For many professionals, public speaking is a necessary evil. Others avoid it entirely. Mastering this incredibly valuable skill is a massive achievement that can really give you an edge over the competition. Like any skill, becoming a better public speaker takes practice and experience, but there are steps you can take to improve now. Here are some common public speaking pitfalls that you should avoid at all costs.
Whether you’re giving a quick elevator pitch or a multimedia presentation, preparing in advance is an absolute must. When you’re fully prepared, you’re naturally going to appear and genuinely be comfortable and confident. That immediately makes the audience comfortable and confident in you. After all, people can tell when public speakers are nervous, and in most cases, nervousness is directly caused by a lack of self-assurance, which usually stems from a poor grasp of the topic. When you’re prepared, you can improvise and flow more freely, and that’s what separates a passable talk from a memorable one.
Just reviewing the material the night before isn’t going to cut it. As soon as you know you have a public speaking event on the horizon, it’s time to start becoming a legitimate expert in whatever product, service, or topic you’re covering. You should be able to answer virtually any question without referencing any resources besides your brain. As the speaking engagement draws closer, start rehearsing the talk out loud. Don’t memorize what you’re going to say word-for-word, but make sure you have a general outline of how the presentation should transpire. Use notes at first, but make sure they don’t become a crutch.
Going Over or Under Your Time
If you’ve been asked to give a presentation, or even if you’re just having a meeting at the office, it’s essential that you respect time limits. Talking for too long or short can throw off the schedules of other speakers, the audience, and the people hosting the event. Show up to the venue early so you can iron out all of the kinks in advance. Malfunctioning equipment is one of the biggest time wasters at public speaking events, so make sure you test everything ahead of time. On stage, you can set a stopwatch on your phone to remind you when your time is almost up; just make sure you set it to vibrate.
Not Engaging Your Audience
You don’t necessarily need to be a natural entertainer to keep your audience interested. Comedy can be a powerful tool for public speaking, but it doesn’t always translate well, especially if it’s not sufficiently rehearsed. Instead of trying to be overly charismatic, be the best version of your authentic self. Let your true personality shine, and make sure your content is of the highest quality. If you’re providing valuable, interesting information, your audience is going to be engaged. All of the showmanship in the world doesn’t get you anywhere if what you’re saying doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. A great way to improve your content is to make it more personal and relatable to the audience. Tell relevant anecdotes, and give real-life examples. When applicable, offer live demonstrations. If you’re giving a promotional presentation, don’t be pushy. Let your product or service sell itself with facts.
Skipping the Q and A
Always make sure you remember to save time at the end of the presentation so you can answer any questions the audience may have. They came to the presentation because they want to learn something. It’s up to you to make that happen for them to the best of your ability. Providing a question and answer session ensures that anything that wasn’t made clear during the presentation is cleared up before the audience goes home. The amount of time you save for questions at the end varies depending on the size of your audience. However, if you’re not able to get to everyone, you may want to consider inviting audience members to speak with you privately after the event, or you can provide an option for online correspondence.
Failing to Rehearse Body Language
In most public speaking applications, people are going to be watching you. In addition to sounding your best, it’s important that you’re also visually engaging. Establish eye contact with the audience, and don’t look at the ground. Use your hands to gesture, and avoid fidgeting. Try to find a balance between pacing back and forth and standing like a statue. Many public speakers find that rehearsing in front of a mirror or recording video of their rehearsals is beneficial. Many speakers have body language and mannerisms that are subconscious, and eliminating those subtle ticks can help to polish the presentation.
While a public speaking engagement may seem like a big deal, it’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t go well. Too much stress can affect your performance as well as your health. As long as you’re prepared, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. If you try too hard to memorize your content or perfect your body language, you’re only going to come off as robotic. You’re a human, and you’re performing for other humans. Mistakes may happen, but as long as you prepare in advance and do your best, you can walk off the stage with pride every time.