If you find the idea of standing in front of a crowd, presenting an idea, or taking part in a discussion more than a little daunting, don’t worry; you’re not alone. That said, leading a panel or speaking at a conference can be very rewarding with the right amount of preparation and practice. And since many careers may require you to give a talk, speak at a conference, join a panel, or create a podcast, knowing some key mistakes to avoid goes a long way.  


Here, we look at some of the most common slip-ups in public speaking and how to avoid them, as well as provide insights on how to improve your public speaking skills from top industry experts.  


Mistake 1: Not Engaging the Audience 


Speeches Failure to Connect


When done correctly, a speech can be both inspiring and empowering. However, when done poorly, a speech can leave an audience feeling alienated or unengaged. Two common mistakes speakers make when presenting include the audience beforehand and not engaging them once the speech begins. Don Franceschi, author of From Awful to Awesome: 9 Essential Tools for Effective Presentations, says, “you need to KNOW your audience before you can connect with them.” Doing some research on the audience beforehand provides you with the opportunity to tailor specific ideas or talking points to them, making the speech feel more personal as opposed to something generic. 


Mistake 2: Just Winging It! 


The next step is delivery. You might have the perfect speech prepared, but if you fail on delivery, it won’t matter how great the content is. Many speakers, especially when nervous, tend to rush, ramble, or speak too quietly, which can alert the audience to their nervousness.  Don Franceschi says to“imagine you are having a conversation with the person in the back row,” to avoid some of these pitfalls. Don also suggests that “the best way to prepare is to REHEARSE.” Try recording your speech and listening to your delivery. For maximum impact, focus on content and delivery equally. And whatever you do, don’t just wing it! 


Mistake 3: Speaking Too Much or Not Enough 


Panel Talks Making a Bad First Impression and Playing It Safe


Panels and roundtables are made up of several different speakers, usually engaging in an informed discussion with one another. As such, being an engaging panelist is a balancing act between having informed points to make while also allowing other panelists to speak. Not saying enough can make you seem unprepared, while not allowing anyone else to get a word in can come across as rude and abrasive. Terri Trespicio, a speaker and branding professional, says to “think of the panel as a potluck dinner. You’re not in charge of the whole dinner, but you also aren’t just showing up to eat. Everyone brings their own dish.” Preparing a few talking points allows you to add to the discussion where appropriate or respond to fellow panelists’ points as necessary.  


Mistake 4: Imitating the Greats 


Looking to history’s great orators for inspiration can be an excellent way to learn about the art of public speaking. After all, people like Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Winston Churchill were particularly adept at capturing crowds, sometimes for hours on end, using just their words.  


The problem begins when inspiration turns to imitation. If an audience feels you are trying to imitate someone else, they are likely to become distracted and focus on how you are speaking rather than what you are saying. Furthermore, these much-lauded public speakers are so good because they have their own unique way of speaking, and you will never develop your own public speaking voice if you are trying to imitate someone else’s.  


Mistake 5: Being Too Funny 


There’s nothing wrong with beginning a speech with a small joke, provided the context lends itself to it. In fact, a joke can be a good way to lighten the mood and relax the audience for the speech to come. However, a speech is not a stand-up comedy routine, and while jokes may be fun for both the speaker and the audience, they can detract from the speech itself. If you’re delivering a public address, the audience is likely there because they want to hear what you have to say on a topic. Including too many jokes only serves to take up valuable time that could otherwise be spent adding substance to the speech. 


Mistake 6: Overwhelming the Audience 


Presentations Complex Content


When giving a presentation, it can be tempting to cram in as much information as possible. However, Patti Wood, a professional speaker and body language expert, says, “trying to cover far too much content, overwhelming the audience with lists, not making the data understandable, and too many charts,” can alienate the audience and cause them to disengage. To get the outcome you desire, make the content informational yet entertaining. Eric Rose, partner at Englander Knabe & Allen says to “speak in easily understandable terms. Avoid jargon and technical terms if simpler words would do.” Your audience will engage with you as long as your content is relatable.  


Mistake 7: Including Filler Content   


Almost everyone is guilty of padding out an essay with extraneous information at one point or another. However, when presenting to an audience, this technique is a big no-no. Although it might be tempting to bump a 50-minute speech up to an hour, adding information not directly related to the speech topic will only serve to disengage the audience, who will likely fail to follow the logical flow of the speech or presentation. Being concise and to the point goes a long way to keeping audiences engaged throughout the entire speech. And trust us, no one is ever going to be upset that you took up less of their time.  


Mistake 8: Not Playing to the Medium 


Podcasts Alienating the Audience


Just because a well-researched, well-delivered speech might work in an auditorium with a specific audience, that doesn’t necessarily mean that success will translate to other mediums, such as on a podcast. Podcasts are excellent tools for discussing ideas and concepts, much like a formal speech, but, without the live audience, they tend to be much more conversational in tone. According to behavioral and marketing psychologist Dr. Elliott Jaffa, you should “have a conversation with your audience. Do not script them out; that’s not the way we talk nor how an audience listens. Tell a story.” Since you can’t see your audience, you must use your tone of voice to keep them interested. Keep it upbeat and try including interesting stories or anecdotes to back up and inform any larger ideas you might broach. 


As you can see, good public speaking is all about finding the best ways to engage with your audience and keep them invested in what you have to say within the confines of the prescribed format, be it a speech, roundtable discussion, or podcast. Similarly, international businesses need to find ways to connect with their global customers, and a great place to start is with a virtual phone number based in the country where their customers are located. Explore our virtual phone numbers page to discover cloud-PBX solutions that let you reach your customers where they live.  


Have you experienced any of these top public speaking errors? What are your biggest public speaking regrets? Let us know on Twitter @TFFSocial.