I’m offering three lessons I learned from mistakes I’ve made giving speeches in the hope that you don’t have to make them yourself.
Public Speaking Mistake #1: Trying to Be Something Other than Who I Am
When I first started out speaking, I tried to be like speakers I admired.
At that time I admired one particular speaker. He was charismatic and dramatic. He had a deep, rich voice. And he could move an audience from laughter to tears in no time at all.
The first time I gave a speech imitating his style, the audience was moved to laughter. Just not in the way I had hoped. They were laughing at me, because my performance was so, well, laughable.
My speech teacher got me back on track. He made it my goal to become the best speaker I could be, not to become someone else.
Lesson Learned: Learn from others, but don’t imitate them. Be yourself – your best self – when giving a speech. Bring all of who you are — your unique personality, interests, values, knowledge, life experience, humor – to your speaking.
Public Speaking Mistake #2: Thinking It’s All about ME
After one of my early speeches, my teacher asked me what I thought of it.
I was pretty pleased with myself and how I had done. I said something like, “My message was good. It was focused, clear, and persuasive. I remembered everything I wanted to say. I delivered it well. I didn’t use a lot of ums and ers.” And I went on.
When I finished, he said, “That’s a lot of I and me and my. What do you think the audience got out of it?”
I hadn’t even though of the audience at the time. I had only thought about what I wanted to accomplish, what I planned to say, how I hoped to come across.
Lesson Learned: Focus on your audience. A speech is about giving them information and insight they can use to their benefit. Be yourself (see above), but be yourself in service of others.
Public Speaking Mistake #3: Over-preparing Can Be as Disastrous as Under-preparing
I used to be so terrified of making a fool of myself in front on an audience that I over-prepared my speeches.
I spent hours and hours, sometimes days, doing research. I spent even more time cramming everything I learned into what was supposed to be a brief speech. Then I practiced it over and over again and memorized it word for word.
As a result, I presented too much information. And I came across as mechanical and aloof.
If you get up in front of an audience without being adequately prepared, you deserve to fail. Big time.
A speech requires research, thought, and planning. You have to understand your audience and their needs, the event itself, and your goals. You have to formulate a message. And you have to practice it.
But if you over-prepare, you risk coming across as packaged, self-contained, unreal.
Lesson Learned: Preparation is key, but don’t overdo it. Depending on your audience and on what’s at stake, prepare just enough – not too little, not too much – to be clear, persuasive, spontaneous, and real.
What have your mistakes taught you about giving a speech?