Most of us attend more presentations than we give. Even if you’re not a public speaking professional, you can probably make a good assessment of whether someone you’re watching is doing a good job or not. However, you might not know exactly what it is they’re doing that turns you off – or perhaps you hone in on one particular thing that’s painfully obvious.
It takes a combination of qualities to make a good public speaker. Likewise, it takes several things – sometimes one big standout thing – to make a bad public speaker. Some of the most common public speaking mistakes are hard to spot, and many are difficult to overcome. See if you’ve noticed any of these – and whether you might be making them without realizing it.
1. Speaking Too Softly
For some people, a microphone is a must. There’s not always one available, especially when speaking to an audience in a smaller room. Enunciating your words loud and clear will ensure a message gets delivered. Mumbling and speaking under one’s breath will ensure it gets lost in translation. Speak clearly and loudly, or you may as well not be speaking at all!
2. Stuttering or Saying “Um”
A couple of “ums” now and then is only natural. In fact, it can make the speaker seem at ease because they’re speaking as they would in conversation. Beyond that, though, the “ums” start to make the speaker seem less confident. The more the “ums” increase, and the greater the stuttering and lack of flow, the less the audience will be captivated by the message.
3. Stiff Body Movements
When people come to a presentation, they expect a real human being, not a robot or a mannequin. Becoming stiff and wooden in body language is a sign of nervousness and discomfort. Not only does it seem less human, it also keeps you from really connecting with your audience. Try holding back less and letting your body movement on the floor just flow.
4. Poor Eye Contact
It’s common to fear making eye contact, even in everyday encounters. In front of an audience, it can be terrifying. Good eye contact is essential, though, as it’s a universal sign of trustworthiness. If someone can look you in the eye while saying something, you’re more likely to believe them. Don’t you want your audience to believe in what you’re saying?
5. Lack of Facial Expressions
Just like looking at the floor and standing stick-straight on stage can make a public speaker less effective, keeping a straight face the entire time or giving an awkward facial expression will also scare people off. Not everyone has an expressive face, but what a speaker is saying needs to match what’s on their face, and vice-versa, to really make an impact. No facial expression at all can make the audience bored or even uneasy.
6. Poor Organization
A good presentation has flow and rhythm that keep the audience engaged and move the message along at a natural pace. This requires not only quality content, but well-considered organization. A poorly organized presentation will confuse the audience, and they may give up on listening altogether if they’re unable to follow.
7. Low Energy
It’s not necessary to down a pot of coffee before a presentation, but it needs to pack a punch. Speakers who don’t bring high energy to a presentation leave the audience feeling just as low. An energetic speaking style – with correct pitch, speed, and volume – is a great tool for persuading audiences. Only Ben Stein can get away with being monotonous.
8. Bad Timing
Public speaking isn’t like talking to your neighbor. To really get your message across – and get the sales or support you seek from your audience – you have to be clever about how you say things. A lot of that has to do with the timing of your message – when and how you deliver it. Raising your voice or using silence for emphasis give a dramatic effect; preceding a point with a compelling story makes it that more important.
9. Reading (too much) from Notes
Even for a well-prepared speaker, it’s tempting to glance down at what’s on your notecard or your PowerPoint. A moderate amount of “cheating” from notes won’t be noticed, as long as you’re still engaging with the audience. Relying too heavily on notes makes a speaker seem unprepared, and leaves them susceptible to pretty much every other presentation no-no on this list – especially poor eye contact, body language, and stuttering.
10. Using Space Inappropriately
Walking around in your presenting area, whether it’s a stage or the front of a small room, is acceptable and even encouraged. This movement can helpful to drive home a point and engage with more of the audience. However, too much moving around can be distracting. You own movement can interrupt your presentation. Moving back and forth too much looks like frantic pacing, and walking in front of your projector screen defeats the purpose of having it up. Don’t abuse the privilege of the space you have, but also don’t do the opposite and stand completely still. Again, it gives an air of discomfort and fear of failure.
No one is going to be perfect at all of the above. The key to becoming a great public speaker is to gradually chipping away at your own flaws until you’re the only one that notices them. Most people do a little bit of all of these things; it’s just that they’ve perfected the art of making them invisible to the audience. A little more eye contact here, a little less reading from notes there, and you’ll be on your way to being a public speaking star.