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Did you know that many speakers can reduce the impact of their message with any of these common public speaking mistakes? 

Whether they don’t use their body language effectively, their presentation skills are lacking, or they simply make small mistakes, this can all reduce their ability to share their message and connect with their audience. 

I’ve gathered together the top ten most common public speaking mistakes that I see my clients make all the time (plus a bonus one!), along with public speaking tips to help you polish your performance. 

Mistake 1: Reading aloud

Although reading aloud is a fantastic way to practise your public speaking skills at home, you should avoid it at all costs when you’re in front of an audience. Even if you’re a very fluent reader, you’ll struggle to sound authentic and connect with your audience on a deeper level (or worse still, you’ll end up sounding robotic!) 

How to fix it

Make notes that are brief bullet points or trigger words to remind you of the key points of your presentation if needed but avoid writing the whole sentences. Under pressure, you could default to reading aloud again. People will switch off if you lose them and it’s hard to get them back. Also ensure that you’re also looking up from your notes when you speak and making eye contact with your audience. 

Mistake 2: Memorising a script

When you memorise a script, you’ll need to spend a lot of energy learning your ‘lines’ that would be better spent practicing your non-verbal communication and presentation skills. You also run the risk of forgetting one sentence or section of your message and struggling to continue with the presentation. 

How to fix it

Instead, have a theme and use several chunks to organise your ideas. I recommend three chunks as our brain loves triads. Then talk through these chunks, using your own words. You’ll sound more natural and there will be much less pressure on you. 

If you’re worried about forgetting what you want to say or your nerves getting the better of you, consider working from notes (see above) and consider working with a public speaking coach

Mistake 3: Poor use of slides

Great public speakers use high-quality slides to highlight features of their message and tell a story. Used correctly, they can help your audience stay engaged, add extra details to your story and provide extra visual input for those who best receive information in this way. 

However, many people struggle when it comes to using slides and fill them with complex information, use them as a memory prompt, focus on the slides not the audience and fail to use them effectively. 

How to fix it

If you want to become a better public speaker, you should ensure that your slides are professional quality and that you use them seamlessly. Use presentation mode and a remote clicker when you use slides so you can keep your focus on your audience and don’t need to look back. 

Create clear, crisp slides that are visually rich with a minimum of text, a font that is large enough to read and images wherever possible. Finally, make sure you stand to the side to avoid blocking the screen. 

Mistake 4: Speaking too quickly

If you’re speaking too quickly when you’re making a presentation or giving a talk, the audience will struggle to understand your message and could switch off entirely. They’ll be less likely to like and trust you, you’re more likely to get out of breath and you’ll find your stress levels increasing. For those reasons, you should slow down what you’re saying, even if you feel like a bag of nerves and want to get through your presentation as quickly as possible. 

How to fix it 

Slow down, take a breath and be OK with silence – it’s a good thing. Also consider how you can use pauses at key points in your speech or presentation to better connect with your audience and drive your message home. 

Mistake 5: Using a monotone voice 

Most of us have attended someone’s speech or presentation and found ourselves daydreaming and struggling to stay engaged with their message or story. The speaker’s voice was so flat, dull, and monotonous that, despite our efforts to focus, we started daydreaming. 

As a public speaker, you should ensure that this never happens to your audience. You should be using your voice to add inflection, bring colour and character to your presentation and bring energy to the room. 

How to fix it

Before starting your presentation or speech, take a few deep breaths to help you calm your nerves so your voice will appear more natural. Then speak in the same way as you would with your colleagues, allowing your voice to flow and contain all of the highs and lows of natural speech. If you’re unsure whether you use a monotonous voice in your presentations, record yourself when you’re rehearsing. 

Mistake 6: Pacing or fidgeting

Do you have any tiny mannerisms or habits that you used to help you cope with your fear of public speaking? This might include pacing up and down, fidgeting, rocking, playing with a pen, twisting a ring, gripping a lectern, and doing any similar repetitive actions. If this is the case, you can learn how to get these habits under control – as they’ll distract your audience from your message and destroy your confidence and credibility.

