12 most deadly sins of public speaking

These common, yet fixable mistakes can undermine an otherwise solid presentation.


Speaking in front of an audience can be a major source of stress. However, most speakers can still give a great presentation if they stay away from these bad habits. Here are 12 behaviors to avoid when you’re on the platform.

1. Little to no preparation

Even professional speakers practice relentlessly. Their skill is in relaying their message as if it is for the first time. Very few people can wing it and do an exceptional job. Don’t chance it. Practice, practice, practice.

2. Not knowing your audience beforehand

Good speakers always know who makes up the audience. It makes it possible to tailor the speech to the group and pepper the presentation with nuances only they would understand. Show that you actually care about whom you are talking to. (Yes, I know I ended the sentence with a preposition, which irks me, but whatever.)

3. Poor visual aids

Visual aids are meant to enhance your presentation. Period. They should not be overpowering, nor should they be minimal to the point of being negligible. Too much can be just as offensive as too little. Use them correctly, or don’t use them at all.

4. No eye contact

In conversation, we tend to be wary of people who don’t look us in the eye. This rule doesn’t change for a speaker in front of the audience. You may not be able to look at every single audience member, but glances should fall in various directions. If that makes you nervous, look between people. They won’t be able to tell.

5. Monotone delivery

It’s painful listening to a speaker who has no vocal variety. It’s like listening to a dial tone. It’s not how we speak in regular conversation. If you do, you probably don’t have many friends. Change it up in a natural manner.

6. Turning your back on the audience

It’s OK to glance back to double-check on your projection. However, talking to a screen is a sure way to break the connection you are trying to establish. The only exception is if you need to use a pointer, and even then, just turn sideways.

7. Failure to tell stories

Stories reinforce the points of all good speakers. Most people see and remember in images. This is the strongest tool of connection for speakers to use-even when presenting statistics or other dry material. Give your content life.

8. Failure to study your audience

While you are presenting, the audience provides clues as to whether they are engaged or not. By monitoring their reactions, you can gauge whether to speed up, slow down, walk around to change the energy, etc. If you are not one to observe your audience, just send a recording of yourself giving the speech. Save them from your oblivion.

9. No summary

People learn better when things are packaged nicely. Rambling on with no recap leaves listeners to sum things up on their own—assuming they remember your ramblings. Give your audience takeaways that drive home the point of your talk.

10. Going over the allotted time

Don’t show a lack of regard for your audience by speaking beyond the designated period. Good speakers pay close attention and adjust the presentation as needed. If it is absolutely necessary and your audience is engaged, ask them for a few extra minutes. It’s a sign of acknowledgement.

11. No call to action

There should always be a reason for your speech. It might be to inform, inspire, or motivate. Whatever the purpose, your audience should walk away with something—relevant knowledge, an action to implement, or a new thought. Otherwise, what was the point of your being there?

12. Thinking it’s all about you

When you speak, your job is to relay a message that matters. The audience has given you its time, and you should reciprocate by giving them something of value. It’s not about you. What you say should live beyond you.

Ditch these no-nos and you will give a solid presentation every time. For novices to seasoned speakers, the rules are the same. The bottom line is that your audience wants you to succeed; otherwise, they’re the ones who pay for it. Give them the best you can.

Dr. F. Emelia Sam is a writer, speaker, and oral surgeon in the Washington, D.C. area. Republished with permission, courtesy of 12 Most.

Topics: PR

COMMENT

Ragan.com Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from Ragan.com directly in your inbox.