3 Mistakes in Public Speaking

I’m learning–by trial and error–what works best when you have a speaking event. Since I speak more and more to audiences both large and small, and since this speaking career began with my first oratory competition in 1987 and spanned the next thirty years, I’ve received feedback and training I can pass on to you. I’ve also been studying what it means to truly engage an audience.

I’ve learned these three mistakes:

Making more than a few simple points. When I speak on one or two major points, I’m fine. When the talk evolves into six or seven, the audience feels weighed down by content. They don’t remember much, and they can’t synthesize all the data. The problem? We often load our messages with everything we think an audience must know instead of paring down to essentials. Less is more in public speaking.

Forgetting why they came to see you specifically. This year, I became so structured and precise with wonderful illustrations, sound teaching, and memorable points in my memorized talks. So what? The audience could have read the talk in a blog or listened to a podcast. What does the speaker offer in person? Vital human connection and rapport building exist uniquely with a physically present speaker. Even if it takes ten minutes of my 30 minute talk, I’m remembering to talk about my life and what I have in common with the audience. Building connections with personal stories that the audience will enjoy comprises an essential part of public speaking–one I often forget in favor of organized content.

Not setting up a problem to solve, an unrealized ideal, or an unanswered question. The best public speakers set up scenarios that invite the audience to solve a problem, think about an ideal but unrealized self, or answer a genuinely puzzling question. Instead, I sometimes launch right into some kind of message where nobody feels that anything is truly at stake or worthwhile. I lack buy-in. I’m learning, in speaking, writing, and in teaching, that setting up the problem to solve makes the event worthwhile and challenging.

As you leave for another speaking event, think about the next book, or compose the next lesson plan, remember:

Make just a few points or even one big one.

They came for you, so bring yourself and a few personal stories.

Think about what question your speech, book, or class answers. If it’s not a clear or good question, you can revise to set up a problem to solve.

(In addition, I’m learning to accentuate teaching points with vivid stories! Don’t forget your stories!)

Enjoy your speaking, teaching, and writing!




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