How to avoid some basic speaking pitfalls
April 22, 2014 By Lisa Dion


Your material is solid, your PowerPoint slides are in order, and “umms” and “aaahhs” are a thing of the past. You’re an authority, and you’re ready to show it. But there are still some pitfalls along the way, and if you’re to be an effective presenter, here are some things to avoid for maximum effectiveness.

Enhance don’t reiterate

One of the quickest ways to loose an audience is to have your slides contain the same information as your speech and following that content to the letter. A crowd will quickly discern that what you’re saying is duplicated on the slides available to them after the speech, and will tune out. Slides should enhance your points with charts, examples, and the occasional surprise, so your audience feels rewarded for paying attention.

Don’t use the podium as a shield

Think of the podium as a diving board, not a security blanket. It is perfectly fine to begin your presentation there, or return before jumping off to another point, but if you think you’re “safe” behind it, think again. It’s virtually impossible to be engaging behind a barrier. Unless you absolutely need to have notes throughout your presentation with facts and figures that you MUST be reading, avoid the temptation. Here’s an article from about stepping out.

Bad audio is deadly

Nothing ruins a presentation like bad audio. It is crucial to learn how to utilize different microphones and their placement for effective audio. Whenever possible, insist on a sound-check. A podium or lectern microphone should be tested during sound-check for proper height and distance from your mouth while standing tall. If the audience complains they cannot hear you, the first instinct is to hunch closer to the mic, which can ruin your confident posture and tone. Wireless lavalier or “lav” mics can pick up noise from the fabric of your clothes, and should be tested while walking the stage to assure proper location for attachment. A good primer for mics can be found here from the Washington Times.

Beware of insincere enthusiasm

Nobody likes a ham-fisted presentation that feels more like a sales pitch than an informative or entertaining talk. Pandering for audience participation (“How many of you out there like MONEY?!?”) is an invitation for disengagement. Enthusiasm should be a journey you build with your delivery, pace and material, not something you demand like some high school cheerleader or infomercial salesman. Map out your presentation to include peaks and valleys of excitement, so that when you come to a “reveal,” the crowd is with you naturally.

Time waits for no plan

Why do you think TED talks are so short, despite their weighty subjects? It’s because keeping people’s attention is hard to do. It’s better to end early than to go on too long or rush your conclusion. Going overtime may cut into another presenter’s time or disrupt the schedule. If you’re speaking in a banquet setting, try for the cocktail or dessert slot rather than the main course — holding a crowd amid the clanging of silverware and expecting diners not to converse during dinner is an uphill battle you don’t want to fight.
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