5 Mistakes People Make When Public Speaking

PowerPoint has become the ubiquitous communication tool of the corporate world.  Hours and hours are spent in trying to create the “perfect deck” (which is impossible).  Changes and tweaks are made until well past the “last minute,” reams of paper are wasted printing copies for everyone in the room. The madness needs to stop!

Here are 5 mistakes people make when public speaking

1. Steady Eddy.  One-of-the-presenters-I-listened-to-last-week-delivered-their-presentation-at-a-consistent-and-steady-speed-Unfortunately-without-pausing-to-allow-their-points-to-land-it-became-a-uniform-torrent-of-information-that-became-increasingly-hard-to-follow-and-as-time-went-on-the-speed-of-delivery-increased-like-a-train- leavingthestationuntilitblurredintoonelongmonotone.  When it comes to public speaking this is one situation in which inhaling is okay.  You can breathe.  Please pause, count to three as you move between slides, key points, or when you ask a question.  That way your audience has time to hear what you have said, process it and decide to respond.

2. Too Quiet.  One event was in a lovely large room.  Plenty of light, plenty of space, unfortunately not plenty of sound.  Most of the speakers used their “inside voice” and made no attempt to project their words.  In one case a speaker stood up and uttered the immortal words “It’s OK I speak loud enough.  I don’t need a microphone.”  YOU might not need a microphone, but your AUDIENCE does.  The microphone isn’t there for your benefit, it’s for everyone else, especially those who may have a hearing impairment, make sure you are inclusive, not exclusive!  If you are in the unfortunate situation of not having a microphone then remember that as the size of the group and room increases you must increase your volume, use your “presenting and projecting voice.”  Consider standing in the middle of your audience (unorthodox to some) rather than the traditional “front of the room.”  It will help.

3. Reading the script or worse, your slides.  I don’t care how good your hairstyle I don’t want to see the back of your head, and when you turn to face your slides to read them we can’t hear you.  If we can read the words, then we don’t need you.  Your slides should be a support mechanism.  The same goes with your script, by the time you stand up to present, you shouldn’t need to read it.  While I never speak without having my script nearby, it’s there just in case my mind goes blank (and it does on occasion).  I practice and make sure I KNOW my presentation before I stand up in front of my audience.  If you are reading it, you may as well email it to me.  I learned to read in primary school too.

4. Boring Slides.  It would appear that “Death by PowerPoint” is a real issue.  Just because you can fit 15 bullet points onto a slide and it automatically adjusts to micro-font doesn’t mean you SHOULD!  Stop it!  Your clue is when you say something like “You probably can’t read this.”  Nor should you go with the 5-bullets/5-word approach throughout – that too is boring.  You need to find a happy medium between words and images that also help communicate your message.

5. Winging It.  The idea that we can “wing it” and everything will be okay is particularly endemic when leaders present to their colleagues.  I would suggest that we should practice EVEN MORE when presenting to people we know, and in any case, we should all be practicing every time we present to a new audience.  Practice doesn’t mean thinking about what you’re going to say, it means standing up and saying it.  Trust me, what you think and what you hear can be two very different things!  Better still, involve a friend to be your trial audience and give you feedback, you won’t regret it.

What would you add to this list?