7 Deadly Sins of Speaking
If the thought of speaking in front of people scares you, you’re not alone: More Americans are afraid of public speaking than they are of death . But unlike death, public speaking happens over and over again, whether it’s “walking the circle and introducing yourself” or winning a People’s Choice award.
Luckily, being passable in public is surprisingly easy if you can get out of your own way, and “passable” is usually all you’d expect. Plus, if you get used to public speaking, it can even be fun (at least that’s what my extrovert friends tell me). Below are seven of the most common mistakes people make when they are asked to speak in public. I expect an oral report on this material by the end of the semester.
Commitment is the most important aspect of any public performance, whether it’s a job presentation or stand-up comedy, but it’s also the hardest to achieve. It’s hard to even define commitment, let alone show it. It’s not exactly confidence or fearlessness, but it goes hand in hand with both. Commitment is the ability to not let fear affect you. It looks confident and behaves like you know what you’re doing – no confidence is really required.
Luckily, once you “get it” it stays with you, but you can only really learn commitment through experience, so you need to get up and do it. Remember, if you commit yourself to your presentation and overcome shyness and doubt, there is a chance that you will be terrible. But if you don’t, you speak out of fear, and you will definitely be terrible.
Be inappropriate or offensive
Different cases have different boundaries. If you’re toasting at a bachelor party, there’s a different standard than if you’d report quarterly to district managers. Make sure you know and respect boundaries. If you have any doubts about how appropriate or delicate to say something, don’t say it. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Talking too fast or too slow
If you’ve rehearsed an important speech at home a dozen times or are very nervous, you might try to rush it. This puts you in conflict with the audience. You are trying to “get it over with” while they are trying to absorb what you are saying. However, don’t correct yourself by speaking too slowly. This is worse than talking too fast because it takes longer to finish.
Try to speak at the pace of a normal conversation, assuming that your audience understands what you are talking about and cares about it. Imagine that you are talking to one person, not a group. Study Justin Trudeau’s speech above.
No matter what kind of speech you are giving, the introduction is vital as it sets the tone and expectations for the rest of the presentation. You want to start with a compelling statement that defines what you’re talking about and sets expectations for the rest of your speech. It can be funny, but only if it’s funny according to the premise. It may be serious, but it should still be interesting. Oh, and avoid cliches by starting your speech with something like “Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘success’ as…”
Some people can bullshit through a speech or presentation with little or no preparation, but if you don’t already know for sure that you have this ability, don’t risk it. Not knowing what you are talking about, being disorganized or unprepared will kill your speech, and there is nothing worse than standing in front of people who have nothing to say. How much and how much preparation you need depends on the occasion, but even the most informal speech is better if you have a rough plan in mind.
Don’t play for your audience
Worse than a humming-voiced snail telling jokes at a comedy club is an overly excited office manager cheerfully announcing layoffs, so try to tailor the energy and content of your speech to the occasion and audience. If you’re doing a mandatory “let’s get it over with” fact dissemination, you can make it as painless as possible, but don’t drag Michael Scott and try to “inspire”. There is a time and place for everything – ask yourself what kind of speech is appropriate for your time and place.
Reading the entire slide
I speak for every person who has ever watched a speech or presentation of any kind in the history of mankind when I say don’t read the whole slide . Please. We all hate it. This is torture. Power Point or other visual aids should be used to illustrate what you are saying and give broad “chapter titles” that you are going to explain further, but when you read the entire slide, everyone in the room thinks, “Why don’t you just email letter?”