5 Common Blunders We Make While Public Speaking, And How To Correct Them

by Jane Atkinson

If you loathe the idea of speaking in public, you certainly aren't alone. But the good news is, YouTube and Ted Talks have lowered the bar a little bit when it comes to giving a polished presentation. Today's audiences aren't looking for perfection; they are looking for something real and authentic that they can connect with.

To help you nail your next presentation -- even if it's a sales pitch or a board room meeting -- here are a few things to steer clear of when speaking:

1. Not preparing

You might be tempted to "wing it," but you should resist at all costs. Do your homework; do more than you think is necessary. It doesn't matter if you are flawless in your delivery, it's more important that you know your stuff (your material, your content).

Whether it be a product you are presenting, or the pitch for a new ad campaign, you'll want to prepare for any question that may be asked in that moment. In fact, if you are giving a formal presentation, prepare for all types of strange things and emergencies (fire alarm, cell phone ringing, medical emergency).

Your audience will be super impressed when you handle those unexpected things without blinking an eye. And, the more you know your material, the less nervous you will be.

2. Repetitive speech

Let's face it: "Um," "like" and “you know,” are ingrained into several generations as acceptable forms of communication. It's okay to let a few go, but let's not make it …. like … an every second thing.

Okay? Okay. And for that matter, anything that you say repeatedly should be limited. Have you ever seen Will Smith interviewed? His go to is “you know.” (He's going to have to drop that if he plans to run for President.)

Ask your friends what you say frequently; you likely won't know until it's brought to your attention. Or better yet, record yourself during a sales call or presentation.

3. You teach more than you share stories.

How do you feel after a one-hour lecture where the professor gives you nothing you can relate to in order to illustrate his or her points? Bored? Bogged down?

Leadership speaker Mark Sanborn says stories are like mental coat pegs that you can hang your content (your points) on. If you can figure out a way to wrap your ideas in stories, you will have better results, no matter what the purpose of your speech.

I always open my presentations (that are designed for professional speakers) with, "imagine you are having the perfect day in your life as a professional speaker."

I walk them through receiving a paycheck for $10,000, having a limo waiting at the curb and seeing a full page article about themselves in the Wall Street Journal. This is more a guided visualization exercise than a story, but it allows them to get pumped up about what we are going to talk about. It takes the focus off me, and puts it onto them. This leads me to our next mistake.

4. You make it all about you.

In my world of professional speakers, I have clients with a wide range of life experience. From Everest climbers, to Olympic athletes to comedians. I even had one client, Paul Templer, who had his arm bitten off by a hippopotamus.

Crazy, right? Even though Paul might tell the story of what he calls his "bad day at the office" as a river guide in South Africa, he takes his lessons and applies them to his audience.

He might say something like, "okay, so maybe you haven't lost a limb to a wild animal, but perhaps you have had moments where your life was thoroughly interrupted." He relates his point back to the audience, which is always effective.

5. You pay attention to the green monster.

The green monster is your inner critic. It's the one who tells you "they will never listen," "you have nothing to contribute" and my personal favorite, "who do you think you are?"

This may very well be why so many people have a fear of speaking in public, because they are listening to those evil little voices. So flip it around and tell yourself something positive. When I get on stage, my goal is to be humble, be kind and be sharp. I have a mantra that I repeat to myself, while taking 10 long deep breaths (to oxygenate my brain and keep me calm). And so when I enter the stage, I feel centered and ready to share.

When you have prepared for your presentation ahead of time, wrapped your points in stories and set the inner critic to “silent” mode, you'll be presenting with your best foot forward. And who knows? You may be advancing your career or your business at the same time.

Jane Atkinson is the author of "The Epic Keynote: Presentation Skills and Styles of Wealthy Speakers, and The Wealthy Speaker 2.0., a book for people launching a professional speaking career. For more information go to: