One of the ways to elevate your speaking game is by eliminating common and annoying mistakes. Many of the following 11 pet peeves can be easily eliminated by simply planning and thinking ahead. Do you make any of the following speaking mistakes?
- Showing up late or too close to your presentation time.You become rushed or find that the event organizer doesn’t have a clicker, a lavalier mic or the latest version of your presentation. Or, the previous speaker ended 15 minutes early and they are ready for you to start right away. Get to your speaker room early and check out everything well in advance of your speaker time slot.
- Hiding behind or lean on the podium. Unless you are the president of the United States, or local police chief doing a press conference, avoid standing behind or leaning on the podium. Get out on the stage, move around and engage with the audience.
- Use notes. Nothing signals an inexperienced speaker more than having and referring to notes. You are an expert on the topic you are presenting. Your slides have the reminders you need to keep your story moving forward. And you’ve rehearsed it several times so you know what you are going to say. Exceptions to the “no notes” rule are when you are moderating or participating in a panel or accepting an award.
- Apologize. There are a few exceptions (you are sick and have to cough several times during you presentation), but in general avoid apologizing for anything. The absolute worst and most common apology is telling the audience you are sorry they can’t see the detail in a chart. Unacceptable. They are YOUR slides, fix them so the audience can see what they need to see. Grab a screen capture of the detail, blow it up and use animation so that the detail area builds when you click. One of my other pet peeve excuses is telling the audience that your “VP of Marketing” created the slides and using that as an excuse for something. Own the slides, it is your presentation.
- Fumble your opening. Rehearse it. Have fun. Or even be spontaneous based on a current event of the previous speaker. But whatever you do, open strong, not with a commercial about your company/employer or your bio. You can discuss your agenda, your company of even your background a few minutes into your presentation – hook them with something out of the gate. The opening is probably the most important element of your presentation, make sure you get it right.
- Ask “How much time do I have left?” While some of the best public speakers do this, avoid doing so if at all possible. Ask the organizer for a time keeper, use the on-stage or confidence monitor countdown timer that most A/V set-ups will have, or put your watch, smartphone or tablet on the podium with a timer or countdown clock. Be responsible for knowing where you are at.
- Discovering that audio, video or Internet doesn’t work in the middle of your presentation. How many times have you seen a presenter click to a slide that has a video in it and they can’t get it to work? Practice it. Work with the A/V person well in advance. If you don’t trust it, then don’t use the video. Worse yet is when a speaker wants to show the audience something on the Internet and the hotel or conference WiFi either doesn’t work or is painfully slow. Avoid using the Internet unless you have some control over the WiFi situation.
- Make your presentation a commercial. There can be exceptions, for example, if you are speaking at your company’s client conference or a delivering a “known to the audience” sponsored session at a conference. But in general, the fact that you are on stage and educating the audience, sharing great content, tips, case studies, examples, etc – you are promoting your company or employer. Everyone in the audience knows who you work for. They aren’t stupid. They can put 2 and 2 together. Most importantly, the audience will have a better experience and perception of your company if you don’t try to sell them.
- Wearing the conference badge while speaking. You are a speaker. A budding rock star – don’t look like a buffoon on stage with an ugly lanyard hanging from your neck. Look like you belong on stage, not in the audience.
- Crappy slides. Whether it is slides full of text and bullets, out-of-control animation, use of poor-quality images, small fonts or slides that look like your 5 year old designed them – amateurish slides distract attention from the words coming out of your mouth. If you aren’t going to take the time to at least build decent slides, then don’t accept the speaking opportunity.
- End without a transition. Perhaps the most common mistake of all, is not having a transition into the Q&A slide and session. How many times have you watched a speaker proceeding through their slides and then suddenly, without any notice, they click to their “Thank You/Q&A” slides and announce “That’s it, that’s all I have. Any questions?” This is a really poor experience for the audience. A) You haven’t summarized your key points, provided any takeaways or some other way of closing with a strong ending. B) You’ve slammed on the brakes of your presentation and left your audience no time to start thinking of questions.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with my list? What are the things you find most annoying in speakers – whether pros or newbies? Please share.