Article Category: Ask Six Minutes, Speaker Habits

3 Common Ways Speakers Sabotage Themselves


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Moses Cherrington asks:

Is there a most common problem associated with public speaking, according to your point of view and experience in public speaking?

There is, sadly, an abundance of common problems which afflict speakers. In this article, we’ll focus on three of the worst which sabotage many speakers.

Problem #1: Lack of Purpose

I frequently have people ask me to review their presentation slides. Naturally, they want to open PowerPoint first, and dive into showing me their slide deck. However, I’ll ask them: “Before we dive in, what’s your message?

When they respond “What do you mean?” (and they often do), I know we’ve got a problem much larger than poorly designed slides.

Reviewing your slides without having clarity on your core message is like critiquing your bombing technique without knowing why you are at war.

And this problem — failure to have clarity on your core message — is not confined to those who speak with slides. It’s very common among all speakers. If you don’t have clarity on your message, your audience won’t either.

Problem #2: Lack of Passion

Reviewing your slides without having clarity on your core message is like critiquing your bombing technique without knowing why you are at war.

The opportunity to speak to an audience is a wonderful gift.  Sometimes getting one person to listen is challenging, so having a full room of listeners is a blessing. But this blessing is completely wasted if the speaker has no passion.

In The Secret of Choosing Successful Speech Topics, we learned that to be successful, you must love your topic, and be passionate about sharing your knowledge.

When you speak without passion, your delivery is guaranteed to be flat. Your energy level, your eyes, and your expressions will all show your own lack of interest. Conversely, possessing great passion for your topic can mask many delivery flaws.

Problem #3: Lack of Preparation

The third common problem with many speakers is a lack of preparation.

I once spoke with a new employee about to give his first corporate presentation: a 30-minute project summary to the department. I asked him how much preparation he had done, and he responded that he “had spent all evening on it.” I reminded him that 25 people were going to be there, all of whom have busy schedules (not to mention salaries higher than his), and they were expecting a useful presentation.

He bombed the presentation. Half the audience walked out half-way through. The others survived long enough to enjoy the cookies and cake being served.

When a speaker fails to prepare adequately:

  • Audience analysis is done hastily, or (probably) not at all.
  • Research is minimal, and the content is just whatever was easily obtainable.
  • Slides, if any, will be thrown together sloppily, and will probably be all text bullets.
  • Little editing is performed, meaning the structure is murky and vague.
  • The presentation will not be rehearsed, usually leading to haphazard delivery and poor time management.

Ultimately, failing to prepare represents a huge missed opportunity. Not only will the audience not be persuaded by the presentation, but they’ll probably be insulted that their time has been wasted.

The 7 Deadly Sins of Public Speaking

For seven more tragic problems, check out the highly popular 7 Deadly Sins of Public Speaking article featured on Six Minutes a couple years ago.

Your Turn… What’s Your Opinion?

What are the most common problems afflicting public speakers in your opinion?

Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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Comments icon6 Comments

  1. Passion will go a long way towards trumping Technique.

    Passion and Knowledge will take it to another level.

    Passion, Knowledge, Technique combined with Practice – Practice – Practice: You’ll Wn the Audience!

    Thanks for the Post, Andrew!

  2. Sue Carabin says:

    Great information Andrew. Thank you for all the great tips.

  3. Lack of preparation is the slippery slope that I often observe employees/business owners get themselves tangled in. In part it is due to the PowerPoint mentality. The software is easy to use therefore it is easy to create a presentation often becomes the default thinking. Often I hear, “I don’t have time”. These rationals are far from what actually is. Presentations make or break sales, career paths, and buy in of leader’s vision. Tossing a few slides together won’t propel those aspirations.

  4. Great article; I would also like to add on to lack of “audience analysis”. This is a really important piece to designing your presentation. You should ask your self these questions and find this out from whoever hired you before beginning to craft your message:
    1. Why are they there (is it optional or mandatory)?
    2. How do they feel about the topic, professional development, etc.?
    3. What kind of group is this (i.e. engineers, counselors, etc.) – this has a huge impact on your delivery of the message.
    4. What motivates them? This will help you get to the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) so that they are engaged with you during the presentation.

  5. Tracey Cox says:

    I am about to give an important speech to a group next Tuesday. In preparation, I am giving the same speech tomorrow evening to a different group. I am adjusting my content accordingly. I am seeking you out for insight on a survey for tomorrow’s group to incorporate before next week. Do you have templates or suggestions on what the most critical data is for this purpose? Thanks for the insight! Tracey

  6. marikeza.p says:

    Quite good and interesting lessons

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