Don’t make these 5 public speaking excuses

Chances are you’re not facing a tough crowd and no, you can’t wing it. Dismiss these excuses before they hurt you as a speaker.

As a speech coach, my job is to cheer on my clients and help them push past their public speaking excuses. The resistance to change inevitably comes up, and I help them gently move past it.

The bottom line is this: Do you want to make excuses, or do you want to get better?

I posed this question to someone who asked for my feedback on a presentation. When I gave my feedback, the person blamed everyone else for the lackluster performance.

As a speaker, your responsibility is to the audience. Making excuses for failure holds you back from massive success in the future. Here are five excuses to avoid:

Excuse No. 1: “It was a tough crowd.”

Sometimes crowds are tough and you aren’t able to connect. You can prepare and have a well-planned presentation strategy, but sometimes your presentation still goes down in flames.

Before you say it’s a tough crowd, be honest and think about how well you prepared. Did you meet the audience’s expectation for the presentation? Did you understand who they were and what their problems are? Did you answer these three questions to connect or try to keep them NEAR?

If you didn’t, it’s time to own up and do a presentation autopsy to see what you can learn. If you did, then it was a tough crowd.

Excuse No. 2: “There was no agenda.”

The meeting planner didn’t give a proper introduction for the purpose of the presentation and why the audience is there. It happens.

The speaker’s responsibility is to set the agenda. During the introduction, tell the audience exactly what’s in it for them, as well as the takeaway. This gives the audience a road map and reason to be there.

Excuse No. 3: “I know I went over time, but audiences don’t mind.”

They do mind, and they will hate you for it.

Say you have 45 minutes to speak, and the audience knows you have three points to cover. If you are 20 minutes in and still on point No. 1, the audience will get antsy. Audience members will start getting angry and tune out your message.

I recently saw Scott Berkun speak. He told his audience exactly how much time he would spend on each topic, and stuck with his plan. The message to the audience was clear: I value you and respect your time.

Excuse No. 4: “The audience isn’t that important.”

I hear this a lot in business: “That audience isn’t important because they aren’t going to give us any business anyway.”

My response to this is wow. Just wow.

Word of mouth spreads like wildfire. The people whose time you wasted will talk to other people. Those people could be giving you business, but you blew it before you even met them.

All audiences are important. They are giving you their time and energy and, in some cases, their money. They deserve your best! At the very least they deserve value for their time.

Excuse No. 5: “I can wing it.”

I am so guilty of the winging it excuse. I tell myself, “I’ve been speaking for more than 20 years. I can totally wing this.” I often do it with Toastmasters speeches.

My presentations are always better when I spend time practicing. I pull a fast one on my audience when I wing it. It’s not respectful of the audience’s time. I also cheat myself out of an opportunity to become a better communicator.

Bad presentations happen. The positive side of a poorly received presentation is that it gives you the opportunity to learn from your mistakes and do better next time. Push the excuses aside and take feedback like a grown up.

What excuses hold you back from speaking success? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Dr. Michelle Mazur is a public speaking coach and communication expert. She blogs at, where a version of this article originally appeared.

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