I like to think of mistakes as lessons and opportunities to learn. In my many years as a public speaking trainer, coach and observer of public speaking, the following mistakes are the ones I see the most and the ones that can be easily corrected.
- Not being fully prepared – Notes out of order, PowerPoint not working properly, rushing on stage or running late. The DVD is not compatible with the laptop provided, there are insufficient handouts. All of this comes down to a lack of preparation and not having your plan B ready to go.
- Apologising for things unnecessarily – sorry I don’t know the answer to that – sorry for my change of topic – sorry my mind has just gone blank; If you don’t know the answer or have to change your topic, then certainly acknowledge this and give an explanation, but do not apologise.
- Not starting on time – Always be ready to start on time. Not starting on time is being disrespectful to those in the audience who have arrived on time. 100% of audiences expect the speaker and presenter to start on time.
- Going over time – speaking into the tea break or the next person’s time slot is a definite “do not do”. If do go beyond your allotted time slot, then you will start to lose the audience as they start to think about the morning tea break, the next speaker or where they need to be next. 100% of audiences appreciate a speaker who finishes on time or even a few minutes early.
- Speaking for too long – without a break or some audience activity can result in a restless audience and even worse, you can lose their attention. Schedule regular breaks and liven things up with participatory activities. Ask questions, do activities and get people to move seats.
- Ending with question time – never end with questions. Take questions before you conclude, wrap up question time and then conclude strongly and stop talking. You want to leave them with your powerful take home message, not some contentious or irrelevant question asked by an audience member.
- Reading off of your PowerPoint Slides – the PowerPoint slides are to add value to your message for your audience. They are an audio visual aide to add to what you are saying. They are not there to act as a prompt for you to talk to. The slides should have very little text and mostly images, graphs, photos, models or cartoons that amplify your spoken message.
- Fiddling with things as you speak – I have seen many speakers fiddle with their fingers, jewelry and rings. They play with their notes or spectacles and my pet hate; take up a pen and click it up and down while talking. All of these activities can potentially distract the audience’s attention away from your message. If you don’t need it, don’t take it on stage and if you do need it, don’t fiddle with it.
- Extraneous filler words – These are those “you knows”, uhm’s and ah’s that we often hear. Worse than uhm’s and ah’s are other meaningless words like actually and obviously.. I recently heard a politician speak and in the first 5 minutes I counted 25 “actually’s”. If you think about it actually doesn’t really say anything at all actually and it could actually be done away with totally actually. Get my point. Over use of phrases “you know” and “etc etc” are other examples.
- Preening while on the platform – preening refers to arranging your hair, straightening your jacket, adjusting your tie and so on. Preening and having everything in the right place is important, but you should do it before you take the stage. Preening on stage shows nerves and means that you are focusing on yourself, rather than focusing on the audience. So try not to preen while on stage, just be present and focused purely for the audience. If you are focused on the audience, then they will accept you regardless of you tie being slightly crooked.
If you can identify with any of these mistakes don’t be too concerned. Each is relatively easy to fix and just takes some effort and practice. I would focus on one at a time and when I had that under control, then maybe move onto another one. As they say, “one step at a time” and “no mistakes in life, just lessons”.