Even though many people don’t enjoy public speaking, there are strategies for doing it well. You don’t have to be a professional speaker to make an impact on your audience. One way to feel most comfortable speaking in front of others is to recognize and avoid these top 5 mistakes.
1. Memorizing or reading your entire presentation.
Your audience came to hear you speak to them–not read or deliver a rote, memorized performance. Your responsibility is to communicate with your audience, not at them. By treating your audience as if you were having a conversation in your living room, you will find that you are much more comfortable and in better control of your nervousness.
That said there are a couple of parts of your speech you do want to memorize. Your opening is critical to the success of your presentation: It is the one part of a speech that most of the speakers I interviewed for Public Speaking Super Powers suggested you memorize. Featured Speaker Wally Adamchik suggests you have your opening comments–whether that’s 30 seconds or two minutes–memorized to the point where it doesn’t look like you memorized them. “Like a great actor would look–who certainly has their lines memorized–but they don’t look like they’re reciting from memory,” he says.
2. Not knowing your material.
If you are not familiar with your words or how your speech or presentation is meant to flow, then you are likely to make more errors. Making a mistake or two is not the issue–making a lot of them is!
To avoid this, talk about what you know and are interested in. This makes it easier to speak with passion, authenticity, and confidence. And it makes it easier to remember your key points and recover from “brain farts.”
3. Speaking too fast.
Oh My Goodness! I’ve suffered from this a lot. When you are nervous or excited, it is easy to push through your words so fast your audience can’t keep up. Controlling your speed is extremely important if you expect your audience to be able to understand what you are saying. Listening to someone move at 100 mph takes much more energy than listening to them at 75!
Incidentally, talking at a furious pace saps your energy as well. When I’ve spoken to fast, I’ve found myself out of breath, as well as exhausted at the end of the presentation. It also affects my voice and my throat.
4. Staring at an object on the wall.
You should not focus your attention on a spot on the wall or above the heads of your audience. Look your audience in the eyes. Make that connection with your listeners, and you will then be aware of their reaction to you.
I remember one speech I witnessed when I was competing in High School. The contestant turned his back on the audience and gave the speech to the chalkboard! It was uncomfortable for the audience, probably as much as it was for him!
Keep in mind public speaking is a form of communication. If you are not making eye contact, then you are not communicating. I devote an entire chapter to eye contact in Public Speaking Super Powers, it is that important.
5. Running Out of Air.Breathlessness on the podium is one of the most common mistakes made because many novice speakers do not think to breathe. If you wait until you are totally out of breath, you will then be required to inhale a huge amount of air in order to fill your lungs. In doing so, you will experience breathlessness and a tightness in your chest.
“Learn to breathe,” says Featured Speaker Nancy Daniels, “because one of the great problems in public speaking is breathlessness.” You want to breathe deeply from the diaphragm. Breathing from your chest rather than your throat, lowers your voice making it sound more relaxed. When you breathe from the diaphragm, you are using your chest to vibrate, power, and amplify your voice, she says.
The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle and tendons located just below your lungs, about level with the top of your stomach. You know you are breathing from your diaphragm if your stomach moves in and out. If you are breathing from your chest, your stomach barely moves, but your chest does.