My Twitter feed gets filled up with lots of exclamation-mark-heavy headlines about genius ways to “hack” public speaking. “3 Public Speaking Hacks from Top Leaders!” “4 Hacks to Eliminate Fear of Public Speaking!” “The 11 Best Public Speaking Hacks You Will Ever Need (#7 is Pure Genius)!”
They promise ways to trick your brain, or trick your audience’s brains, or trick up your content in ways that magically transform you from a shivering wreck into a confident dynamo.
These articles are great Cinderella stories. And I loathe them.
The very notion of public speaking hacks drives me nuts. It isn’t that all the advice contained within these articles it terrible. Sometimes the techniques are often pretty solid – heck, I even teach variations of them myself.
No, the problem is in the way the techniques are framed: as easy shortcuts any doofus should be able to accomplish. Any article that describes a skill or technique as a ‘hack’ is making that promise.
Here’s the rub: finding public speaking techniques that work for you is not like discovering a new use for lemon juice or dryer sheets. Speaking is a deeply personal act, one that’s affected by a lifetime of habits and hangups. To tell someone that good speaking is as easy as simply choosing to relax, smile, and joke around with your audience is doing that person a disservice. When every cell in your hindbrain is screaming to cut and run, relaxing and cracking a joke is neither simple nor easy. Telling someone to “practice your talk” is a facile bit of advice when you don’t acknowledge the mental blocks or time crunches that are preventing them from engaging in that practice.
That process of learning how to relax requires time and attention. The speaker need to learn why they are tense, what situations trigger their tension, and what techniques seem to help. They need to practice those relaxation techniques over and over in different situations until they’re able to apply them quickly and easily when they’re up at the front of the room giving their presentation. The same goes for practice techniques – you need spend time in a thoughtful trial-and-error process to figure out which practice strategies work for you. Yes, strategies can be taught (I teach a number of practice strategies to my clients), but it takes time and effort to make those strategies work.
Most public speaking techniques takes a whole lot of time, attention, and patience to implement. Boiling down these processes to pithy little hacks does little more than make people feel like failures because they aren’t able to turn speaking into a task as simple as de-stinking your garburator with a lemon rind. They’re more likely to become dissuaded rather than encouraged.
There are no shortcuts in public speaking. If you want to become good, you need to play the long game. There’s ways to become more effective or efficient, but you have to be willing to invest time and effort. If you want to improve your speaking, don’t search for hacks. Instead, admit that becoming a good speaking and crafting good presentations takes time and effort. Look for resources that promise “effective” rather than “quick.” Then patiently and gently put in the hard graft necessary to make a real, sustained difference to your speaking skills.
And take it from someone who’s lived it: the reward of the long game outstrip anything you’ll get from a hack.
Ever tried a trick or hack to help with your speaking? Did it work for you? Use the social share buttons on the left to tell me on Twitter or Facebook!