Avoid These Public Speaking Traps!

Updated on April 1, 2012

By Maureen Murray, MSEd

Most of us would much rather be in the audience than be the speaker.  But our jobs often require that we speak at workplace meetings or conferences.  You can increase your chances of being a confident and effective speaker if you avoid these three major public speaking traps:

1. Making it about yourself.

Feeling anxiety before we speak is a natural reaction to our fear of looking foolish or uninformed in front of others, especially our peers.  As a result, we feel pressure to deliver an excellent presentation, to really nail it. That’s where the anxiety becomes a vicious circle—-we’re nervous about speaking which feeds into anxiety about doing a perfect presentation.

Here’s how to break the cycle of anxiety: Consider speaking as service  As you prepare to speak, think of ways your message will help your listeners, i.e., reducing stress, making jobs easier, saving time and/or money. This shifts your attention from you to your audience, and reduces self-consciousness because the emphasis is on now on them and not on you.  When we consider speaking as service—how can I help?—we become more persuasive and worry less about our performance.  We’re too busy helping others.

Action step: Write on an index card:  “How will this presentation help my listeners?”  List your three most important answers.  Look at the card as you practice, and take it with you to the presentation or meeting to remind yourself that your job is to serve your audience.  This will shift the focus away from you, and reduce your anxiety in the process.

2. Over preparing and under practicing.

Presentations require practice!  But because we want to provide valuable content, it’s tempting to keep searching for yet another scientific study or fact to include in our remarks.  It’s also tempting to keep tweaking the PowerPoint until the day of the presentation. Over-preparing a major trap because it consumes time we should devote to practicing our presentation.   Remember that a smooth and engaging delivery is more effective than a rushed and choppy delivery loaded with every possible fact.

Practice your presentation out loud.  Sitting at your computer and practicing the presentation in your mind is not adequate preparation.  You must practice out loud for two reasons.  First, for comfort:  You don’t want the first time you hear the remarks coming out of your mouth to be the time it counts!  You do want the sound of your voice speaking the remarks to sound familiar. This will generate a secure and confident feeling of “I know this.”

The second reason to practice out loud is timing.  It takes about 25 percent longer to speak your remarks out loud than it does to say them in your head. Practice out loud to avoid the stress of running out of time before you run out of material.

Action step:  In addition to practicing your entire presentation out loud several times, practice your opening few sentences an additional five times to help you get through that first—and toughest—minute.

3.  Failing to keep the audience engaged.

You’re presenting valuable content with poise and presence to an interested audience.  But as time passes, you notice that attention is starting to wane.  Your challenge is to take steps to keep your listeners alert and engaged.  This is especially important if you must speak after a meal, deliver a long presentation or one that provides a lot of data, such as a healthcare presentation.

There are many ways to keep listeners engaged such as questions, relevant stories or anecdotes, show of hands (“How many of you…”), handouts with blanks to complete, brief partner activities, and having them share how they will implement the learning.

Action step:  Write at least three specific ways you will engage the audience of your next presentation.

These strategies will not only make your session more interesting and memorable, but will help you to develop more confidence as a speaker.

Maureen Murray, MSEd, is a national speaker, trainer, and coach with extensive experience presenting to groups and coaching individuals in the healthcare industry to speak with more power, presence and poise to grow their careers.  Contact her at 412-561-1577, [email protected] or www.maureenmurrayassociates.com.


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