25 speaking mistakes you should avoid – by @MichaelPort

Shocked man covering his mouth, as though having misspokenWhat good and bad habits have you seen speakers use? Adopting the good habits – and avoiding the bad – can be a quick way to learn and improve.

In the video near the bottom of this post, author and professional public speaker Michael Port outlines 25 mistakes that presenters often make (no matter how experienced they are). And in the table below, I’ve summarised his points, as well as adding links to related posts.

(Maybe you’ve heard of Michael’s best-selling books on speaking, like Steal the Show and Book Yourself Solid. He’s a former actor who’s been in such well-known TV shows and films as Sex and the City, Law and Order, and The Pelican Brief.)

See if any of the 25 mistakes surprise you You can also click a time in the table to start watching the related tip straight away (on YouTube):

  Mistake Start time – click to watch
1 Using the word “housekeeping” 01:35
2 Saying “I’m happy to be here” 01:50
3 Saying “Let’s get started” 02:01
4 Using weak language 02:10
5 Walking to centre stage before starting 02:39
6 Moving during the key part of a statement 03:03
7 Looking down 03:12
8 Flipping your hair 03:42
9 Hiding behind the lectern (or “podium”, as many people call it) 04:05
10 Touching your mic 04:13
11 Walking sideways 04:32
12 Speaking to just 1 section of your audience 04:51
13 Turning your back 05:05
14 Swearing too much 05:13
15 Pointing at your audience 05:30
16 Saying “I’m going to tell you a story” 06:03
17 Being unsure of a story’s details – or being too detailed 06:08
18 Mentioning content without expanding on it 06:40
19 Apologising if your time’s been cut short 06:53
20 Being bland by lacking contrast 07:12
21 Over acting 07:31
22 Letting the energy drop 07:51
23 Using a “storyteller” voice 08:02
24 Keeping going after you finish 08:27
25 Rushing offstage at the end of your talk 08:53

You can watch the whole 10-minute video below (or, click a time in the table above to start watching from a specific tip).


The item that spoke to me most

The item on Michael’s list that stuck out most for me was over acting. That’s because I was a member of Toastmasters for several years, went to a lot of their speaking contests, and’ve watched many Toastmasters videos online. Although the standard of their contests tends to be very good, sometimes members encourage each other to overdo aspects of their speeches (especially body language and “vocal variety”).

Please don’t overdo it on stage! You should come across as being natural, not forced.

Exaggerate your performance when you rehearse

One good tip is to just exaggerate your performance when you rehearse, then “dial it back down” slightly during the real event. That way, you come across as energetic and engaging on stage, without overdoing it.


One item I’d add to the list

Don’t ask too many rhetorical questions

I agree that you should avoid all the mistakes in the list – and there’s another I’d add, too. Namely, don’t ask too many rhetorical questions.

If you’ve ever sat through a presentation where the speaker asked loads of rhetorical questions, you’ll know how frustrating that can be. (For instance, I once went to a lunchtime talk put on by a previous employer of mine. Having given up my lunchtime, I was irritated when the speaker peppered their talk with rhetorical questions, yet didn’t ask us listeners to reply even once.)


Don’t be afraid to be “unruly”

Importantly, Michael bookends his ideas by urging you (at 1:30 and 9:13) to break the rules. So he ends by saying:

“And last but not least, break the rules…
So if you find a better way to do it,
do it that way”
Michael Port

Great advice! By deciding which “rules” of public speaking you should break:

  • You’ll need to think carefully about your speaking habits, which’ll make you a more purposeful presenter.
  • And you’ll stand out from most other presenters.


Over to you

  • Do you agree with Michael’s list?
  • Which mistake resonated most with you?
  • What public-speaking mistakes would you add?


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