'Picture Your Audience Naked,' And Other Terrible Speaking Tips to Ignore

February 9, 2015

naked-audienceBy Michelle Mazur

The absolute worst piece of public speaking advice I ever received came from a dear friend of mine. My speech focused on giving up my dream job in paradise to pursue happiness and love in my personal life.

My friend suggested, “Wear a coconut bra and a grass skirt. As you get more disenchanted with Hawaii, you can strip them off.”

NO! A thousand times NO. Bad speaking advice not only comes from well-intentioned friends, it also abounds on the Internet.

Here are my top 5 bad speaking tips -- along with what you should do instead.

Myth #1: Picture Your Audience Naked

This tip wins the creepiest piece of public speaking advice ever. Unless your audience is filled with Channing Tatum or Angelina Jolie types, this piece of advice is only going to unnerve you (or if the audience is filled with beautiful people, it's going to be highly distracting). Picturing your audience naked is supposed to help you feel that the audience is as vulnerable as you are. It's intended to ease your nerves, but it doesn't help. It just makes you feel weird (and icky).

If you want to picture anything, visualize your presentation. Visualize stepping on the stage with your nerves working for you, and keep visualizing until you’ve seen yourself give the best presentation ever. The mind doesn’t know the difference between visualization and a real experience. Visualization tricks the mind into thinking you’ve done this speech a million times before, and you’re going to nail it.

Myth #2: Practice in Front of a Mirror

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?

Not you. Now, stop practicing in front of the mirror.

Why shouldn't you gaze upon your reflection as you practice your speech? Easy. This turns the focus of the presentation on you and makes you self-conscious.

Presentations are NEVER about you!

Pretty soon you'll be more focused on the way your nose smushes up when you say the word "onomatopoeia" instead of being concerned with connecting with the audience and getting your message across.

Step away from the mirror and use practice time as an opportunity to experiment and play. Need more good advice on how to practice your presentation? Check out the No Sweat Speech Prep guide to practice your next speech in less time.

Myth #3: Start With a Joke

Is your name Jimmy Fallon? How about Neil Patrick Harris? Perhaps you're Billy Murray? If you're not, then starting your presentation with a joke is a bad idea.

Audiences remember most what they hear first. If your joke bombs, your listeners are going to remember you flopping. If the joke offends, well that is even worse. Additionally, you're most nervous at the beginning of a presentation.

Telling a joke puts a ton of pressure on you to perform. Why put that kind of pressure on yourself? Instead tell a story, or ask a question that gets the audience involved. Don’t ever add humor to the beginning of the presentation. Let humor naturally occur.

Myth #4: Look at the Forehead Instead of the Eyes

At a networking event, one woman told me, "The best piece of speaking advice I ever got was to look at the audience members’ foreheads. I never feel nervous because I don't look at them."

I hated to break it to her that the WHOLE audience knew she wasn’t looking at them. I can totally tell when someone is NOT looking me in the eye. I bet you can too.

Superior advice: Pick a couple of members of the audience with whom you are comfortable making eye contact (these are your SAM - Spectacular Audience Members) and focus on them. Then as you get more comfortable, start making eye contact with more members of the audience.

Myth #5: Tell the Audience You're nervous, Drunk, Hung Over, Etc.

The belief is if you come clean about the fact that you're nervous or had bad personal news before the presentation that this will humanize you and endear you to the audience.

It actually makes people think you are making excuses about why you didn't bring your A-game to the presentation. Your nerves will dissipate. You'll be able to rally to give a great presentation despite the fact you’re tired or hung over.

You don't want to give a world class presentation then have your audience leave wondering, "Hmm... I wonder how much better that could have been if she hadn't been so nervous."

Don't be a victim of bad speaking advice that is bound to freak you out and make your audience frown. Not everything you read on the Internet is great advice. Trust an expert or ask your coach.

We've talked about the ugliest speaking advice around, but what was the BEST piece of advice you've ever received? Leave it in the comments section below.

READ MORE: 3 Tips for Presenting to an Unfamiliar Audience

About the Author

Michelle Mazur, Ph.D. is the CEO of Communication Rebel and the author of Speak Up for Your Business. The speakers she works with have gone on to book speaking gigs across the United States, raise 3x the amount of money expected for the launch of a charity, and  have spoken in front of world leaders and First Ladies. If you’re ready to rebel against the presentation status quo, visit Michelle and grab her free resource for ending your presentation with pizzaz.