start with a joke
Starting a presentation or conversation with joke puts a TREMENDOUS amount of pressure on you. If your joke flops, you face a room so silent you can hear the air conditioning whirring in the background or worse getting the pity laugh from the crowd. Unless you are Jon Stewart or Gilbert Gottfried, never add humor to a presentation instead let humor flow naturally.
11. You must be perfect
Your presentation will never be perfect. Speakers are human. We make mistakes. The good news is that audiences are very forgiving of our mistakes. Your audience is on your side. They want you to succeed. Most of the time, the mistakes made in a presentation are bigger in your own mind then to your audience. Embrace imperfection!
12. What you say is what is understood
We would live in a perfect world if what we said was understood perfectly. Communication is filtered through a person’s perception. It’s entirely possible that no matter how clearly you deliver your message, the recipient might still miss the point. It’s always best to check if the other person got the message.
Becoming better communicators is paramount to be successful in business. Communication is key to grow your client base or get promoted at work. I hope that by debunking these communication myths that you are on your way to being all you can be as a communicator and presenter.
Did I miss any myths? Do you disagree with any of them? Please let me know in the comments below!
Speech Coach and Presentation Skills Trainer, Dr. Michelle Mazur, guides driven-to-succeed business professionals and independent business owners to ignite the smoldering fire within to speak up, speak out and make their impact — one compelling presentation at a time. Clients get noticed, promoted and paid more by overcoming their reluctance and learning to speak with authenticity and confidence, no matter how big or small their audience. To learn her proven approach to get ready for opportunity now — visit her website..
You are right - I'm an introvert, and I love speaking (and teaching and coaching). I just will want to end the day with a glass of wine and a book to recharge.
I might have a slidedeck, or go through a couple controlled scenarios in a product workflow before a demonstration, but I do generally wing it without notes or prior practice. I try to know the content backwards/forward, and then adapt my approach on the fly based upon audience involvement.
And some of the anecdotes and analogies that come out on-the-fly surprise even me!
@dbvickery I think there are different ways to practice a presentation. I think practicing begins when you start crafting your content. When you know it backwards and forwards, you are practicing. Although I do strongly recommend practicing it out loud before going in and doing it live.
Albert Mehrabian was talking about face to face, one on one, in person communications. It is disingenuous to try to compare the meaning of his research to a movie or even to giving a presentation to large groups.
It is apples and oranges.
In one on one communications training for sales and executives we prove his theory time and time again by saying the same exact words with different inflections and body language and getting different reactions from each of the recitations. (Which brings up another point - To the recipient, the MEANING of your communication is the response you get.)
The words themselves count for very little of the meaning. The inflection and body language is much more important.
Time to go study his research again. You missed the point entirely.
423 people died in the US in 2010 while giving a public presentation.
It is the number 1 fear in terms of % of people with that fear. Many polls over the years have come up with the same answer. It maybe not be #1 in terms depth of the fear. In other words asking would you rather let a scorpion crawl on your bare skin or give a speech to 200 people. It may not be the #1 phobia either.
But it IS the number 1 fear in terms of number of people who say they have that fear.
The MEANING of your presentation is what is understood.
The MEANING of your communication is the response you get.
NOT What is said is what is understood.
At least get the statement correct if you are going to try to refute it.
Yes. It is impossible for anyone to perfectly understand something you attempt to communicate, but that does not change the fact that the meaning of your communication to the recipient is what was understood.
@Nunya BTW, you need read #12 a bit more closely. Essentially, you agree with me. The myth is what you say is what is understood - but the reality is the recipient's perception plays a large role in their understanding. It's why I suggest checking in with the other person for understanding.
@Nunya More importantly, on average 2 people per year nearly die from choking on a popsicle stick. When will the madness stop?!?!
I'm not going to pretend like I know what either of you are talking about at the level you are talking about it, but I will say this. If words count for so little of the meaning as you say in your response, how do you explain the success of communication through social media which is all typed words? Or someone who is deaf that does not hear inflection only the words from someone signing? Or a blind person that cannot see the body language? Do you mean to tell me that these people do not understand the true meaning of what is being communicated?
Of course it plays a role, but to say "The words themselves count for very little of the meaning" is not a true representation of what is happening on the receiving end of the communication.
@MarcEnsign On average 37 people die while having sex and 557 died while exercising in 2011. Better stop having sex and exercising. :-)
Without words, we would never get anything done. Could you imagine trying to tell your spouse that you want to go out to dinner for Indian food without using words and just using vocal inflection and body language? Unless she is psychic, she'd never figure out what you wanted, but believers in the Mehrabian myth would tell you that 9 times out of 10 - she'd understand.
@Nunya Mehrabian's research has been misinterpreted by many people. has been misinterpreted by many people. The research was on face-to-face communication. In fact, here is a great explanation of the original research. Even quoting Mehrabian himself about the misinterpretation There are also a slew of articles supporting my point of view. Feel free to read those and let me know what you think. I also say you should watch the video as they talk about it as well. http://www.speakingaboutpresenting.com/presentation-myths/mehrabian-nonverbal-communication-research/
It is not disingenuous to use the film example. As I was not applying his research but taking the conclusion that people commonly make from his research and applying that to the example to show that the research is misinterpreted.
The myth of public speaking being the #1 fear originated in the Book of Lists. Where when given a long list of fears, 41% of respondents picked public speaking. This made it the most cited fear. To say that it is the scariest would mean that there needs to be a follow-up question where respondents were asked the severity of their fear to each response they selected. Then we could conclude that it was indeed scarier then death. I'd highly recommend you check out out Scott Berkun's Confessions of a Public Speaker. He debunks it thoroughly as well.
I still want to know the citation of the 423 deaths from public speaking in 2010. I did a search and couldn't find it.
I'm glad you are so passionate about communication. Since you don't have a profile and are posting anonymously, what is your background in communication?
@terez07 I think it is in the public speaking high school handbook. I heard it from my teacher too. I know it's suppose to ease the nerves, but people know when you are doing. Not the best tip for managing nerves!
Unfortunately, #2 isn't exactly true. I was at a conference once when the speaker described another speaker from years past who was dependent on his slides. I don't remember what happened to the slides but he had to ad lib the presentation. He became more and more agitated as the presentation went on and, ultimately had a heart attack and died.
Of course it doesn't say public speaking on the death certificate. If they have a heart attack or stroke because of the fear of public speaking or the stress of public speaking then it will say heart attack or stroke. Just because they had a bad heart before the speech doesn't mean the speech wasn't the precipitating factor in the heart attack.
423 people died while giving public presentation in the US in 2010. To categorically state that giving the speech was not a precipitating factor to any of the deaths is simply not possible to prove. It would be just as valid to state and much easier to prove that at least SOME of them did die because of the stress giving the speech induced.
That may have been the most self serving, argumentative and total BS answer I have ever seen from someone that is trying to push themselves as a presentation and communications expert.
@Nunya @Michelle_Mazur@momof3and3 I would love to have the exact citation for the 2010 statistic. Where can I find it? Since I do have a Ph.D. in Communication, I like to be as accurate as possible. So please give me the cite, so I can amend the article accordingly. Thank you for your comment.
@Michelle_Mazur@momof3and3 LOL. Certainly an outlier but a precipitating factor non the less. I heard the story at a retreat for Intensive Care fellows 20 years ago so I don't remember anything being specified about the gentleman's history. I simply remember the story because I used to speak exclusively from slides with no notes for as much as 3 hours.