7 public speaking pitfalls—and how to sidestep them

More is always too much. Also, don’t show up without energy, emotion and enthusiasm.

7 speaking pitfalls

If you speak in a public setting, you will make mistakes. That’s expected.

Still, you want to minimize errors. Thankfully, many presentation mistakes are avoidable—with a bit of practice and strategic preparation.

Here are seven common blunders and how to avoid them:

1. More is too much.

You’ve been invited to speak because you’re the expert, so it’s crucial to tell the audience everything you know, right? No, that is definitely not the case.

Your job is to be clear, concise and compelling. Tell your audience exactly what they need to know, and prioritize information they’ll find helpful and relevant. Skip irrelevant anecdotes and ancillary tidbits.

Remember: It’s not about how much you know; it’s about what they need to know.

2. Don’t make them read.

How’s the word count on your slide deck? The fewer words, the better.

Have a conversation instead. Your audience longs for interesting, stimulating human connections—not dense chunks of text. If you do show slides, make sure they are highly relevant, simple and visually driven.

3. Don’t try to be a comedian.

Humor can elevate your speech, but it can massively backfire.

Unless you are being paid to deliver a standup comedy routine, don’t deliver one. Mix in a few quips, keep it light, but don’t waste your audience’s time with misguided attempts at humor.

Also, don’t save the punchline for the end; give it to your audience up front.

4. Don’t show up without energy, emotion and enthusiasm.

If you’re resigned to the fact that your subject matter is boring, what will your audience think?

Going through the motions with a detached, listless delivery will ruin your chances to connect with attendees. To be taken seriously, command their attention. Make them feel your passion and believe in what you’re saying. Emotion, energy and enthusiasm are contagious.

5. Don’t play it safe.

If you plan to read a script or regurgitate your slides verbatim, just send your colleagues an email or a document with your recommendations.

Take some risks to make your message stick:

  • Tell stories.
  • Use props.
  • Ask thought-provoking questions.
  • Surprise your audience.
  • Use provocative slides.
  • Challenge the status quo.

6. Don’t forget to connect.

Many presenters lean heavily on logic and data to drive home their points. That’s fine, but you must make your audience feel something. Make eye contact, encourage their participation, and try these tips:

  • Evoke attendees’ curiosity.
  • Challenge their thinking.
  • Use vivid metaphors and analogies.
  • Use descriptive, visceral language.
  • Animate your message through movement.
  • Vary your tone of voice and sentence cadence.

7. Don’t forget to be you.

Too many presenters turn into “robo corporate spokesperson” the minute they hit the lectern.

Just be you. Show personality, and speak the way you normally do. There’s no need to put on a stern façade. Don’t be afraid to be a bit vulnerable. Sharing a few personal details and insights helps you break the ice with the audience.

Maurice DeCastro is CEO of Mindful Presenter. A version of this post first appeared on the Mindful Presenter blog.


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