8 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Speaking (And What to Try Instead)

When it comes to public speaking, knowing what not to do can be just as valuable as learning what works best for you.

We compiled a list of 8 common mistakes speakers make when presenting to help you make your presentations stronger and more memorable.

Read through for what to avoid and what to try instead.

Speaking too fast or too quietly 

When we get nervous, we tend to speed up or speak too quietly.

When you talk too fast or too low, it can make it hard for listeners to follow along and they may miss important points. 

Try this instead: If you notice yourself rushing through your speech, take a pause and a deep breath. Use this moment to reset and resume at a slower pace. You can even drink water as needed to help you pause (and hydrate)!

Using too many filler words

We tend to use filler words when our words don’t keep up with our brains. 

While using some filler words like  “um” and “uh” can make a talk sound conversational, too many can distract from your message. 

Try this instead: Record yourself and listen back. If you notice you’re repeating filler words over and over again (perhaps as you transition from one thought to another), practice replacing those words with a pause.

Overloading your audience with information 

We often have SO MUCH that we want to share with our audience. When we’re excited about a topic, it can be hard to imagine leaving any details out.

But throwing out too many concepts can bury important information, confuse your audience, and detract from your message.

Try this instead: Focus on the 1 thing you want your audience to take away. Edit your speech to focus on the most important stories, facts, insights, and activities that you want to use to achieve your goal. Walk through your talk with others and ask for feedback early and often. 

Using irrelevant visuals 

When we think of a presentation, slides often come to mind. Visual aids are a great tool to help your audience absorb the information you’re presenting. 

But using visuals that don’t match what you’re saying or are too busy can be distracting.

Try this instead: If you decide to use visuals, keep them simple. Use your visuals to highlight the takeaway you settled on (see number 3!) 

Make sure your visuals are easy to read, accessible, and compliment your speech.

Distracting your audience with your movements 

We’re often told to engage the audience with our body language. Using intentional hand gestures and moving around a space can enhance key points in our presentation, but when we’re nervous, our movements can sometimes have the opposite effect.

Avoid distracting your audience with movements such as pacing the stage quickly, fidgeting, or tapping your fingers on the podium (or the keyboard if you’re remote).

Try this instead: If you want to use body language to engage, start by using your hands to emphasize particular parts of your presentation you want your audience to remember. You can open up your arms to talk about something big or count on your hands as you make your first, second, and third point. When walking the stage, make sure your pace matches your delivery. Stop to emphasize key points.

Reading your speech verbatim 

When you want to say all the right things, you may be tempted to script and read your speech verbatim.

However, there are several downsides to this strategy. You can often tell when someone is reading a speech rather than speaking from their heart. And an audience wants to feel like they’re being spoken to rather than read to. It’s also often harder to recover if you mess up and lose your place.

Try this instead: Practice delivering your speech using notes or an outline to friends, family, or peers. When you get stuck, think about the bigger picture of what you want to share, rather than trying to recall an exact sentence.

If this doesn’t work for you – read your speech as needed. While it can be ideal to present without one, ultimately you need to do what you need in order to show up and present!

Lecturing your audience

When we think of a presentation, we often think of a person in front of the room, talking until their time is up. But a great talk engages the listener.

Avoid talking “at” your audience. Getting them to engage can make your presentation that much more memorable.

Try this instead: Add an activity, Q&A session, and/or feedback survey to engage listeners. This will also help you learn valuable insights to incorporate into your next presentation.

Trying to take everyone’s advice 

When we want to improve, it’s natural to look to those we respect for advice and inspiration. 

This can be helpful but it’s also important to know that just because something works for someone, doesn’t mean it will work for you.

Try this instead: Find your own process and let your authentic self shine through. Try out concepts and advice from other speakers that resonate with you such as storytelling, humor, or emphasizing key points but make it your own. If something isn’t working for you – that’s OK – try something else that does.

With practice and time, you will learn what methods, concepts, and tools work for you.

We talk about all of this and more in our 8-week Present Yourself public speaking program. 

If you want to gain skills to strengthen your public speaking skills and build your confidence to deliver an impactful presentation, learn more here.

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