How to fix it 

Stay grounded to the spot whenever you can, keeping your feet hip-distance apart and relaxing the upper part of your body. Allow your arms and hands to move naturally. When you want to move, do so with purpose. Don’t let your nerves get the better of you! 

Mistake 7: Lack of facial expression

When making a presentation, you should use your facial expressions to help convey your message, connect you with your audience and allow those around you to feel at ease. The trouble is, when we’re nervous, we tend to tense the muscles in our face, jaw, and neck. This can cause us to look blank, expressionless, or even like a deer in the headlights! 

How to fix it

Become more aware of your face and consciously relax and release any muscle tension. Smile when it’s appropriate- you’ll release a flood of feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin that naturally slow your heart rate, reduce your blood pressure and help you feel much more comfortable and confident in front of your audience. 

Mistake 8: Avoiding eye contact

Avoiding eye contact and looking at the ceiling or floor might seem like an excellent coping mechanism when you’re nervous. But again, it can prevent you from connecting with your audience and will affect how your audience perceives you and your message. If you want them to like and trust you, you need to bite the bullet and make eye contact. 

How to fix it

When you start your presentation, take a deep breath and glance around the room to become more aware of your audience. Then pick one person and make eye contact with them for 3-5 seconds (about one sentence) before moving on to someone else. 

Mistake 9: Standing behind a desk or lectern

When you stand behind a physical object such as a desk or lectern, you’ll be putting space between yourself and your audience. You’ll find it much harder to connect authentically, you’ll limit the natural hand gestures that can add character to your presentation, and you could look less confident. 

How to fix it

Be brave and step out from behind that desk, lectern, or other prop. You’ll relate so much better with your audience and share your message more effectively. Make sure you inform the organisers beforehand so they can provide you with the right microphone to ensure you can be heard at all times. 

Mistake 10: Lack of preparation or practice

Winging it is not a professional or effective public speaking strategy, especially if you want to create a good impression and enhance your career prospects. Take this approach and you could miss key points in your presentation, appear disorganised and unprofessional and look like you lack experience. If people are giving up their most valuable resource- their time- we need to honour that. Preparation and practice are key.

How to fix it

The preparation and practise side of speaking in public can be boring and time-consuming but it makes all the difference. Why not consider rehearsing your presentation to the wall, or your pet dog to start with? You can also record yourself (an excellent way to improve your body language) or ask a friend to help. 

BONUS TIP: [Mistake 11]: Not sticking to the allocated time

Ex-Cuban leader, Fidel Castro was famous for his long, rambling speeches that could continue for hours and literally send his audience to sleep. Needless to say, you shouldn’t be doing this if you want a successful public speaking career, especially if you are a guest speaker or have a fixed amount of time available. 

Stick to the allocated time and you’ll save yourself needless embarrassment and again, find it easier to keep your audience engaged. 

How to fix it

Make a note of the time you’ve been allocated and don’t speak for longer than this. Plan, prepare and practise so you can deliver on time, allowing a short amount of time for questions and other disturbances. 

Summary

By avoiding these public speaking mistakes, you can become a more effective public speaker who can engage better with their audience, share their message with ease and create a strong professional reputation. 

About the author

Lisa Evans helps professionals to craft compelling business stories and become exceptional speakers. Lisa is a certified speaker coach, TEDx speaker coach, four times author, NLP practitioner, graphic recorder and visual storyteller, and improvisational actor. 

She has coached thousands of leaders across a range of industries, including resources, banking, finance, engineering, retail and sales as well as not-for-profit and community associations. 

If you wish to take advantage of a complimentary session in order to chat about how you can become an exceptional and successful speaker with a stand-out brand, then use this link to book a time to chat.

Here’s how I may help you

My services include:

Business Storytelling Coaching – together we can get started to create your suite of stories.

Executive Speaker Coaching – if you have an upcoming guest speaking opportunity, funding pitch, conference talk or you want to be an outstanding speaker, we can work together on your technique. You will see the results after one session.

Tailored Workshops – I can come to you, or we can host a workshop offsite for your team. From half-day to two-days immersive, this customised workshop is an ideal way to kick start your business storytelling strategy and get the whole team telling stories.

Keynote/Guest Speaking either in person or via virtual means at your next conference or event.