Mistake 1: Trying To Wing It

As a TEDx coach, hundreds of speakers come to me for public speaking coaching or presentation skills training, and they all tell me the same thing: “I want to be more charismatic and confident”. 

But not all of those people want to put in the time it takes to be more charismatic or confident. 

You must, must, must prepare for every speech you give. Of course, if you’re doing some impromptu speaking for fun, that’s different, but I’m talking about the presentations that matter: the fundraising pitches, best man speeches, and business presentations. So, prepare, prepare, prepare, and then prepare some more.

Mistake 2: Speaking Too Quickly (or too slowly)

In a previous post about public speaking apps and websites, I mentioned that the pace at which you speak should always be in the conversational zone of between 100 words per minute (wpm) and 160wpm. 

Any faster, and you’ll sound like an auctioneer. Any slower, and you’ll seem like you’re reading the news at ten.

Slow down, first of all. The majority of speakers will speak too quickly. 

It’s always better to speak more slowly as your audience will still be able to catch what you’re saying. 

Just try not to send them to sleep!

Mistake 3: Apologising

You are going to make mistakes! 

Everyone makes mistakes when presenting. You might accidentally turn off your microphone; your technology might fail; you might forget what you’re about to say. Whatever you do, though, don’t tell them you’re sorry. 

You’re human, your audience is human, and they need no apologies from you. 

Apologising doesn’t make you look humble; it reduces your magnetism. So, instead, correct the mistake and move or. Or, if you feel bold enough and have encountered the same error before, make light of it with a joke. Just don’t say you’re sorry. OK? Good. Onward.

Mistake 4: Folding Under Questioning

If your presentation arouses the proper emotional or logical responses from your audience, they will have a list of questions to find out more or challenge your ideas. 

Don’t be afraid of a challenge. Being challenged is a good thing. If an audience member challenges a speaker, the speech has made them think and want to interact. So welcome questioning in your presentations, like you welcome applause or laughter. 

You can handle difficult questions by researching, learning to love surprises, and using more metaphors and stories. Do me a favour, though, and make sure you invite questions before the end of your speech. You need to own the ending and ensure the last thing that was seen or heard was you clambering to handle a tricky question from the legal team.

Mistake 5: Purporting To Be Exceedingly Verbose

Was I purporting to be exceedingly verbose with that heading? Yes, I was being wordy on purpose. But can you see how irritating that can be?

Did you ever see that episode of Friends when Joey gets hold of a thesaurus and changes every word he says in everyday conversation to another word that sounds fancier? 

Take heed of Joey’s failings when you’re delivering a speech. Keep it conversational. Use short, punchy prose and stick to active language rather than passive language:

Active: the dog bit the man.

Passive: the man was bitten by the dog.

Active language cuts your word count in half in most cases and keeps the action rolling. Always remember the subject: verb: object order, and you’ll never go wrong.

Mistake 6: Overcomplicating Things

No audience member will ever thank you for confusing them or making your presentation complicated. Audiences do not care how much you know, but they do care how much they can understand. 

Whenever you have a tricky concept to explain, try to explain it to several lay people (those unfamiliar with your field or the ideas you wish to present). If you can’t explain it in a single sentence, it’s too complicated.

Mistake 7: not getting right to the point

Have you ever watched a film or tv show which was considered a ‘slow burner’? We accept that movies or tv series’ need time to stew. But movies and tv shows are for entertainment. People can relax in their own time, and best of all, turn the tv off if it isn’t going fast enough for them. 

When you speak, you should get right to the point of why you are there and why they should care. 

Mindtools suggest that the average adult has a 15-to 20-minute attention span. I think it’s more like 15-20 seconds. So getGet right to the point and keep hammering it home.

Mistake 8: Not Telling Stories

What do children ask for before bedtime? A PowerPoint presentation? A list of facts and figures on your company’s financial projections for the next quarter? No, they ask for a story, don’t they? 

Let’s face it, we all still have that child inside of us. We long for a sense of wonder and surprise. We want heroes and villains to do battle. We crave entertainment. 

Play to this when delivering speeches. Always think in terms of stories instead of data. Data is unrefined and unprocessed information. 

It’s your responsibility to refine it and package it into something meaningful.

Mistake 9: Opening With A Whimper

Your opener is as important as the headline of a news article. 

If an essay doesn’t have a strong enough headline, it won’t compel the reader to read on. The same goes for your opener. If you can’t grab your audience in the first few seconds of your speech, you’re inviting them to check their smartphone for what’s on next. If you need some example openers to help take your speech to the next level, read the article I wrote: a list of 9 killer speech openers that you can use to blow your audience away and then keep them hanging on your every word.

Open with a bang, instead of a whimper.

Mistake 10: Trying To Fake It

We’ve all been told to ‘fake it until you make it’ by someone at some time. In public speaking, this advice can be great when faking confidence but never fake credibility or authenticity. 

