Everyone is fallible … even public speaking superheroes. Sometimes we make mistakes because we don’t know any better. Sometimes because we are tired or jaded. And sometimes because we simply forget. Whether you are giving a lecture, conducting a business meeting or performing a sales presentation, you might want to put effort into avoiding these seven common speaking mistakes.
Speaking Mistake #1: Lack of focus
What is the point of your presentation? Why is are people putting their buns in the seats before you today? If you promised them a discussion on making money using Pinterest, don’t spend 30 minutes talking about Facebook. Give the people what they want and only that.
Speaking Mistake #2: Ignoring the needs of the audience
You need to know your audience — what their needs are, how familiar with your topic they are, etc. — if you are to give an effective presentation. You want to present the information at the right level, avoiding sharing information that they already know while not talking over their heads. The presentation is about them — not you. Always keep that in mind.
Speaking Mistake #3: Reading to your audience
Visual aids are meant to accent and highlight your information — not be the entire content of your presentation. So why do so many presenters create PowerPoint slides that are not only dense with information but then read them to the audience!? Keep your visual aids clean with plenty of white space. Then enhance the information there with what you have to say — while looking at the audience.
Speaking Mistake #4: Speaking “off the cuff”
While interviewing 80+ speakers for Public Speaking Super Powers there was a small handful that talked about how they didn’t know what they were going to say before they stepped in front of an audience. However, when I really started diving deeper into their speaking process what I discovered is they had an idea, they just didn’t know the specifics. Professional speakers know what points they want to make. They know their topic well. No speaker worth their salt truly speaks 100% “off the cuff” — and when they do, what results is usually a rambling monologue that leaves the audience unsatisfied.
Speaking Mistake #5: Equipment failure
Some things are beyond our control during a presentation. On the other hand, there are simple things you can do to reduce the likelihood of technical mishaps:
- Make sure your computer or other technology is compatible with the system you will be using
- Bring your own adaptors and cords
- Use a PDF of your slides instead of PowerPoint so that a different computer doesn’t ruin your formatting because it lacks the fonts or images you need.
And, because technology may fail you no matter how prepared you are, have a Plan B in case you can’t get the technology to work. I always bring along a few printouts of my slides. At worst, I’ll have a copy to help me keep on track. At best, someone there can make copies so the audience can see them, too.
Speaking Mistake #6: Speaking too long
There are two reasons you need to be mindful of how long you speak:
- The human mind can only be engaged with new information for so long before it needs a mental break. If you’ve got more than an hour’s worth of content, you need to break it up so that your audience has time to absorb it. Droning on without any type of mental break for two hours usually leaves your audience overwhelmed.
- whoever hired you gave you a time limit. If you go over your time you will throw their schedule off, perhaps short-changing another speaker. And, that person will never hire you again.
Rule of thumb, for every 60 minutes, only speak for 45 minutes. This gives you enough time to have a question and answer session, which audiences love.
Speaking Mistake #7: The Cardboard Cut-Out syndrome
Have you ever watched a speaker who was glued to the lectern? What about a speaker who basically stood in one place and barely moved? How engaged in that presentation were you?
Body language and intonation are just as important in engaging an audience as the content of your speech. There is a fine line between too much and too little movement, but doing nothing just looks disturbing.
We All Can Make Speaking Mistakes
If you are a seasoned speaker, don’t let hubris lull you into making these above speaking mistakes. Remember, every audience is unique, therefore every presentation is distinctive. Forget that fact, and you could lose your audience before you’ve even gained them. There is always something that you can learn to make your presentations better.
While audiences may be forgiving of little errors, such as the occasional filler word, losing track of your thoughts once, or even having a technology (or, horror of horrors, wardrobe) malfunction. But they are not so forgiving of presentations that waste their time and are not engaging — both of which happen when making the above mistakes.
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Can you think of any other mistakes you’ve either seen a speaker make or that you’ve made yourself? Share your story, and any sage advice on how to avoid that mistake, in the comments below.