Why Speakers and Mirrors Don’t Mix

Do your speakers practice in front of a mirror? Here’s why they should stop.

Karen Hough thinks it’s not only okay to make mistakes when presenting, she encourages speakers to be “bad” presenters — arguing in her recent book, Be the Best Bad Presenter Ever: Break the Rules, Make Mistakes, and Win Them Over, that it’s not polish and perfection that audiences respond to, but authenticity and passion.

The founder and CEO of ImprovEdge, a company that uses improvisation to teach business skills, Hough believes that you can’t be yourself when you take the stage if you’re trying to follow all sorts of handed-down rules about public speaking. She debunks more than a dozen myths in Be the Best Bad Presenter Ever to put speakers more at ease.

One of the rules she encourages speakers to break: Practice in front of a mirror. Hough writes:

[H]ere’s what happens when you practice in front of a mirror: You get used to performing for an “audience” that’s about 12 inches away. You become obsessed with how you hold your face, the arc of your arm, and that part of your body you don’t like. You think about yourself and how you look. You worry about tics you didn’t notice before, or conversely, you really enjoy smiling back at that good-looking person in the mirror. In short, you practice watching yourself.

You’re supposed to be practicing watching the audience! Nothing will make you self-conscious and inwardly focused more quickly than practicing in front of a mirror.

Sure, practicing in front of a mirror, maybe once, might help you become aware of how you look. That’s not an awful thing, but you’ve got to step away and feel the excitement and fear of facing a room. You may not look perfect, and that’s just fine.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.