How to Avoid the Most Common Pitfalls of Public Speaking

by Engager Olive Persimmon

I’ve been doing public speaking for ten years and coaching public speaking for four. Throughout this time I’ve given some amazing, rev-up the audience, not-a-dry-eye-in-house speeches.
I’ve also totally bombed. Red-faced, voice-shaking, forget-your-freaking-words bombed.
Luckily that happens far less frequently now because I’ve learned the common mistakes for why speeches don’t go well. Looking back, there are three basic reasons why I failed: 1. I didn’t 1915974_1021261141282455_1190844854930300062_nprepare enough 2. I was overly worried about the audience’s opinion of me, and as a result 3. I got in my head.

So let’s talk about what you can do to avoid these common pitfalls:

1. Prepare and then practice:

Too often I see clients who want to “wing it” so they “sound natural.” This is one of the main reasons why speeches fail. The speaker didn’t prepare enough. It’s probably the single, most important thing you can do to deliver a great speech. Figure out exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it. Write it down and then practice it. Practice your presentation or speech alone. Then practice it again in front of people. If you have a fear of public speaking, it’s critical that you practice in front of other people, and often. The more frequently you do it, the more likely you are to decrease your fear.

2. Practice some more:

When we’re feeling nervous, our body goes into something called fight-or-flight mode. This causes our heart rate to elevate along with spikes in cortisol and adrenaline. This can lead to sweatiness, shaking, redness, and even blackouts. The last thing you want to be dealing with is figuring out what the heck you’re gonna say. I’ve seen this end two ways, the speaker blacks out and stops or the speaker starts to ramble. You want the words to be so engrained in your brain that you can keep going even if you’re having an out-of-body experience. Practice until you sound fake. Then keep practicing until you sound real again. That doesn’t mean you can’t deviate from your prepared talk, it just means that your brain won’t be scrambling for words at the wrong times.

3. Remind yourself that the audience WANTS you to succeed.

Olive with her book "Unintentionally Celibate!"

Olive with her book “Unintentionally Celibate!”

There’s a good chance that someone asked you to speak. That someone could be your boss. It could be a group of people interested in a topic. Those people BELIEVE that you will be successful. No one in their right mind would ask you to speak if they thought you were going to fail. The audience is on your side. Truly they are. Yet, for so many of us, we are obsessively worrying about what the audience will think of us. Before you start speaking, take a second to assess your audience. Find a friendly face. Smile at that person (it will release wonderful chemicals into your brain). Remind yourself that someone believes you deserve to be speaking. Take a deep breath and then begin.

4. Get out of your head

It’s impossible to connect with the audience when you’re in the middle of a conversation with yourself in your head. One of the easiest ways to get out of your head, is to make authentic eye contact with people in the audience. A lot of coaches recommend looking above the audience or looking at a lot of people in a short amount of time. Don’t do this. Instead, really look at the people you’re talking to. Not only will this help you connect with them, it will help ground your body and get you out of fight-or-flight mode.

Avoiding these common pitfalls is the first place to start if you’re trying to become an excellent speaker. Hopefully your next speech will be a home run. Follow our blog for more tips on speaking and other communication skills.