5 common errors when speaking in public
Speaking in public is one of the most common phobias. If preparation is not thorough enough, errors are likely to accumulate at the moment of truth
In 1973, an article on the Bruskin Associate’s American Fears study appeared on the front page of the Sunday Times claiming that public speaking was more feared than death. Years have passed since then and despite the surveys carried out to refute this principle, it has stuck as an undeniable axiom. Although speaking in public may not be the worst that can happen to us, the thought of speaking in front of dozens of people can, without doubt, paralyse and override our abilities.
Whether due to this phobia of public speaking or for reasons such as inexperience or lack of preparation, it is true that we all make mistakes when giving our first presentations.
In this post, we’ll go over the 5 most common errors made when speaking in public.
1.- The paralytic fear when speaking in public:
When we have a presentation to give in front of our company’s directors, we spend hours and hours preparing the speech we’ll use to support our strategic plan. We’ve memorized our speech, prepared the materials....but we fail to account for any unexpected events.
“Excuse me, how have you carried out the estimates shown on the screen?” The marketing director has interrupted you with this simple question, but it’s enough to throw you off course and leave you paralysed, unable to offer an explanation. You calculated the estimate yourself, but you’re not able to answer the question.
Why does this happen? The answer is simple: we weren’t counting on this interruption. When we’re not prepared for or used to speaking in public we approach the situation feeling tense, we focus on everything we’ve memorised, but we lack the resources or ability to react when anything unexpected comes up. And it need not necessarily be an inopportune interruption from someone in the public. What are we to do if a technological glitch occurs and we can't use our presentation? During the preparatory process we need to equip ourselves with the resources to deal with these situations and be aware of the fact that they can happen.
2.- Ignoring the audience during your presentation:
When giving a talk, do you think about who is in front of you? Think about it: Would you really give the same presentation to a specialised group of professionals as you would to a group of inexperienced youngsters waiting to be impressed? When faced with the former, it would be preferable to opt for a more technical and professional presentation. However, if your role is that of star speaker you could use an element of surprise, resources which are somewhat more frivolous and a less specialised speech, making it more accessible for all those present.
3.- Avoiding self-analysis in your presentation:
It is not only a matter of analysing your audience, but also of visualising yourself through their eyes. If you are in front of your company’s board of directors and you are presenting a new strategic plan, it is highly likely they will not want to see the figures they already know by heart, nor a replica of the previous years’ plans. They will be expecting you to be innovative, to bring forth new evidence and reach conclusions they hadn’t thought of. You won’t want your audience to leave the room feeling they have wasted an hour of their precious time.
4.- Relying on improvisation when speaking in public:
An excess of confidence is as dangerous as fear. We put a lot of effort into preparing materials, visuals, presentation designs, figures... But we forget about the actual speech. We bank on simply following the slides step by step, without really thinking about what we’ll say... but your audience will not be satisfied if you just go over the figures and sentences they can see on screen.
Dedicate a good part of your preparation time on how to articulate your presentation. Knowing how to explain your propositions will always be more important than the materials shown on screen.
5. - Forgetting the main aim of your presentation:
The first thing you should ask yourself before getting your presentation together is what your aims are. Do you want to convince your company’s board of directors that your strategic plan is the most befitting for the coming quarter? Are you trying to dazzle your audience? Do you want to make a good impression on colleagues who hold a high status within the profession? The answer to these questions will alter the focus of your presentation. If you fail to think about them, you’ll be running the risk of giving a rather flat and far from convincing discourse.
You can find more key tips on how to engage your audience when giving presentations on our online course for companies: ‘Effective presentations’.
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