Public speaking isn’t an easy feat. Many speakers, even well-trained ones, get nervous and sometimes mess up. There are some mistakes professional presenters never make, though. Here are a few of them, and what to do instead.
1. They don’t wait until the night before to prepare
Audiences can tell when a speaker hasn’t adequately prepared for his or her presentation. To give a successful presentation, a speaker needs to not only have taken the time to put together an effective, well-structured speech, but by the time they get up on stage or in front of a room, they’ve already practiced it a dozen times.
2. They don’t let the audience know they’re nervous
Everyone gets nervous before a big presentation, even experts. Nervousness can cause a lot of fidgeting and other awkward movement, though, which distracts the audience from the content of the speech. If you can, hide your nervousness. Practice your speech so well that you’ll be able to perform right through your nerves without your audience ever noticing.
3. They don’t fidget
Twirling your hair, sliding your hands into your pockets, even walking back-and-forth while you’re speaking can be extremely distracting to those trying to listen to what you have to say. Instead, use your nervous energy to pull your audience in within the first 15 seconds.
4. They don’t just stare at one spot on the wall
Speaking to a group of people is much more than just standing in front of a screen telling them what to do. To show the audience you are interested in the subject matter as well as their reactions to it, don’t just stare at the wall behind them. Make eye contact with as many audience members as you can, to make them feel like they’re part of it, too.
5. They don’t read off their notes or slides
Isn’t it harder to pay attention when someone is talking to you, but is staring down at their phone? It’s important to make eye contact with the members of your audience as you speak. You can have notes in front of you, but do your best only to glance at them, instead of keeping your head down the whole time.
6. They don’t jump back and forth between topics
Keep your presentation clean and organized by allowing the content to flow easily from one point to the next. Jumping back-and-forth between an array of topics will confuse your audience and can even make it difficult for them to figure out the overarching point you’re trying to make.
7. They don’t speak in monotone
When we speak naturally, our tone takes on fluctuations and shifts in volume at the appropriate times. These are audible cues to help your listeners follow along and stay engaged from start to finish. If you speak in monotone for 15 straight minutes, you’ll lose most of your audience before you even get the chance to make your point.
8. They don’t present their slides full of typos and small fonts
While you don’t want your visual aids to be the center of your presentation, you don’t want to distract your audience and make yourself look sloppy and unprofessional, either. Proofread your slides and make sure the audience can read them from the back row.
9. They don’t talk a mile a minute
When you’re up in front of people, and you want to do well but you’re also nervous, you will end up talking a lot faster than you originally planned. This might get you out of the spotlight faster, but no one will be able to hear and comprehend what you’re saying. Speak slower than you think you need to.
10. They don’t go over a specific time limit
Probably the worst thing you can do as a public speaker is draw your presentation out past its time limit. There are reasons TED Talks, for example, are capped at less than 15 minutes. If you can’t make and support your points in that time frame, your speech isn’t quite ready to be heard yet.
11. They don’t rely too heavily on technology
When a presentation relies too much on technology, it becomes less of a presentation and more of a demonstration. A speaker should be able to give their presentation in full without supplemental technology. Slides and other visual aids should act as bonus material, instead of the focal point of the presentation. This also ensures that a presentation can continue even if the technology fails.
12. They don’t say “um” every time they pause
Fillers—saying “um” or “so” to fill pauses—don’t go unnoticed by listeners, especially when it’s a nervous habit. Speaking slowly and even strategic pausing, without feeling the need to fill the silence, can help eliminate using fillers without realizing it. This is also why preparing and practicing is a plus.
13. They don’t act like the audience isn’t there
A common mistake among less experienced public speakers is to stand in front of a room full of people and speak to the wall behind them. Members of an audience will be much more interested in your presentation if you make them part of the ordeal, instead of talking over their heads.
14. They don’t wait until the very end to state their point
Giving a speech is like writing a story. If you wait until the last line to get your point across, most readers won’t make it that far. Get to the point. State your main idea at the very beginning of your presentation and then continue on with more details so the audience can follow along.
15. They don’t expect everything to go as planned
No matter how well you plan, something can always go wrong. When you’re up in front of an audience giving a presentation, people are there to hear what you have to say. They don’t expect the speech to be perfect. Mistakes happen, but the biggest one of all is believing you won’t make any.
Professional public speakers have had a lot of time and opportunities to refine their skills and learn from their mistakes. You can learn to avoid these mistakes, too. It’s not about being perfect; it’s about doing a little bit better this time than you did the time before.