The top 4 public speaking mistakes—and how to fix them

What your executive must do to improve as a speaker and persuade an audience.

After working with a number of executives during the past few months, I’ve noticed some common pitfalls that diminish the quality of an executive’s presentation. These public speaking mistakes affect executives across the board, regardless of industry or profession.

Like everyone else who speaks to groups, executives must spend time with their messages prior to delivering them. Many, however, employ formal speechwriters who create the content and pass it around to other senior leaders for approval. As a result, the message goes through many rounds of edits, incorporating the points of view, spin, and requirements added by others That’s a lot of time devoted to creating content.

If only executives would give the same amount of time and attention to actually practicing and rehearsing the delivery of their speeches prior to appearing before an audience. This lack of preparation causes common blunders. These include:

1. Appearing unprepared to deliver the speech. You can have the most finely-crafted message in the world, but if you’re not prepared to deliver it, your message will fail. The fact is that poor delivery overshadows great content. Therefore, spend the same amount of time practicing your delivery as you do creating your content. And if you didn’t craft the content yourself, find out how long others spent preparing it. If possible, practice its delivery at least an hour longer than it took others to write the speech.

2. Not focusing on the listeners’ needs. Many executives spend too much time talking about what’s important to themselves and fail to focus on the needs of the audience. Get clear on what’s important to your listeners and spend the majority of your time covering those topics. If there’s something you feel is important and that you need to say, then go ahead and say it. But don’t forget about or gloss over the audience’s needs or they will quickly decide that you don’t care about them.

3. Foregoing conventional etiquette. Foul language, “good old boy” style, off-color jokes and slang should never be used in a business presentation. If you’re speaking to a global audience, any one of these things will be a turn off. And if even one audience member is offended by your language, style or demeanor, then your credibility is diminished. When you follow conventional etiquette standards, you smooth the pathway so you can reach understanding and build relationships. And isn’t connecting with your listeners one of your main goals as a speaker?

4. Not using a “speaker’s tone.” Speaking in a conversational tone is fine for small group communication; however, when you’re giving a formal presentation, you need to use a more projected “speaker’s tone.” Remember that public speaking requires using the skills of the speaking trade. And one of those is maintaining an emphasis on vocal skills. Often, executives think that their personal style is enough and that they do not have to use professional speaking skills. But if you want to position yourself as the leading authority on a topic, you must use good vocal skills.

What’s the best way to overcome these mistakes? In a word: practice! Yes, practice really does make perfect. By focusing on your delivery and approach as much as you focus on creating your speech, you’ll avoid these mistakes and give an executive-level presentation that hits the mark, enhances your reputation and sets a high standard for presentation delivery throughout your company.

Angela DeFinis is the CEO of DeFinis Communications Inc., a presentation skills training company.

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