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Tips to Avoid the Five Most Common Speaker Mistakes

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Tips to Avoid the Five Most Common Speaker Mistakes

Avoid the five most common speaker mistakes that often happen in the first few seconds of a presentation. If you know what they are, you can learn the right skills for success. 

Recently I spoke at an event for women’s event. It was positive, upbeat and filled with useful information and new insights. The presenters had been briefed about what to do on stage. While some people were seasoned speakers and some weren’t, the tips were useful for all the presenters. However, I noticed that on the day, nerves took over at the start of most of the talks. In spite of our good intentions, almost every speaker made at least one of the common speaker mistakes in the first few seconds of her presentation. 

I made a note of the five most common speaker mistakes in order to avoid them.

Yesterday I used my list to prepare speakers for an upcoming event where I am the ‘event facilitator’ or MC. The tips were particularly for those in a line-up of presenters. They are also particularly aimed at women speakers, as a lack of confidence in some women make it more likely that these mistakes can happen. The challenge is to keep a balance between you as the speaker, the needs of the audience and the content. 

Here are tips to avoid the five most common speaker mistakes

1. Don’t start with an apology.

Read that again slowly. More women speakers than I can count start their presentations with an apology of some kind – from what they are wearing to what they are thinking to what they are saying. Just don’t do it.

Here are some real examples of what I’ve heard women say at recent events: 

‘I’m sorry, I’m crying. They are happy tears, really.’

‘I don’t have a very loud voice. I hope you can hear me.’

‘I’m not used to speaking in front of audiences. Please excuse me.’

While it’s ok to be authentic, you really don’t need to apologise for who you are or how you appear. Just start. Take a deep breath and start. 

2. Don’t put yourself down. 

This is a common speaker mistake many women speakers make. Start on the front foot. Don’t apologise for being there. 

Don’t say (and these are all recent real examples):

‘I’m a bit of a Luddite. I’m not sure how to use this clicky thingy.’ 

‘I should be moving the slide forward now, shouldn’t I? Ah, there we go, I moved it backwards again. I told you I’m no good with this technology stuff.’

This is a learnt behaviour. Put yourself down and say what everyone might be thinking. It’s a self-protection strategy, but not a good one. Just breath, take your time, do what needs to be done. 

3. Don’t let people know what’s going on for you; just get on with it. 

Here’s an example. At a recent presentation, I had re-written my talk on a few pages. One had most of the words, one just had headings, and one had a diagram that reminded me of what I wanted to say. When I got up on stage, I couldn’t find the page on the lectern. I paged forward, I paged back, and finally I stopped somewhere (was it the diagram page maybe?) and just took a deep breath and started. The temptation was to say:

‘I’ve lost my page; can you believe it?’

But the audience wasn’t there to learn about my issues. They were there to learn about my content. I was amazed – my voice came out deep and strong and clear and on point. I hadn’t distracted them with what was going on for me. 

4. Don’t say ‘is this mike working’?

Argh. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that at the start of someone speaking… 

Just start. Trust the technology. If it’s not working, someone will let you know. 

5. Don’t blame the time limit you’ve been given for rushing.

You’ve heard it too often: ‘I’ve only been given 20 minutes, so I’ll rush through this’ or ‘I haven’t been given much time so I’ll skip this part’. The audience doesn’t need to know. YOU manage your time. YOU prepare what is needed. You’ve agreed to your timeslot. Be a team player and use the time available, even if you have to shorten it a bit to help the event organisers stick to their plans. 

You will have been briefed about the available time before the event. There is very little excuse for hogging the time, or not filling the available time. If you need help to stick to it, let the event facilitator or MC know beforehand. You can be given a ‘two minutes to go’ alert. Or if you finish early, the event facilitator can have a question ready to ask you so that you expand on what you have said. 

Remember, you are speaking to support meet the needs of the people in the audience. 

You need to know that they get what’s in it for them. Don’t distract them by being caught up with yourself. Breathe, get back into the centre of the presenter’s triangle where you are balancing your needs as a speaker with their needs as the audience and your commitment to covering the content. 

Do let me know how you go using the tips to avoid the five most common speaker mistakes.

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