Faking authenticity or sincerity is ironic and outright wrong. Never pretend you care about something you don’t. If you don’t care, then don’t do the speech. If you have to do the speech, then start caring about it.

Your audience will smell fakery a mile off. They’ll forgive you for being nervous, but they’ll never forgive you for being insincere.

Mistake 11: Using Too Many Filler Words

The odd ‘um’ or ‘ah’ isn’t going to cause any problems, but I’ve sat through 45-minute presentations where the speaker used filler words for 30% of the speech. It’s incredibly offputting and somewhat infuriating to hear so many filler words used. 

Fillers indicate a lack of confidence and preparation. Instead of using filler words such as ‘like’ or ‘so’, use pauses or transition words such as ‘because’ or ‘and’. Be sure to vary these up and not wait for too long that it seems you lost your train of thought.

Mistake 12:  The Sin Of Monotony

Much like the pacing of a speech, the inflexion and variety of tone are essential. Monotony is, perhaps, the greatest sin of public speaking. A monotonous tone will make you sound like a 1980’s robot. 

To create a better flow of speech, choose a simple sentence from your presentation and emphasise different words until you find the tone that conveys the correct message. 

As an example, take this line:

I love you very much.

Now, take each word and emphasise that particular word and notice how the semantic meaning of the sentence changes. 

I love you very much.

The emphasis on the ‘I’ indicates that The person speaking, in particular, loves the person to whom they are talking. 

I love you very much.

With the word ‘very’ emphasised, the meaning changes. The speaker is emphasising how much they love the subject.

Always be aware that the way you speak conveys meaning to the audience. Get it right, and the effect of your speech will improve.

Mistake 13: Death By PowerPoint

The Cardinal Sin of Death by Powerpoint (DPB) has been around for over 15 years. Initially coined by Angela Gardner: this phenomenon is everywhere. 

When observing any presentation, you can easily spot DBP from the following clues:

  • Cliche stock images such as a handshake or cogs turning
  • Liberal use of Word Art or SmartArt
  • Slides crammed full of text which the speaker reads out

The big piece of advice here is to stop creating your slides before your presentation. The slides are unimportant. 

Your speech should contain stories and valuable information.

If you rely on PowerPoint slides to convey meaning, you ignore the beauty and joy of public speaking: it’s all in the speaking.

Everything should centre around your message. 

If your slides can be printed and given out as handouts, they don’t work as slides. 

Remember the  10/20/30 rule. PowerPoint presentations should have ten slides maximum, be no more than twenty minutes and contain no font smaller than thirty pixels.

Every slide should contain one key concept.

Mistake 14: avoiding eye contact

Every member of your audience is an individual. It might seem obvious, but speakers often forget this. 

Each member of your audience deserves your time and respect. 

You should make an aim to make eye contact with every individual throughout your speech. 

Conquer fear by showing up early to the event. 

Get to know your audience a little, and then you’ll have some friendly faces to engage with when speaking. 

Don’t worry if your audience breaks eye contact. They aren’t used to making eye contact so strongly either. 

Just make brief eye contact, convey a complete thought to that person, and then move to another. 

Mistake 15: Lacking Composure

One of the most excellent skills that a public speaker can possess is the ability to remain unruffled. 

Do everything in your power to develop a sense of calm under pressure. 

You can develop this ability in some interesting and odd ways. 

Lead a team of people or a project to completion and deal with problems head-on. 

Play a competitive sport and focus on remaining positive even when losing. 

There are many ways to develop composure, but you must work on this skill before speaking, as any slight gust of problematic wind could derail you otherwise.

In Summary

Mistakes will happen, and the best way to deal with errors is to be open to them. The more mistakes you have to deal with, the better prepared you will be in the future. 

Every endeavour in life worth pursuing comes with the risk of failure. 

The true mark of success isn’t about avoiding mistakes or setbacks; it’s about how we deal with those mishaps. 

The great thing is when a mistake happens once, and you prepare for it to happen again, you will be able to deal with it so calmly in the future that people will wonder where you get your resolve. 

I cannot list all of the mistakes you might make as a public speaker, but this list will prepare you for the most common of them.

If you need help correcting any of these mistakes or preparing for the worst during your presentations, we are only a phone call away to create a bullet-proof plan of action. 

Until then, all the best for your speaking success. 

Project Charisma deliver online coaching and in-person courses on
confident communication, public speaking & personal development.

To overcome speaking anxiety, create a Ted style speech, or communicate with confidence,
book onto one of our public speaking courses in Manchester, or sign-up for online coaching.

15 Presentation Mistakes You Can Fix Today

Danny Riley

A corporate trainer, award-winning speaker, TEDx Speaker coach, and Distinguished Toastmaster. Danny designs and delivers Leadership Development Programmes as well as coaching professional speakers. He is a Chartered Manager, a member of the CIPD, and dedicates his life to developing executives who want to deliver more persuasive pitches and presentations.
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