Ten no-no’s that professional speakers avoid.
By C.L. Fornari
1. Never give the same presentation to every audience.
While you have certain talks that remain largely unchanged, every group you present to is different. They may want a shorter program, emphasis on a particular aspect of the subject, or more time for questions. Ask each group in advance about their desires or expectations, and tweak accordingly. And if a presentation is more than five years old, consider reworking it or adding new images.
2. Never speak with a page of notes in hand.
Every time you look at your notes, you break your rhythm and the connection with the audience. Pages and cards held in hand are a visual distraction as well. Practice your talk several times, without notes, standing up and out loud…that way you won’t have any need for written reminders.
3. Never stand behind a podium.
A podium puts a barrier between yourself and the audience. Request a hand-held or lavalier microphone, and always travel with a USB presenter’s remote for advancing the slides. If you use the images for visual cues, place your computer on the podium, but off to the side of the stage, angled so you can see what’s on the screen.
4. Never say no to the microphone.
Even if you have a loud voice, it’s not enough for many people in the audience. When you refuse to use a microphone you prevent a quarter of the audience from having the full experience. You might have to project loudly when amplification isn’t available, but if you’re offered a microphone, use it. Learn how to keep a hand-held a few inches from your mouth and to maintain it there when gesturing or turning your body. Your audience will thank you.
5. Never move randomly on the stage.
Your motions onstage should relate to what you’re speaking about. Walking up and down, back and forth, or rocking from foot to foot diverts the audience from your content. If you’re speaking about going somewhere (“So we walked into the garden…”), doing a particular task (“She bent over and pulled the plants out by their roots…”), or need to change time periods (“Now here we are two years later…”) then by all means move to demonstrate. Otherwise, practice standing still.
6. Never maintain an constant pace – fast or slow.
If you’re on hyperspeed during the entire talk your audience will be exhausted and unable to absorb all of your content. If you’re constantly slow and steady you risk putting them to sleep. Vary your pace and delivery through the presentation to make a more interesting performance.
7. Never speed through the last images because you’re out of time.
If for some reason you’ve run out of time, never rush through a set of pictures just to get to the end. Your audience won’t absorb what they’re seeing, and the message you’re sending is “I didn’t care enough about this talk, or your group, to time things well.” If you see you’re out of time, stop on the image you’re on and wrap things up verbally as if this is how the presentation always ends. You can also turn off the projector and wrap up in front of a dark screen. Either way, the audience should never know that you’ve left out several slides. They deserve to feel like they’ve gotten the full, well-planned experience.
8. Never let one audience member dominate the questions or discussion.
The speaker needs to stay in command of the audience. If you have “the world’s foremost authority” that wants to expound on your topic, or you have someone who repeatedly chimes in with questions or comments, handle them graciously but cut them off. Saying something like, “I can see that you know even more than I do about this, so let’s talk after the presentation, OK?” can still the former. Those with questions will usually be willing to wait until after your talk if you reassure them that you’ll be there afterwards to address their concerns. “Could you please hold the questions for after the talk? Then you and I can go over things together.” Let these folks know that they are acknowledged and heard, and that you’ll give them some special one-on-one time later.
9. Never run overtime.
There is no excuse for going over your allotted time. If you’ve rehearsed out loud, standing up, this won’t happen. In fact, if you’re presenting at a conference and the speaker who presents before you runs long, it’s your job to shorten your talk so that the schedule gets back on track. And never, ever make the audience late for lunch. Your job as a speaker is to give a top-notch presentation and keep the conference on schedule.
10. Never be afraid of changing what you’re comfortable with.
If you’ve found yourself responding with a “Yes, but…” to any of the above, you’ve gotten too comfortable with bad habits. Speaking is like any other skill: there is always more to learn and we can always improve.
Meet the Author
C.L. Fornari is a passionate plant geek who loves Twitter and Photoshop. She speaks, writes, broadcasts, blogs and podcasts about plants and gardening. Details at: https://www.GardenLady.com
2 thoughts on “A Speaker Should Never…”
C.L., All too true, especially the part about trespassing on either the next speaker’s time or on lunch or coffee breaks. I’ve been a speaker and a moderator on many occasions, and the latter sometimes makes herding cats seem like child’s play.
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Agreed, John. Often speakers forget that their first responsibility is to the audience and at a conference, that means keeping things on schedule.