Five Public Speaking Mistakes to Avoid

Whether you’re giving a presentation in person, over Zoom, or in a webinar, certain public speaking techniques carry through in all formats. So do some fairly common missteps that are easy to make, whether you’re a seasoned presenter or just getting started.

Here are a few things to avoid when planning your next presentation.

Forgetting To Rehearse

Perhaps one of the most crucial steps to putting together a strong presentation is rehearsal. It can be easy to skip this if you feel confident in the material or have presented before—but it’s essential to set aside the time.

If possible, run through your presentation several times. The more comfortable you are with you presentation, the less you’ll make errors that come from nervousness, such as using distracting filler words or speaking too quickly.

If you can record yourself, this can be very constructive—and will help you identify any distracting mannerisms you may not be aware of. Have a trusted colleague watch and give feedback if possible—on both your performance and the flow of the presentation.

Speaking Too Quickly

Speaking too quickly is a mistake many of us have made; it can feel natural to speak fast in today’s time-stretched environment, and you may speak more quickly if you’re nervous. This is something rehearsals and preparation can help with.

Remember to take deep breaths as you speak, to rein in your nervousness and break up your patterns of speech. Pause for a breath when you make transitions, to give your audience a moment to digest what you just said. And be sure to pause for laughter or applause.

Trouble Being Understood

This may be an issue even if you have a microphone, depending on the acoustics in the room and other factors. And even if you’re projecting, you may have problems with poor enunciation.

If you know this is a problem you have, spend some time practicing enunciating clearly during your presentation. This can feel awkward at first, and may require slowing down. But the extra preparation can be worth it.

Avoiding Eye Contact

Not making eye contact is an extremely common mistake people make during public speaking—especially if you’re nervous. But eye contact with your audience can help make them feel included, and make you appear more engaged and connected.

While you deliver your presentation, make eye contact with one person in the room for three seconds or so. Then move to another person for the same time period. It might feel unnatural at first, but this is a great way to make everyone in the room feel like you’re talking directly to them—which is a great way to raise your charisma.

Having Distracting Habits

Sometimes these are completely unconscious—and often a product of nervousness. And it’s easy to do these things while being completely unaware of them.  This is why it’s so helpful to rehearse with another person in the room or a camera to catch any mannerisms you have.

Things like pacing, clenching your hands together, using too many “ums” or other filler words, holding the podium in a death grip, jiggling a leg incessantly if seated, or adjusting your hair or outfit while onstage can all be distracting for your audience.

While there are plenty of missteps that can weaken your presentation, the good news is that great speakers are not born that way. Public speaking is a skill you can learn and improve on with practice. Set aside the time to rehearse thoroughly, and you should be able to dramatically improve your speaking skills.

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