12 Most Ridiculous Communication Myths to Stop Believing

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.”

Don't buy into these common communication myths!

Don’t buy into these common communication myths!

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

There is no such thing as a perfect speaker

There is no such thing as a perfect speaker

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!

This article originally appeared here on 12Most.com. Reposted with permission and love.

photo by: JD Hancock

Comments

  1. I love this list! I speak in front of groups a lot in my line of work and I have heard and seen so many of these myths. I have to say that it is amazing that many of them have lasted as long as they have. You have done a great job at laying them out here and explaining the realities, thanks!!!

    • Michelle Mazur says:

      Thank you! I know #1 has been around FOREVER. I wish it would just die. Most of my colleagues in communication wished that #1 would die. It’s like the zombie myth!

  2. After our Twitter conversation last night I was so sure this list was going to include a clarification about the difference between “communication” and “communications”! :)

    This list is great! Numbers 11 and 12 are the two the come up the most often with my public speaking and biz consulting clients. Speakers/communicators have to be real … and real is very rarely perfect. They also have to know how their audience thinks … and the words, examples, and images that are most likely to resonate. That requires listening, research, and real-time response and adaptation.

    Thanks for posting, Michelle!

    • Michelle Mazur says:

      LOL! It was a good thing I had this loaded and ready for posting before seeing that “communications” business. That still really chaps my hide.

      I’m glad you liked the list! 11 and 12 are tough ones. People have an image in their head that they must be like Michelle Obama or Tony Robbins instead of being the wonderful person they are. #12 – getting people to understand that what they say is not what is heard is always a challenge. You do have to get inside the mind of your audience!

  3. Great list. I have had to speak in front of groups many times, but it’s not something I enjoy doing. I have found it’s much more comforting making that eye contact. You realize people care about what you are saying and it helps to build the relationship. lol.. if I tried to picture everyone naked, I’d just start giggling… and probably not be able to stop.

    • Michelle Mazur says:

      I always tell people who are nervous to look at the audience and find the one or two audience members who are really great audience members. They are not just listening – they are leaning forward, smiling, nodding and supporting you. If you are nervous or hit a rough patch making eye contact with that person just makes you feel good! Thank you for your comment Sandy.

  4. Michelle,

    Great list! I think I have heard every one of these myths at some point in my life. I know when I was a full-time social worker I would watch body language a lot when interviewing people (i was a child abuse investigator). The words would tell me so much when I was interviewing them but it was almost always something they did physically that gave someone when they were lying to me. I couldn’t have done my job effectively if they hadn’t been talking to me too. It was a combination of both that made all the difference.

    I do recall when I was in speech class (so many years ago) being told to look at the audience and “pretend” they were naked. It never worked for me but then again I never had that much of a problem speaking in front of crowds. I would get an adrenaline rush and everything was okay.

    Aaron Brinker aka DadBlunders

    • Michelle Mazur says:

      Hello Aaron! Wow a child abuse investigator that had to be a really intense job. I think detecting deception is a bit different. Most people go into a conversation with a truth bias – we generally believe what people tell us. However, if your job is to suss out deception then the way you perceive the interaction is going to be different. You are really paying attention to those nonverbals in a way most people don’t plus you are probably looking for other things like consistency of their story as well. I should write a post on deception at some point.

      My high school speech teacher told us to look at their forehead or at the back of the room. Thank goodness he didn’t say naked – my high school crush was in my speech class – that would have ruined me!

  5. I heard someone say — and I can’t remember who it was now — that hearing information is the least-efficient way to receive it because the ear has only one shot at it. I’d say adding a visual aspect to the information you are presenting can have a tremendous impact on making it understood better.

    • I totally agree with that sentiment. I for one need visual reinforcement with messages. If I can’t see it in my mind, my comprehension goes down especially if the message is complex. A good visual makes all the difference.

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