The Five Worst Public Speaking Tips I Ever Got

Christopher Witt —  October 12, 2017

bad public speaking tipsI’ve been given plenty of bad advice about public speaking over the years.

In classrooms, workshops, Toastmasters meetings and from coaches, I’ve learned tips about public speaking that sounded reasonable at the time. But they were wrong.

The Five Worst Public Speaking Tips

Bad Tip #1: Imagine your audience in their underwear.

Doing so is supposed to build your confidence.

The reasoning behind this tip (such as it is) goes something like this: If you see people stripped of all dignity, you won’t be intimidated by them.

There are two problems with this approach. First, it demeans your audience, when you should respect and call out their best. And second, it assumes that you can only feel good about yourself when you think less of others.

Here’s what I suggest instead.

Identify with your audience members. See them as you see yourself–imperfect, but good willed, trying your best in a difficult situation, seeking a way to live a better life (if only in a small way).

Speak to them as you would to a friend.

Bad Tip #2: As you speak, look slightly over their heads.

Again, doing so is supposed to build your confidence.

Looking people in the eye, the assumption goes, will only make you nervous, maybe even make you forget what you were going to say.

So look in their direction, but fix your gave over them. They’ll think you’re looking at them, but you won’t actually have to connect with them.

Don’t do it.

You’re not fooling anyone. People will know you’re not meeting their gaze.

The power of speaking comes from connecting with your audience. From speaking person to person, heart to heart, eye to eye, one person to another.

Look one person in the eye at a time. Hold their gaze for three to five seconds. Then look at someone in another part of the room. When you connect with one person, for some reason everyone else feels connected too.

Bad Tip #3: Always start with a joke.

Starting a speech with a joke is a surefire way to bomb. Right from the beginning. Don’t do it.

You can start with a humorous comment, especially if you make yourself the object of your humor.

Don’t try to make people laugh. Settle, instead, for amusing them. Make them smile.

Bad Tip #4: Never Write Out Your Speech

People seem to think that speaking from a written text makes you sound less authentic, less natural.

But writing out a speech keeps you focused. It helps you develop your message clearly, logically, and with an emotional appeal. It lets you coin sentences, phrases, and images that will stick in people’s memories and imaginations.

I suggest writing out your important speeches word for word.

Then create a simple outline from that script. Rehearse your speech, going back and forth from the script to the outline.

When you speak, use the outline as your guide. You’ll sound intelligent, persuasive, and authentic.

Bad Tip #5: Imitate Speakers You Admire

One of the best ways to improve your own speaking is to learn from speakers you admire. But don’t copy them.

Analyze what they do and how they do it. Understand why they do what they do. Pay attention to your reactions, positive and negative.

Then figure out if and how you can adopt or adapt their techniques and strategies. Make them yours.

The idea is always to be yourself…in the best way you can.



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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.