12 Public Speaking Mistakes to Avoid

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by Diane DiResta

12 Public Speaking Mistakes to Avoid

Public speakers need to be mindful of their speaking habits especially in the work place. These 12 mistakes are excerpts from the amazon best selling book Knockout Presentations.

Public Speaking Mistake #1 Lack of Preparation Too many presenters don’t spend enough time preparing. They whip together their PowerPoint and practice it a couple of times, if at all. To appear as a pro, it takes 90% per cent preparation for 10% delivery. That means hours of strategizing, structuring the message, planning and editing the visuals and practicing and timing the delivery until it’s seamless and natural. Speaking looks easy on stage because of all the work behind the scenes.

Public Speaking Mistake #2 Lateness Arriving 10 minutes before the presentation means you’re late. Arrive 30-60 minutes beforehand to check out the room and greet the audience. And once the presentation begins, end on time! Nobody will fault you for finishing a bit early but they don’t want a speaker who runs over. To keep to the time limit, practice and time the talk. A speech often runs 10% longer in front of an audience than in rehearsal. If you’re way behind schedule, jump to the conclusion and get off the platform.

Public Speaking Mistake #3 Not Knowing the Audience How well do you know the audience? If you give the same presentation in the same way, it will miss the mark. Part of preparation is creating a listener profile. What are the demographics? How do they like to receive information? Do they want entertainment, information, or both? What are their attitudes? Is it a specialist or a generalist audience? Who were the highest rated speakers in the past? The more you know about the audience, the greater chance to rock the crowd.

Public Speaking Mistake #4 Projecting the Wrong Image Your presentation begins the moment you enter the room and first impressions are visual. Your attire is a visual shorthand. How you dress, how you sound, and the language you use all contribute to your image. You’ll build trust with your audience when you look the part. When your visual, vocal and verbal communication are aligned, you’ll create presence on the platform. Is your audience a financial corporation, then look more conservative. Are you speaking to creatives? You can be more casual and fashion forward.

Public Speaking Mistake # 5 Using Visual Aids Ineffectively I think we are PowerPointed out. Slides are overused in public speaking today. but they serve a purpose. The key word in Visual Aid is Aid. Don’t let the slides overtake you as so many speakers tend to do. And keep them simple. Use photos, graphics, video, and key words. Text heavy slides cause the listeners to read, making the presenter obsolete. Fumbling with slides can cause an otherwise expert, seem like an amateur. Practice using a remote and run through the entire deck before you presentation begins.

Public Speaking Mistake #6 Including Too Much Material This is otherwise known as a data dump. Public speakers who give too much information will overwhelm the audience. In this case, less is more. Tell them what they NEED to know, not everything you know. Remember: the mind can absorb only as much as the seat can endure.

Public Speaking Mistake #7 Using Inappropriate Humor The best speakers use humor. But being humorous can be tricky. Humor can be a landmine in a politically correct and multicultural environment. Another challenge is joke telling. It takes skill and excellent timing to do a set-up and punchline that is part of every joke. If the joke bombs the presentation goes downhill. A better alternative is to use self-deprecating humor and to play off the humor in the group. As long as the audience is laughing, it doesn’t matter if the humor came from someone else.

Public Speaking Mistake #8 Speaking in a Monotone Imagine listening to a piano concerto hearing one note over and over. This monotony will irritate the audience and, if it’s a soft monotone, it may even put them to sleep. Vocal variety is key to engaging and exciting the audience. To add more color to your voice, try singing the scales. Use more hand gestures. Highlight key words and emphasize them with your voice. Most importantly, get excited!!! Enthusiasm sells.

Public Speaking Mistake #9 Not Building an Audience Relationship Do you talk at your audience? Talking a lot of facts won’t get them to relate. Storytelling is a more effective way to build rapport, likability and trust. Some public speakers give a non-stop monologue instead of pausing, listening and connecting. When you profile your audience you’ll be able to build in stories that resonate with them.

Public Speaking Mistake #10 Lack of Focus If you’ve ever heard a speaker who was talking in circles and wondering where he was going, you can bet he wasn’t clear either. That’s because there was a lack of focus. To gain focus, complete this sentence. At the end of the presentation the audience will_______________. The answer is your outcome. Begin with the outcome and your message will come into focus loud and clear.

Public Speaking Mistake #11 Starting with Details Public speakers who dive into details at the start of the presentation are doing a data dump. This will confuse the listener because they won’t have a context. Very often the presenter gets stuck in the weeds and can go down an unintended rabbit hole. The remedy is to set the stage with a high level overview and then sandwich in the details in the body of the presentation. A speech has three distinct sections: an opening, a body, and a conclusion.

Public Speaking Mistake #12 Being Speaker-Centered. Of all the mistakes this is the most common. Public speakers begin their presentation with “Today I want to tell you about my project, proposal, process,“ etc. It’s all about them! The best public speakers are listener-centered. They begin with the self interests of the audience. Find a hook, grabber or benefit statement to begin the presentation. Then show understanding of their needs and issues. Finally introduce your idea which will solve their problem. You’ll have an attentive audience and you’ll be a lot more persuasive.


Diane DiResta, CSP, is Founder and CEO of DiResta Communications, Inc., a New York City consultancy serving business leaders who deliver high stakes presentations— whether one-to-one, in front of a crowd or from an electronic platform.   DiResta is the author of Knockout Presentations: How to Deliver Your Message with Power, Punch, and Pizzazz, an Amazon.com category best-seller and has spoken on 4 continents. www.diresta.com

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