What 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|
|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|
|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|
|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”
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?
Also check out
- Critique of Toastmasters video: “Managing Fear”
- Strengthen your words – 5 speaking tips you can use today
- Critique of Allan Pease’s TEDx talk on body language [Video]
- Need to present a 1-hour slideshow in 30 mins? DON’T speed up! Do this instead…
- When’s it OK to speak fast? Secret #11 of star presenters, by Jean-Luc Doumont
- Using true eye contact, meaningful movement, and natural gestures when you present [Video]
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