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The biggest mistake speakers make

May 1, 2011

Catching up on my favorite blogs, I ran across a great item on Scott Berkun’s blog. One of his posts was about an interview he did with folks at Toastmaster’s. He has a podcast version available, so I downloaded it, listened and found it interesting.

While the entire podcast is worth your time, I’ll highlight one question they asked him and some issues raised by his answer. The question was:

What do you think is the biggest mistake that speakers make?

Book cover imageScott’s answer was quick, definite and hit a major point in his book, Confessions of a Public Speaker.  The essence of his response was:

The biggest mistake is a failure to practice enough.

Scott goes on to say that being under-prepared comes mainly from the fact that they think they don’t need to practice. It also comes from the fact that they’re uncomfortable enough with speaking that they can’t even make themselves practice. They’re willing to put lots of hours into the slides, but will spend no time practicing what they will say which is much more important.

“Practice? Rehearse? I don’t need that.”

I definitely hear people say those words. Heck, I’ll admit it, I’ve said them! Or we say we don’t have time, or we know the topic so well we don’t need to practice. The reality is that a lot of us know we should, but we’re not willing to do it and I suspect that’s mostly out of fear and partly out of ignorance. We think we’ll feel silly practicing and we’re mostly ignorant of the consequences, all of them bad.

Being under-prepared leads to bad things

  • Putting lots of text on the slides.

This is a common and very bad consequence, one I see all too often. I suspect they’re thinking that if all the words are on the slides, they won’t forget anything and that they can read them. So they think they don’t need to practice. Thus, we get another presenter with too many words on the slides, or worse, the presenter who reads the slides to the audience.

  • Being tied to a script and/or the lectern.

Even when the slides aren’t one, too many presenters write a script and read it. There are times when a script is required and doing a good presentation from a script is particularly difficult. I find it tough to convince people of it, but the reality is that it’s harder, not easier, to do a good presentation from a script.

  • We’re more nervous, more likely to make mistakes.

If the first time you talk through the presentation is “live,” don’t be surprised if it doesn’t go well. It’s rare that anyone gets the topic flow right the first time, much less getting exactly the right words for each point they want to make. The only way to smooth it out is to practice it.

Listening to Scott talk was interesting and entertaining. Here’s a guy that knows public speaking through more experience than any of us is likely to ever acquire.  After his comments and these notes, you can still avoid practicing the presentation, but I don’t think you can still be ignorant of the bad effects!

Bottom line

If the presentation is at all important, invest some time to practice. It will be worth it.

For more on this topic, I highly recommend Berkun’s book.


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