Public Speaking & the Myth of Perfection

Public speaking often gets a bad wrap…especially when you’re young.

My teachers wanted me to present in front of the class a few times a year…but provided no training. However, there was usually plenty of unrealistic pressure to be perfect. Perfection in a high school class boiled down to hitting the top boxes on a syllabus that required I never utter the dreaded “um” word, made eye contact 6 times, and “engaged” the audience (whatever that meant to a teenager).

Nowadays, youth have access to the internet.


When you get a public speaking assignment, you can Google anything you want help on. I think too often the public speaker examples we usually see (& try to emulate) are people who have been professionally coached and/or have put in tons of hours & years rehearsing their content (usually on something they are experts on). We don’t realize that the average beginner speaker has no chance of looking or sounding that fabulously.

SO, when we fall short by giving a regular-ish talk in school (sprinkled with some personal pizazz) and we’re nervous….and make mistakes…it’s natural to feel defeated or even embarrassed that we aren’t as good as we imagined ourselves being.

Our experience can feed are already low self confidence in public speaking…and before we know it, there’s an overprotective voice in our heads prompting us to “stop trying…’cause we’re never going to be good anyway.”

Which brings me to the myth. YOU WILL NEVER BE PERFECT here on earth. It’s just not human.

I want you to recognize that there is an overly-critical voice in your head (aka your inner critic).

I’ll bet you’ve had negative thoughts about yourself before.

This is normal… you’re not an anomaly. 🙂

In fact, it’s soooooooo normal that many people are used to their negative inner voice chomping away at their thoughts that they don’t recognize it anymore. It’s become part of who they are. They believe whatever self-doubting mumbo-jumbo their inner critic imagines up. They use it as reasoning and personal permission to NOT try new things…or hard things they’ve failed at in the past.

Your Inner Critic says stuff like:
  • “You’re going to embarrass yourself if you try.”
  • “You are not cool enough to wear that.”
  • “You’re not pretty enough…”
  • “You have nothing new to offer.”
  • “You’re not smart…so don’t try to answer that question.”
  • “You’ve a phoney.”
  • “You’re a poser.”
  • “You’re not worthy of being treated kindly or loved.”
  • “Wait until you do ‘x’ perfectly before you let anyone see you try.”
  • “You have to prove that you’re valuable before anyone will want to be your friend.”

WOOOOooooh! No wonder people get nervous and tense up!

All this inner critic dialogue can easily shut down your positivity, optimism, gratitude, and willingness to do do things that will help you to grow!

Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, has done a TED talks (“Brené Brown: The Power of Vulnerability” and “Brené Brown: Listening to Shame”), been on Oprah’s talk show, and has written some amazing books on her study into vulnerability. From her 2012 book, Daring Greatly she says the following about the myth of perfection:

“When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make…. Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.”

If you have perfectionist thoughts cluttering up your young mind…I want you to start noticing them when they happen.

  • What are you doing when they occur?
  • What is your inner critic saying?
  • Does it take the form of anyone you know? (Like a teacher, relative, Voldemort?)

Once you are aware of your inner critic, what is says, sounds like, and what experiences often kick it into high gear, you then can start to acknowledge it for trying to help you out…but then dismiss it. Then do the thing you’ve been worried about.

As it relates to public speaking, you’re not going to be “perfect” for a very long time (if ever). But if you have all that fear clouding your mind, you’ll likely avoid it all together…and never get better.

Your negative thoughts about yourself will force you to focus on the wrong thing…YOU. When you’re speaking to a group (or an individual) this is a time to focus on those listening. Serve them. Listen. Be present. (No perfect)


SITUATION: you feel nervous about speaking

  1. Recognize when your inner critic’s self-doubting safety warnings are coming up for you.
  2. Acknowledge the critic’s concerns. (Maybe say: “Thanks voice….I know you’re trying to protect me from rejection, but I’m going to do it anyway.)
  3. Do it! (Learn from it.)

Once you stop expecting to perfect, you can make realistic goals for your growth.

Good goals such as:

  • Memorize outline
  • Create a Pre-Stage Warm up Ritual
  • Use Improv in rehearsals to play with different ways of delivering content
  • Ask for rehearsal feedback 3 times before your speak
  • Reduce wiggley movements
  • Develop & integrate your personal story

When you can identify goals you can measure and accomplish (rather than “be perfect”), you’ll be able to feel better about yourself, enjoy speaking more, and develop your communication skills purposefully (and quickly).

If you got anything out of this article I hope it was to NOT WAIT UNTIL YOU’RE PERFECT to speak.

Learning to let yourself fail, adding humor, taking an improv class, and using stories are some of the many ways to be a better speaker. Perfection is not.
Leave a comment and tell me what you are going to work on in your next talk?