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10 Public Speaking Mistakes to Avoid Now

I know – getting up to speak in front of an audience is a big accomplishment in itself!  You crossed the first hurdle of deciding your topic, jumped over the next hurdle of creating the content, soared towards the finish line by practicing, and dived over the finish line to victory by presenting your speech.

You made sure to heed the advice often given for successful public speaking: make eye contact, work the stage, use gestures etc.  Great!  But you may have committed a few mistakes you were not aware of, especially if you’re a new speaker.

Check out these top 10 mistakes to avoid now so your next speech will be a success.

1.Not reeling ‘em in:Give great thought to how you will hook the audience in from the moment you hit the stage.  Asking a question is a common way many speakers spark their audience’s interest off the bat. Some give a shocking statistic. Be creative! It’s easier to have the audience in the palm of your hand from the beginning than to try to reel them in later.

2.Being too stuffy:No, not meaning being stiff.  As in stuffing too much material into your speech or presentation. When you do this, two things can happen: you’re going to overwhelm your audience with information or you’ll go over your allotted time (or both).  A good basic rule of thumb to remember is that three is the magic number.  It’s easier for people to learn and retain information in threes. If possible, pare down your content to your three strongest points.

3.Not doing your homework:Imagine you’re on a town committee for the rebuilding of your local playground.  A fundraiser event is being held that includes a keynote speaker. The speaker approaches the stage…and their talk is focused on persuading the audience on why the playground is needed.  Everyone in the audience, at that event, is already aware why the playground is necessary. They do not need to be sold on why it should be built; this event is to raise donations for something that has already been decided on.  If you were sitting in that audience, wouldn’t you feel like you wasted your time? I’m pretty sure you would! My point is: whenever you’re asked to speak, you need to do your homework on the audience.  Ask the event coordinator about the demographics and interests of the audience (Millennials or baby boomers? Entry level or senior executives? How much knowledge do they already have about your topic? etc). Doing your research will ensure the audience is more receptive to your message.

4.Not preparing:This should be a no-brainer, but apparently it’s not because it’s on this list.  Unfortunately, I’ve seen many a speaker wing their speech. And it’s obvious to the audience. Writing a speech is just one part of the process. You have to practice that speech too: do a few dry runs in front of family or friends, observe your gestures in front of a mirror, record yourself and actually watch it. There’s more than one way to practice; find what works for you.  Go over it until you feel comfortable.  When you don’t prepare, you rob yourself of the opportunity to shine in the best light possible and your audience is robbed of a valuable experience to learn something new from you.

5.Forcing humor:Remember that joke about why the chicken crossed the road? That was a trick question – EVERYBODY remembers that joke! Inserting jokes (especially ones people have heard before) just for the sake of getting a laugh can backfire.  At best, you’ll get a pity laugh and at the worst – the audience won’t laugh at all.  Want to be funny? Think about how you deliver your speech.  Dialogue can be said in a humorous way…your gestures can be comical…your facial expressions can make the room erupt in laughter. In other words, make the most of the material you already have in your speech instead of forcing jokes in.

6.Being perfect:The audience is not expecting perfection – they want a connection. And it’s hard to connect when you’re more concerned about looking flawless. You are human. You may say or do something during your speech that didn’t happen when you practiced it. But you know what? It might be the BEST accident that can happen and add to your speech in some way. It may cause unexpected, genuine laughs for example. See #5.

7.Making (wrong) moves:Working the stage is great, but knowing how to work the stage is even better. Are you doing the same repetitive movements? Are you constantly pacing around the stage, without ever standing still? When you are still, what does your “resting” position look like? These are all things you’ll want to be aware of as you practice your speech.  Your movements can help or harm your presentation.

8.Lacking engagement:Ralph C. Smedley, the founder of Toastmasters International, said “We learn best in moments of enjoyment.” Think about it – your mind is less likely to drift off if someone is keeping you engaged and entertained in an activity.  This also holds true when giving a speech. You want to involve the audience, whether it’s having them perform an exercise or inviting someone on the stage with you for a demonstration.  The added bonus of engagement is that your message will be better remembered long after you’ve left the stage.

9.Passing on pauses:Guess what’s just as powerful as speaking? Not speaking.  I know it sounds counter-intuitive.  This simple speech device is often overlooked, but has a number of benefits. It has the power to grab your audience’s attention if they’ve become distracted. Don’t believe me? Try it! Suddenly stop talking and you’ll see eyeballs on you. They’ll wonder why you’re quiet.  When you pause after saying something profound, it also adds emphasis to your words. Don’t pass on the pause.

10.Reading: As in, reading verbatim from PowerPoint slides.  PowerPoint is a great tool when used the right way, but often the opposite happens. It’s a crutch for some speakers, merely a way to help them remember the contenttheyput on the slides. When you use PowerPoint as part of your presentation, you still must know your material in and out. You still must practice. What if there’s a technical problem and your presentation can’t be viewed? I’ve seen it happen! You should still be able to present your information to the audience.Click here for tips on using PowerPoint effectively.

These are the most common mistakes I see from speakers.  What have you seen?  Post in the comments below!


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