10 annoying habits that undermine good speeches

The author’s pet peeves include air quotes and self-quotation. Which of these behaviors are driving your listeners batty without your even realizing it?

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In my blog posts about how to create and give great presentations, I sometimes focus on the big, fatal issues that kill great public speaking.

This time, I’m looking at pet peeves. None of these is career-threatening; they’re just infelicities, minor annoyances and tics. (Please feel free to weigh in with yours in the comments.)

1. Starting a speech with throat-clearing. That’s the tendency many speakers have to start with lame attempts to connect with the audience. “It’s great to see everyone here—especially after last night in the bar. Huh? Huh? You know who you are!” When I reproach my coachees about this sin, they say, “It’s to connect with the audience,” but the real reason is that they want to make themselves feel comfortable. Don’t do it. Instead, start the speech.

2. Starting with a prologue. Too much fiction starts with a prologue that details something that happens before the main events of the book, or after, or in some other universe. It’s self-conscious and annoying; the speaking equivalent, “Let me begin with a bit of background,” is just as vexing. If you’re giving me background, then you haven’t done the real work of figuring out what your story is.

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