Public Speaking Etiquette

Public Speaking Etiquette – 6 Common Mistakes That Speakers Make

When you are invited to speak or present at a conference or seminar there are certain rules and obligations that you as a speaker should observe. These obligations help the conference run smoothly, they make the organiser look good and they help you earn the respect and trust of the audience. And simply put they are just common etiquette.

Over the last few weeks I have attended and spoken at 3 conventions and seminars and I keep observing speakers making the same mistakes, which could be easily avoided with some prior thought and preparation. If you fail to observe basic speaker etiquette, then the organiser is unlikely to invite you back, you may lose your audience, your credibility and reputation may suffer and other speakers who follow you may be negatively impacted. So what are these 6 common etiquette mistakes that I have been observing recently?

1 Turning up late or 5 minutes before they are due to present 

One of the most annoying and distracting mistakes that a speaker can do is arrive late and then try and load their presentation and sort out their audio visual problems in front of the audience. Please arrive early and have your PowerPoint or video clip already installed and tested well before you present. Turn up early and brief the MC on how you want to be introduced. Let them know where you will be sitting and if you need anything special from them. Check in with the MC on how you are going to manage the timing of your presentation. For myself, as well as speaking with the MC and the Audio Visual technician on the days before, I always arrive a minimum of 1 hour before my presentation and ensure everything is ready.

2 Don’t use the microphone when it is provided and assume everyone can hear them 

Generally in larger venues and with larger crowds, the organiser provides a microphone. This is provided for a reason and ensures that everyone in the room can hear you. I often see people decide not to use the microphone and while they may have a loud voice, they assume that everyone can hear them, only to find out later that the back of the room was unable to hear them. I personally like to leave the lectern and use the platform and I like a lapel or a roving microphone. However if this is not available and the only microphone is anchored to the lectern, then you should use it, just to ensure everyone can hear you.

3 Speaking over your time, into the next speakers time slot or into the breaks 

This to me is one of the biggest mistakes in public speaking. It is a definite no no and shows disrespect to your audience and the other speakers on the program. You need to work out your timing before your presentation and then speak with the MC on how you will manage your time and timing signals. I personally like a 10 minute warning and a 5 minute warning. Your presentation and your slide deck should be such that you can stretch and shrink your time as required and always finish on time, as written in the program agenda. Also don’t speak to your full time and then expect to take questions. If you do want questions, then you need to leave 5 to 10 minutes within your allocated time slot. Going over time can disrupt the whole conference and the other speakers.

4 Let technology glitches take over their presentation 

The show always goes on regardless of what happens. Technology is an aid to your presentation and it will let you down at some stage. The worst that has happened to me is a total power outage for 2 hours. Don’t focus on the glitch and only spend minimal time trying to correct it and if you can’t correct it, then move on as if nothing has happened. Be prepared to present without your video, without your PowerPoint and in any circumstances where technology may fail. In my case, without power, I was able to present with natural light, moved to flip chart and presented without using PowerPoint.

5 Failed to make their talk about the audience (No WIIFM) 

At one of the conventions I heard several speakers share their story, their struggle and their anger and sometimes their success. However in reflection, there was nothing for the audience and no takeaway message for me. The presentation was all about themselves without a take home message for the audience. Always give the audience a ͞”What’s In It For Me”, This is about helping them solve their problems, achieve their goals, or helping them get to a better place in their life or career. Before every presentation, as part of my preparation, I ask myself – for what headache am I the Panadol today. Put the audience at the front of your message and make it for them.

6 Showing PowerPoint slides that are too busy and no one can read 

We all know about death by PowerPoint and we should be using it sparingly and as an audio visual tool to enhance our presentation. But one thing I see a lot of, is busy slides that we cannot read. There is too much content and the font is too small to see. And the presenters calmly states ͞”I don’t expect you to be able to read this – or understand this but I thought I would show it with you anyway”. Why? Now if you do have a large table of data or a complex slide and there is an interesting point, you can zoom in on that relevant item, or cut the appropriate section out and show it on a separate slide in larger font where we can read it and understand the point you are making.

I don’t like to focus on negatives and I hope that these common mistakes stimulate your thinking and preparation for the next time you present to an audience. What can you do to make yourself a great speaker, trainer or facilitator and easy to work with? What can you do to ensure that your presentation goes smoothly from the audience’s perspective and from the conference organiser’s perspective? What are the common public speaking etiquette’s that you can observe to ensure the event runs as planned? As public speakers, we do have obligations to our audience and the event organiser and basic etiquette needs to be observed.

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