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In the public speaking biz, it's still 1852

One of the unique hazards of making your living in and around public speaking is that there's so much anxiety and so little science involved in this business, that the most educated clients are as susceptible to quackery as a common rube with a strange rash, in 1852.

"Studies" show that people fear public speaking more than death. And presentation consultants still cite them, even though we're still awaiting the first report of a backstage suicide.

"Studies" show that goldfish have longer attention spans than people. (Or are they just better at faking it?)

"Studies" show that the words you say hold only 7% sway in getting the message across. Though misunderstood and long-ago debunked, the "Mehrabian Myth" lives on in LinkedIn posts of struggling actors and others who want to convince speakers that teachable mannerisms trump truthful messages.

And now comes one Neil Gordon, a speaking coach whose website promises he'll teach you to "attract the speaking opportunities you know you deserve."

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in a sponsored Facebook post, Gordon writes:

Nearly every public speaker makes the same mistake in the first 15 seconds of their talk.

And yet research teaches us that your audience will develop their impression of you within those first 15 seconds.

So if you mess up that opening, people will tune you out and spend the whole time on their phones.

And there you’ll be, feeling like a fraud in front of all of those people.

But if you completely nail those 15 seconds, you’ll have them held rapt at attention.

This can lead to leads, book sales, donations, or even shares online.

By clicking through you’ll find a short 5-minute video that will help you to never make the mistake that nearly every speaker makes in those critical opening moments of your talk ...

Let's demolish that logical lean-to with a few swift kicks: 

  1. We don't need "research" to tell us that audiences form a first "impression" ... at first?
  2. We don't have research that supports Gordon's absurd conclusion that an early stumble guarantees that "people will tune you out and spend the whole time on their phones." 
  3. We really don't need fear-mongering, warning people that one public-speaking slip-up will negate all their expertise, confidence and credibility and leave them "feeling like a fraud." 
  4. And really? All you have to do is blow an audience's doors off in the first 15 seconds, to have them "held rapt at attention"? 

I get mad about this stuff because I work with people who live to create more substantive communications for insecure speakers who do worry that they could blow the whole thing in the first 15 seconds.

That kind of anxiety doesn't need to be stoked, it needs to be starved with reassurance: If you have acquired valuable insight, if you have something honest to say that an audience ought to hear, no number of umms and ahhs will get in the way of that message.

And if you don't?

You'll come off looking like Neil Gordon, at best. —DM

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