Best Way to Give Better Speeches? Make More Mistakes

Christopher Witt —  February 21, 2017

Give Better SpeechesThe best way to become a better speaker–to learn how to give better public speeches and presentations–is to make more mistakes.

It’s counterintuitive, I know.

You would think that reducing or eliminating mistakes would make you a better speaker. But you’d be wrong…for three reasons.

Reason #1: The Willingness to Make Mistakes Allows You to Practice, to Learn, to Improve.

To become a better speaker, you have to practice, and practicing involves making mistakes (and, hopefully, learning from them).

Refusing to make mistakes will keep you from practicing, which will keep you from improving.

Public speaking is a skill. And the only way to improve a skill is to practice it over and over again. And making mistakes–and learning from them–is part and parcel of practicing.

You can’t learn how to swim without getting wet or to ride a bike without climbing on one. And you can’t learn how to give a speech or presentation without standing in front of an audience.

It helps, of course, if you get advice and guidance as you practice a new skill. (Repeating the same mistake time and again simply reinforces it.)

I encourage my clients to make mistakes, knowing that they are going to make them anyway. So what? That’s the only way to learn.

Reason #2: The Willingness to Make Mistakes Gives You Confidence.

In an effort to overcome my fear of giving a speech, I used to fixate on not making a mistake.

I would write out my speech and memorize it word for word. And I would rehearse it over and over.

Inevitably, I would make a mistake. I’d forget something or I’d freeze up or I’d come across mechanically. And then, having made a mistake, I’d get more self-conscious, more nervous, and I’d make more mistakes. Which would make me work harder to avoid making mistakes the next time.

The best way to lessen the fear of public speaking–to become a more confident speaker–is to lessen the fear of making mistakes.

And becoming more confident lets you do your best.

Reason #3: The Willingness to Make Mistakes Connects You with the Audience

In the past, when I made a mistake, I would shut down. I would want to run away and hide. I would, in effect, disconnect from the audience.

Now, when I make mistakes, I don’t feel like I’m going to die. I don’t live in fear of what the audience thinks or feels about me.

I say “oops”–sometimes to myself, sometimes out loud. I laugh at myself. The audience laughs with me and–this is crucial–they identify with me.

Giving a speech isn’t about delivering a perfect message flawlessly.

Giving a speech is about sharing yourself, your truth, and your wisdom with the audience in a way that will benefit them.

Let go of your perfectionism, of your fear of making mistakes, and you’ll become a better speaker.

Here’s the real paradox: the more mistakes you make, the fewer you’ll make.



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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.