You don’t have to be a professional speaker to make an impact on your audience. You just need to have a clear message and communicate it with passion and some basic skills. What follows are five common speaking mistakes that beginning speakers make — and not all of them are obvious.
1. Memorizing or reading your entire presentation
When I was in High School and competing on the speech team, I needed to memorize my speeches. This is often required in short-form, formal presentations. In fact, is is probably one of the most common speaking mistakes because that is how speaking is taught in grade school.
However, once you start getting out in the real world of speaking, memorization can be the death knell of your presentation. “If you memorize your presentation,” says Bob Bevard, one of the Featured Speakers of Public Speaking Super Powers, “and I don’t care if it’s 10 minutes or if it’s 45 minutes – the first thing is it starts to feel rote, you lose the stuff, you lose the realness.”
Your audience came to hear you speak – not perform, read or deliver a rote monologue. Your responsibility is to communicate with your audience, not at them. By interacting with 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. You also provide a better experience for the audience.
2. Not knowing your material
Yes, you don’t want to memorize your speech word-for-word. But you do need to know what you want to say and, in general, what order you want to say it in. If you are not familiar with your opening, closing, topic or how your 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 speaking mistakes is!
Barry Maher, another Featured Speaker of Public Speaking Super Powers, says, “if you know the material strongly enough, that you can just talk about what you would have said.” In addition, “even if you don’t remember what you were supposed to have said about it, the audience doesn’t know what you are supposed to have said.”
3. Speaking too fast
This is definitely one of my pitfalls. Sometimes I get so impassioned by what I’m saying that the words fly out of my mouth rapid fire. Other times, I’m trying to provide too much content for the allotted time. These kill your ability to communicate with your audience.
When you speak to rapidly, the audience can’t keep up and fully absorb your information or message. Pacing is very important, says Sherry Richardson, Featured Speaker. “You don’t want to go so fast that nobody’s catching a lick of what you’re having to say.”
In addition, your fast speech may make your audience feel vaguely agitated or nervous themselves. Incidentally, talking at a furious pace saps your energy as well.
4. Running Out of Air
Breathlessness on the podium is one of the most common speaking 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. This can increase your feelings of nervousness. I recommend learning to breathe with the support of your diaphragm and then practice supplementing your air supply before you are depleted. Build natural pauses into your speech not only for emphasis but to take a breath of air.
5. Staring at an object on the wall — or ceiling
You should not focus your attention on a spot on the wall or above the heads of your audience. Look the audience in the eye. Make that contact with your listeners, and you will then be aware of their reaction to you. Remember, public speaking is a form of communication. If you are not making eye contact, then you are not communicating.
If eye contact makes you nervous, try looking at someone’s nose or the forehead until you are more comfortable. Also, thinking of your presentation as a series of one-on-one conversations with individual members of the audience will make maintaining eye contact much easier.
These five common speaking mistakes can be easily fixed if you know your material, converse with your audience, learn how to control your speed and breath, and make eye contact with your listeners.