Five Mistakes People Make When Giving a Speech

Updated on January 2, 2018
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Sally is a writer, speaker, and communications coach. She teaches her clients how to express themselves with power and impact.

To keep your audience’s attention, avoid these five mistakes people make when giving a speech. Your body and the way you carry yourself in front of a group says as much about you as the words that you chose to put in your speech.

Don't let nervousness hold you back.

Your body language speaks volumes about your confidence and leadership skills.
Your body language speaks volumes about your confidence and leadership skills.

1. Don’t read directly from your handouts. Using your workshop of seminar handouts as a script for your speech is a waste of your time and a waste of your audience's time. So many people make this mistake when they give a speech because they haven't take then time to prepare and practice their material ahead of time. When you read directly from a sheet that you've given your audience, they'll soon lose interest and tune out. They might even wonder why you didn't just send them the handout to read on their own instead of spending their time

Another reason it's a big mistake to read from your handouts is that it's too easy for your audience to zone out, or worse, fall asleep! If your audience already has all your important points written down in front of them, there’s no reason for them to listen carefully for any compelling insights and “a-ha” moments. There's no way to build suspense or add drama to your speech because they can easily skip ahead and see what's coming. The best speakers---the ones who never make this mistake---keep their audiences entertained and engaged by not giving away all their secrets in a handout.

If you find yourself in a situation where you do need to read from your handouts, then don't give the handouts to the audience at the beginning of your speech. Use the handout as an outline while you deliver your speech, then give it to the audience at the end of the session as a bonus take-away.

If you don't want your audience to fall asleep during your speech, don't read directly from your notes.
If you don't want your audience to fall asleep during your speech, don't read directly from your notes.

2. Don’t lean on the lectern while you are speaking. Keep a comfortable distance from the lectern so that you can move about freely. Leaning on the lectern makes you look lazy, insecure, or tired, and it robs you of the opportunity to animate your presentation with appropriate hand gestures and body language. Also, leaning on and off the lectern while you speak can create distracting tapping and rattling sounds.

Socks the cat can lean on the lectern because, well, he's a cat. But you aren't. So don't make this mistake the next time you give a speech.
Socks the cat can lean on the lectern because, well, he's a cat. But you aren't. So don't make this mistake the next time you give a speech.

3. Don’t put your hands in your pockets for long periods of time. This tends to make you look unprofessional. It’s OK to put one hand in your pocket briefly but don’t play or fidget with items in your pockets. Putting one hand in your pocket loosely can draw attention to your other more animated hand and make you look a little more relaxed. Two hands in your pocket can make you look aloof and smug.

4. If you are using a pointer, don’t wave it around like a baton. You’re not conducting an orchestra so there is no need to hang onto the pointer when you are not using it to draw attention to something in your presentation. Put it down gently when you are not using it.

Unless you are conducting an orchestra while giving your speech, put the pointer down when you are not using it.
Unless you are conducting an orchestra while giving your speech, put the pointer down when you are not using it.

5. Speak to your audience. If you are using visual aids (flip charts, slide screens), make sure that they are positioned so that everyone can see them clearly without having to twist or crane their necks. Also, make sure that you always project your voice outward towards the audience. Don’t speak to your visual aids, speak to your audience. One way to remember to face your audience and offer plenty of eye-contact is to imagine that your audience must lip-read your presentation in order to fully comprehend it. If the majority of your audience is sitting on one side of the room with only a few on the other side, address both sides of the room equally.

If using a whiteboard is part of your speech, make sure that you spend most of your time facing your audience. if you face the board too much, people won't be able to hear you speaking.
If using a whiteboard is part of your speech, make sure that you spend most of your time facing your audience. if you face the board too much, people won't be able to hear you speaking.

Without being too judgmental, the next time you are in the audience watching someone give a speech, see if you can notice any of the common mistakes listed above. Do you find them distracting? Do the mistakes influence your receptiveness to the content in the speech. By regularly attending speeches and seminars and noticing how the speakers conduct themselves, you'll start to gain insight into what separates the average speakers from the spectacular speakers!

Image Credits: Pixabay.com

© 2016 Sally Hayes

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