Erase these 15 flaws from your speeches

The key to a great speech is giving the audience what it wants—and avoiding these 15 mistakes.

When you watch an experienced professional speaker take hold of an audience, you are seeing magic in action. They make everything look so easy and smooth.

All that platform polish comes from many years of hard work and training. That’s how top speakers pull everything off with such seamless ease. They’ve paid their dues many times over.

You probably make some errors in speaking that can be easily fixed—but you don’t know what they are. I want to show you the most common mistakes that people new to public speaking make. Once you eliminate them, your confidence and effectiveness as a speaker will grow dramatically.

Here are the 15 most common gaffes speakers make:

1. Arriving at the last minute. What do you suppose this tells the audience members and organizers who are wondering whether they still have a speaker?

2. Playing fast and loose with the clock. You can’t simply start and stop your talk on your own terms. The organizers have a schedule to keep and your audience wants respect for its valuable time. Stay on schedule and stop early enough to take questions.

3. Jumping into your talk without attempting to build rapport with your audience. All audiences need to be warmed up. Taking the time to do this can help you give a better performance.

4. Trying to wing it. Professional speakers don’t make on their speeches on the fly, and neither should you. Write and practice your speech until you can deliver it effortlessly.

5. Being too theoretical, conceptual, intellectual or statistical. These are all guaranteed to turn off any audience—or turn it against you. People want practical, useful material they can apply to their lives and careers, not heavy, academic, jargon-laden content that requires a Ph.D. to understand.

6. Trying to cover too much material. Don’t wander all over creation in an attempt to be “comprehensive” or show that you’re a “renaissance person.” You’ll simply confuse your audience. Listeners will wonder what your topic is and why they came to your program.

7. Dressing like you just came from a backyard barbecue. Audiences like their speakers to look sharp and professional. A well-kept look gives you extra points for credibility before you even open your mouth. First impressions count.

8. Using the same speech for every audience. Do some research and customize your talks. Your audiences will appreciate it and the organizers will probably ask you back for more. Make sure you’re speaking their language and you’ll hit the mark much better than you will with a canned presentation.

9. Assuming that everything has been set up properly by someone. This is the stuff of disasters, and something you can easily avoid. Arrive early enough to check on all the equipment you’ll be using.

10. Ignoring the value of solid writing, platform and staging skills. Every audience deserves the best speaker it can get, and you have an obligation to continue improving on your speaking skills every year.

11. Boring the audience. Enough said?

12. Overwhelming the audience with more information than it needs. If you do your homework, you’ll know what will please your listeners.

13. Teasing the audience by being miserly about how much detail you are willing to give. Some speakers will say to an audience, “I won’t give you that information, because it’s in my book.” Many audience members will react by thinking, “I won’t be giving you my money for your book.”

14. Being insensitive. Don’t use negative, disrespectful or uninformed jokes, stories or other content that will alienate your audiences, unless you have a good lawyer on retainer.

15. Displaying your ego. Speaking is all about the audience and its needs, not your personal gratification.

You can start planning better, crafting your speech better and staging and delivering it better by paying attention to the needs of the audience. Stop making all of these 15 fatal flaws. Your audiences will appreciate the new you.

A version of this post first appeared on Mental Game Coach.

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