Many public speakers stall in their development because they focus too much on the wrong things—on approaches, notions, and standards that have little or no practical impact on their audience.
These are ideas they may have seen on television, heard from colleagues, or even read on the internet, but they ultimately make no difference because they’re targeting the wrong communication objectives.
But before I share a list of popular communication considerations that don’t matter, I want to reinforce the one that matters most: knowing and conveying your point.
This is a crucial understanding because if you don’t know your point well, no amount of communication skill or experience, no amount of charm or charisma, and no amount of intelligence or knowledge will overcome that handicap. Remember: Your job as a presenter is not to be enjoyed, admired, or even remembered; it’s to convey your point so powerfully that your audience is inspired.
That’s the most important consideration. Now, here are some of the least important:
1. Your appearance.
Although you should never dress inappropriately for a speaking event, the color of your tie, teeth, or tiara has little impact on your ability to champion your point.
This misunderstanding is one of the reasons why I discourage speakers from practicing in front of mirrors. Who looks into a mirror and wonders, “Am I making my point effectively?” But this question is by far the most crucial consideration of all. No one in your audience sees your presentation as a fashion show or beauty pageant, and you shouldn’t either.
2. How entertaining you are.
Making your audience laugh or smile also has little to do with making a point. You’re a presenter, not a performer, which means you’re selling your ideas, not yourself (unless all you want is another speaking gig).
We often think of communicators as funny, talented, charismatic, or brilliant. But all of those glistening qualities are useless takeaways if the communicator’s objective was to deliver a specific point and their audience never received it. At the end of your speech, you don’t want your audience thinking of you; you want them to be thinking anew.
3. Vocal variety.
Yes, it’s nice to hear speakers vary their pace and tone from time to time for emphasis and novelty, but most speakers have distinctive speech styles that make them unique and authentic. They also have a lot on their minds while speaking, so they should focus more on reinforcing their points and less on inserting artificial ups and downs to make a sentence sound more interesting. Vocal variety is a neat-to-have, but very far from a need-to-have.
4. Your personal qualifications.
I used to start my presentations with five-minute explanations of my history and qualifications, only to be met with blank stares as I buried my true point deeper and deeper.
Here’s the thing: Audiences grant speakers credibility based merely on the invitation to speak. And speakers typically get adequate introductions before they begin. There’s no need to establish more credibility. Even more concerning: Speakers get more attention at the start of their presentations than at any other point. They need to make the most of that brief moment by getting to the point as efficiently as possible, not delaying it with the recitation of a resume.
A presentation is a job, not a competition. No judges are waiting to deduct technical points for coughing, sneezing, fumbling with a word, or saying “ah” or “um” a few times, so put aside any notion that perfection is a goal or even a substantial benefit. Yes, limiting your crutch words is a good idea (and replacing those space-fillers with pauses will help you come across more clearly), but realize that your audience knows you’re human and will make allowances when you do human things.
Instead of aiming for perfection, embrace the imperative of your actual job: effectively delivering your point, even if imperfectly.
6. The thing you forgot to say.
It’s pretty typical to forget a detail or section of your speech. You may even beat yourself up about it. But your audience doesn’t mind because they never knew it existed in the first place, and anything you forget was probably not that important.
Keep in mind that your audience won’t remember everything you say anyway, so your primary job is to know the idea or ideas they must take with them and make sure that they do.
Joel Schwartzberg is a communications executive, public speaking trainer, and author of Get to the Point! Sharpen Your Message and Make Your Words Matter and The Language of Leadership: How to Engage and Inspire Your Team. Follow him on Twitter @TheJoelTruth.