If your public speaking ability is a bit rough around the edges, then today’s post is written for you. If you’re a CEO or CXO you will be called upon to speak on a fairly routine basis…You better get used to it, and you better get it right. The downside of public speaking is that nothing has the potential to highlight your flaws like the spotlight of being center stage.

In today’s post I’ll share some of the most common mistakes made by executives and entrepreneurs who either voluntarily or involuntarily find themselves hooked up to the microphone.

Having spoken at countless business conferences and trade shows over the years I have had the pleasure of speaking on the same agenda with some of the best speakers in the world. However just like clockwork, there is invariably one speaker on the program that while possessing a tremendous track record of professional accomplishment is a complete disaster as a public orator. If you’re anything like me, you have often wondered how a talented business leader who absolutely commands the boardroom can put an audience to sleep from behind the podium. What’s even more amusing is that the person causing you to nod-off often believes that they stole the show with their riveting presentation…

Public speaking doesn’t come naturally for most people and therefore if you’re not one of the naturally gifted you must work diligently if you plan on being as successful on the stage as you are in the boardroom. Avoiding the following mistakes will allow you to hold your own as a professional speaker.

  • Don’t Blow Your Opening: I have written often on the power of first impressions and nowhere is a strong first impression more critical than when you are on stage in front of a crowd who has paid to listen to you. Don’t make the mistake of being laid-back in the opening minutes as these are the most important moments for establishing rapport and engaging your audience. Think big and think bold…Start with a bang and not with a whimper.  Ask a tough question that really makes people sit-up and think, make a bold statement or rattle off statistics meant to shock and awe. Whether your preferred opening is the appropriate use of humor, issuing a challenge or making a bold statement make it big and make it memorable.
  • Choose the Right Subject: Don’t speak on a topic unless you are in complete control of the subject matter. More importantly don’t speak on a subject that you are not passionate about. Lastly don’t speak to an audience if you haven’t customized your presentation to said audience. I detest canned presentations and so does everyone else I know. If you personalize the presentation to your audience they will recognize and appreciate it. This will establish an immediate bond of trust and you’ll be off to the races. There is nothing worse than canned presentations and even though many speech coaches recommend you develop a few canned speeches that become your go to speeches I would suggest that you avoid that tactic at all costs.
  • Don’t Read To Your Audience: Think back to Speech 101…Don’t read from your notes, look-up and establish eye contact. There’s an old speaking joke that says the last time someone read to you it was likely your mother and she was trying to put you to sleep. Work from an outline or commit your speech to memory, but do not read.
  • Never Be a Copycat: Don’t attempt to mimic someone else’s style, use their stories or their content. If you can’t be original then you shouldn’t speak. Audiences are not looking for cheap impersonators, but rather are looking for you to add value based upon your unique personal experience. Be original, be big and be memorable…
  • Don’t Forget the Audience: If you don’t work the room you are wrong. If you take the time to survey, question or challenge the audience you will be given hints as to the topical content of interest and you can in turn make sure your presentation meets the needs and expectations of your audience. Nothing is more important than understanding and interacting with the audience.
  • The “fake it till you make it” Approach Does Not Work: Vigorously plan and prepare for your speaking engagement. Don’t just show-up and wing-it as it will be apparent to everyone in the room that you did not value them enough to act like a professional and prepare. There is an old saying that I picked-up in the military that has stuck with me to this day: “Prior Proper Planning Prevents -iss Poor Performance.”

Anyone can become a proficient speaker if they want it bad enough to work at it. By avoiding the mistakes noted above you will be off to a good start and will likely not put your audience to sleep.

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