5 Public Speaking Traps to Avoid

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After many hours spent preparing your visuals and rehearsing your presentation, you’re finally stepping up to the podium. Ten minutes into your speech you notice a blank stare there, a poorly concealed yawn there, and you sense you are losing your audience’s attention. What are you doing wrong?

Here are five major traps that anyone who sets out to speak in front of an audience faces:

1. Failing to be genuine. Actress Judy Garland once said, “Always be a first-rate version of yourself instead of a second-rate version of someone else.” The success of any presentation hinges on the person giving it. Ergo, do not waste time and energy trying to be the person you believe your audience wants you to be instead of being who you are, or you’ll lose your most effective persuasion asset—your authenticity.

2. Lacking emotional connection. Powerful and effective communication is a symbiotic interaction of emotional and intellectual powers. The former is used to engage your audience’s imagination and anticipating their questions. The latter seeks to peak your listeners’ interest by using reasoned arguments and backing them up with hard facts and data. You’ll be able to establish the emotional connection only by pulling your audience into the story and satisfying their unspoken question, “What’s my takeaway here?” Instead of stating, “Today, I will talk to you about the importance of 529 plans,” say, “Today, you are going to learn how to maximize college savings by efficiently leveraging a 529 plan.”

3. Missing stories and anecdotes. William Glasser, a well-known author and psychiatrist, determined that people retain 20 percent of what they hear, 30 percent of what they see, and just 50 percent of what they both hear and see. So, support your speech/presentation with vivid, relevant stories. Anecdotes have a much greater impact on your audience. Help your clients and prospects create the movie that is going on in their heads as they listen to you. To facilitate this, use powerful human interest stories, memorable characters and engaging, dramatic and amusing anecdotes that support your message—fire up their imagination and keep them interested!

4. Misusing technology. Technology has undoubtedly set increasingly higher standards for presentations. However, many speakers have fallen and continue to fall victims of slides, videos and PowerPoint images. However, any visual aid implemented during a presentation has the power to divert the audience’s attention away from the speaker. Even the best-conceived, most-sophisticated and well-designed PowerPoint presentation lacks the ability to connect you with your audience emotionally. Even worse, repeating what’s on a visual makes either you or the visual redundant. So, use a visual just as a placeholder for the thoughts and ideas that you will weave in your message.

5. Neglecting a strong opening and closing. Ban the banalities that bog down most speech openings. Defer the customary “nice-to-be-here” platitudes. Start your speech by diving in! Instead of gingerly dipping your toes into the proverbial pool, open with a splash. Use a strong and appropriate opening that engages your audience. Forego the temptation of opening with a joke, unless you have some real novel material. At the end of your speech, ensure that you tie your closing remarks to your opening. And, do not forget to let your last word linger. You want your audience to walk out of the room hanging on to those final words.

Avoiding these very common traps will enable you to focus on your audience and your message and deliver an engaging, persuasive and powerful presentation.

As always questions and comments are welcome.

Claudio Pannunzio
i-Impact Group Inc.
Greenwich, Conn.

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