5 common mistakes to avoid to be an accomplished public speaker

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Day 616. I’ve been attending presentations yesterday from 8AM until 7PM, with more than 15 different speakers. All of them (but two, and I will tell you who later) did at least one of the below mistakes. By doing them, they diluted their message, minimized their impact and reduce the retention of the key points they presented. It’s sad because public speaking is not rocket science, anybody can become an accomplished speaker, and if you avoid those 5 deadly mistakes, you will have the impact that less than 5% of public speakers have. Let’s go:

  1. Speak to the screen behind you. I wrote a rant on this a couple of weeks. Screens do not hear you, your audience does. Never, never, never speak to the screen behind you. Either you have a monitor (or a prompter) in front of you that shows you what’s projected (this is your crutch) or you know your script. But please, speak to your audience.
  2. Read what’s on the slides that are projected. Any audience can read. If you read, you do not need to present, just show the slide and shut up. Better, send the slides to the participants, they can read them sitting on a couch or wherever they want. Slides with more than 5 lines of text and 8 words by line are bad slides. You may disagree with the numbers I am giving, I just put them here, I could have used 4, 7, or 6, 10, it’s just to say that less is more, actually it introduces the next mistake.
  3. Give facts, only facts. Slides or not slides, empty slides or full slides, facts are boring. If you need to provide facts, send me a document with the facts and the numbers, I can read it sitting on a couch, drinking coffee. Come on! If you want your audience to remember something, you need emotions, and you can provoke emotions only by telling stories. I always remember my area VP telling us during one of our mid-year reviews: “I can read, so don’t waste my time paraphrasing what’s on the slide (and those are not slides, but¬†full pages¬†written in font size 10 with tons of facts), tell me the story behind the facts” Even at that level of business, the story is more important than the facts.
  4. Speak in the dark. If I come to listen to you, I want to see you. You may have a wonderful setup, but if the scene is not correctly lit, you lose 50% of your impact. People cannot read your body language! A theater scene is not lit so you cannot see your audience (if you never set a foot on a theater scene, imagine the lights are so powerful, you cannot see the audience at all), they are lit so that your audience can see you. The side effect of this lighting is you cannot see the audience. A little bit lit the headlight of a car: you see what’s in front of your light, but if a car comes from the opposite direction and has its headlights turned on, you cannot see behind the lights.
  5. Go without rehearsing. If you read what’s on the slide because you are discovering the slide while projecting them, do not insult your audience by coming on stage. Go back to where you come from and come back when you will be prepared to tell me a story that will make me dream and wanting to act.

Public speaking is an art! Like all form of arts, it require training, rehearsing and “acting”. Acting means a lot of things, from the words you are using, to how to tell those words and to where to tell them. It’s not rocket science. Respect your audience! You may not have the time (or do not want to invest the time) to become a professional public speaker, but at least do not insult your audience by coming unprepared.

You want to know who were the 2 speakers who all respected the above points: a lawyer and an HR director. Lawyers are trained speakers and HR director’s job is to respect their people (at least good ones), no surprise they knew how to have a real impact.

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