17 Deadly Mistakes in Public Speaking

This is an excerpt from the book World Class Speaking by Craig Valentine (that’s me!) and Mitch Meyerson

Warning: As I posted this and re-read this, I realized something you’ll surely come to see. Because this content is in the opening chapter of the World Class Speaking book, it’s a preview of what’s to come in the rest of the book. Therefore, it’s a huge tease as an opening to a book should be. However, I still posted it here because knowledge of these 17 mistakes (even without reading the book) should still be of value to you. So forgive the tease please!

Let’s begin our journey by understanding the difference between wannabe speakers and World Class Speakers when it comes to the art of public speaking. Wannabe speakers generally make the following 17 mistakes. World Class Speakers avoid these mistakes and reap the rewards for doing so. Here are the 17 common mistakes speakers make:

  1. 1.                   They don’t master the essence of public speaking. The essence of public speaking is to tell a story and sell a point. Wannabe speakers don’t master this. If you master the art of storytelling, you will be 80% across the bridge to mastering the art of public speaking. Most presentations are way too loose? This means the audience cannot remember the points because the points are not tied to anything. When you tie them to stories, your speech becomes tight and you make your audience TALL (Think, Act, Laugh, and Learn).


  1. 2.                  They don’t sell! Every speech is a sales presentation. Even eulogies sell us on the qualities of the person who just left us. Whether you are selling an idea, a product, a service, or a person’s life story, when you are in speaking you are in sales. Mastering the art of selling will bring wealth to you quicker than any other way. Now you may say, “But Valentine, I just give informational speeches. I don’t sell.” Well then let me ask you this; do you want people to listen to your presentation? Then you need to sell them on why they should listen in the first place. Again, every speech is a sales presentation. Don’t avoid it; embrace it. Master it.


  1. 3.                  They build themselves up. If you build yourself up, you let your audience down. Too many speakers, in the name of establishing credibility, begin building themselves up by talking about all the things they’ve accomplished and all the successes they have had. Guess what your audience thinks about this? First, they probably think you’re egotistical and second they think you’re special. The absolute worst thing you can have audience members think about you is that you are “special.” Later you will grasp an understanding of why this is so detrimental and what you can do to be light-years ahead of most presenters.


  1. 4.                  They have no next clear step. Most speeches end with applause and apathy. The speaker is the cause for both. Before you even put your speech together, you should ask yourself, “What do I want my audience to think, feel, or do after experiencing my message?” If your audience does not know exactly what they should think, feel, or do afterwards, you have failed as a speaker. Later you will pick up tools to not only have them know what to think, feel, or do but to be so excited they can’t wait to act on it.


  1. 5.                  They give loose messages. Loose means the messages are not tied to any anchors and therefore the audience has no way to remember it. Your message becomes fleeting and everyone has wasted their time. Later you will see how to use anchors for every point you make so that your speech becomes unforgettable and your impact becomes a magnet for more opportunities, customers, and profits. You will pick up my special PARTS Formula for making your whole speech stick.


  1. 6.                  They present with words, words, and more words. Audiences remember what they see far more than what you say. Profitable speakers speak in images not in words. They say “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Well, later you will discover a tool that is “worth a thousand pictures.” These tools and others will tighten your speech and make it as memorable as your last trip to the beach.


  1. 7.                  They start with a whimper. The best speakers understand that the first 30 seconds will make or break your entire speech. This is all the time it takes for the audience to decide whether they should mentally check in or check out of your presentation. Do not start with a whimper. Start with a bang. Later you will see examples of how too many speakers begin their speeches and then you will pick up tools to start with the kind of bang that makes your audiences say, “I’m so glad I’m here and I can’t wait to see the rest of this!” 


  1. 8.                  They force fit. Force fitting means they try to get too much information into too little time. There is an old speaker proverb that states, “If you squeeze your information in; you squeeze your audience out.” There is no time to engage, to play, and to connect with your audience. Later you will discover a rule of thumb formula you can use to include just enough information but not too much. When you do this correctly, you will be able to watch your audience walk away with satisfied smiles on their faces. It’s as if they’ve just finished a great meal.


  1. 9.                  They don’t build their speech on benefits. Wannabe speakers, if they use benefits at all, sprinkle them on at the end of each point or worse at the end of each presentation. They think this will motivate people to act. That won’t get it. The structure of the presentation has to actually be built on benefits and very few speakers do this. Once you do, you will keep your audiences on the edge of their seats and when they get up, they’ll take your next step. Later you will see just how you can build a benefits-laden speech from the ground up. This is World Class Speaking at its best.


  1. 10.               They have an “I” or “We” focus. The most important word in speaking is you. It needs to be used with an 80/20 ratio with the words I and We. Whether setting up your structure, doing check-ins and questions with your audience, or driving home your points, you need to use you and your as often as possible. Later you will uncover the most effective ways to do this. When you do, you’ll find it almost effortless to keep them leaning on your every word.


  1. 11.                Their delivery is not truly dynamic. If you get mail delivered to your house and it’s destroyed by the rain, chances are whatever that mail contains will be affected. That’s because content is directly tied to delivery and being ineffective with one leads to a destroyed speech. What you say is not enough to make an impact. How you say it is critical. It’s not about bouncing off the walls. It’s not about being dynamic the entire time. It’s not about simply changing your stress, rate, pitch, and volume. It’s not about the powerful pause. What is it about? You will find out in Chapter 4 on delivery.


  1. 12.               They lip-synch. If you use PowerPoint slides to say the same thing visually that you say verbally, you are lip-synching your presentation. You are the Milli Vanilli of public speaking. Abuse of slides has destroyed more presentations than any other device in history. Speakers who use slides improperly compete with themselves and their audience members lose. The audience must choose among watching the screen, reading their handouts, and watching you. Do you know what they usually decide to do? They mentally checkout of your presentation and just leave the shell of the body there for you to bore to death. Later you will get the tools you can use to make slides work for you rather than weaken you.


  1. 13.               They use Ditch-digging introductions. Most speakers understand that you should always give a written introduction to the person introducing you. However, they don’t understand what makes a good introduction. Instead, their introductions are just a tweaking of their bio. This is horrible when it comes to speaking and the audience already starts thinking, “Enough already. Okay, so he has done this and that. What’s in it for me to be here?” Later you will learn a fool-proof method for writing an introduction that makes your audience members say, “Great! I’m in the right place.”


  1. 14.               They don’t get their audiences involved. Involvement breathes life into a speech, but wannabe speakers leave audiences gasping for air, because they don’t get them involved. If they do get them involved, they don’t do it early enough. Waiting until the end of your presentation to ask, “Are there any questions?” does not suffice as good audience involvement. There are so many ways to get and keep them involved, it ought to be a crime not to. Later you will pick up tools to keep them involved, engrossed, and engaged throughout your entire presentation and beyond. You will see eyes wide open rather than glazed over. Remember that audiences like to be heard too. Get them involved and do it early.


  1. 15.               They forget about the floor. They don’t own the stage. Wannabe speakers take the stage, but World Class Speakers own it. You have the ability to add clarity, great emotion, and impact to your speech just by using the stage in masterful purposeful ways. Later you will discover how to use this speaking platform to spark an unbreakable connection between you and your audience members.


  1. 16.               They don’t connect. If you do not connect, you cannot affect. Connection is about energy, but it is not about bouncing off the walls. Later you will see how to match the energy of your audience so that they feel connected to you within the first few moments of your speech.


  1. 17.               They speak for standing ovations. Too many speakers strive to get a standing ovation instead of what they should strive for; standing invitations.
Craig Valentine

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