Article Category: Speaker Habits

8 Faulty Speaker Assumptions and How to Fix Them

8 Faulty Speaker Assumptions and How to Fix ThemMany speakers are guilty of making faulty assumptions about their presentations, and their ability to deliver them well. Sometimes even seasoned speaking professionals like me fall victim to this behavior.

How about you?

In this article, you will learn:

  • 8 common faulty assumptions you might be making;
  • the subsequent result on your presentations; and
  • how to fix your flawed thinking.

8 Faulty Speaker Assumptions

Eight common faulty assumptions that speakers make are:

  1. Deep knowledge of a topic alone will enable me to present ideas on it.
  2. My audience members are mind readers.
  3. I can present information/concepts that took me 3 months to learn in a 20-minute presentation.
  4. Everyone in my audience is equal.
  5. I don’t need to practice out loud.
  6. I’ll have plenty of time to get there.
  7. If I get off the platform/stage, I will be closer to audience members.
  8. If I speak at my normal speed, everyone will understand me.

Let’s examine each of these a little deeper.

Assumption #1 — Deep knowledge of a topic alone will enable me to present ideas on it

Knowledge of a subject you are going to speak about is critical, but it is only a beginning to have an impact on an audience. You also need to determine:

  • What you want to achieve by delivering the message? In other words, what is your purpose? What do you want the audience knowing, doing, and/or feeling as a result of your presentation?
  • Who you are speaking to? What are their expectations, level of understanding, and attitudes. Depending on this, you will organize your materials accordingly, and emphasize the information that is most critical to the audience.
  • Logistical considerations — How much time do you have? How many people will be in the audience? What types of visuals will work best? You need to understand all of this to determine how much information you will be presenting — and how to present it.

Despite what you may think, they are not hanging on your every word. The goal is to be clear and concise. Don’t let them guess.

Assumption #2 — My audience members are mind readers

Unfortunately, audience members never know what you want them to take away from your presentation, unless you tell them multiple times.

Despite what you may think, they are not hanging on your every word. The goal is to be clear and concise. Don’t let them guess.

Assumption #3 — I can present information/concepts that took me 3 months to learn in a 20-minute presentation

Frequently, speakers want to look smart — or demonstrate that they have worked very hard — so they do a data dump. They forget that audience members can only absorb so much information at a time.

Step back and determine what they must know. Leave the rest out, or save it for the Q & A.

Assumption #4 — Everyone in my audience is equal

Typically, there are audiences within an audience. There may be a hierarchy or politics involved. Analyze the audience, and determine which members are the decision makers, and who are the influencers (sometimes they can be the same), and then plan accordingly.

If everyone is equal in rank, play to the masses.

Do your homework. Learn exactly who is in the audience.

Assumption #5 — I don’t need to practice out loud

Step back and determine what they must know. Leave the rest out, or save it for the Q & A.

Thinking through a presentation is very different than speaking it out loud, in a simulated environment, using your notes and/or slides.

Actors, musicians, and athletes all practice. Why should speakers be any different?

Practice helps with fluidity, timing and comfort level. Each time, say it differently, so it doesn’t become rote.

Peter Drucker said, “Spontaneity is an infinite number of rehearsed possibilities.”

Assumption #6 — I’ll have plenty of time to get there

Although the unexpected can happen, speakers should do everything possible to arrive at a speaking event/meeting well in advance.

If you don’t do your due diligence in leaving with ample time, or getting directions, you will likely arrive at the last minute — harried and looking unprofessional.

If other speakers are before you, sit in to get a sense of the tone of the meeting, and how the audience is responding.

By arriving early, you can talk to audience members, and further customize your presentation. And, of course, this allows you time to check your appearance, do some breathing exercises, check your equipment, and to be there to welcome the audience members as they arrive.

Assumption #7 — If I get off the platform/stage, I will be closer to audience members

Many speakers wrongly believe getting off a platform or stage will help them better connect with audience members. But, in fact, the majority of the audience won’t be able to see them when on the same level.

Do your homework. Learn exactly who is in the audience.

Getting into the audience can work effectively only if …

  • It’s a small audience
  • The room is set up for this
  • You are tall enough to be seen.

Most of the time, the speaker’s need to get closer to the audience can be an annoyance to audience members when they don’t know where to look.

Stay on the platform or stage, and connect with large audiences in better ways, like using questions to get participants to raise hands, and interactive exercises in subgroups.

In a larger venue, try to have the room arranged with several aisles. That way, if you do walk into the audience, you will have a place to go.

Assumption #8 — If I speak at my normal speed, everyone will understand me.

The standard rate of speech in the United States is 120 or 160 words per minute. This varies in different parts of the country.

Speakers need to adapt their rate regionally, as well as when the information is technical and people need time to absorb it, and also when English isn’t a first language. If they don’t adapt, participants may not understood what they’re saying, or key concepts may be missed.

How to Fix Your Faulty Assumptions

Now that you’ve identified these faulty assumptions, how do you fix them?

Speaker’s Faulty Assumption Impact on Presentation How to Fix It
Topic knowledge = ability to speak on it. Delivering the wrong message to the wrong audience at the wrong time. Spend time preparing. Determine your PAL™ (Purpose, Audience Logistics)
Audience members are mind readers. Confused people who don’t “get” your main point. Repeatedly provide specific takeaway points in a clear, concise way. Use preview, internal summaries and reviews.
Can share all topic details learned in 3 months in a 20-minute speech. Overwhelmed audience. Determine the must know, should know and could know. Less is more.
All audience members
are equal.
Not all audience members are necessarily the same (knowledge, job level & decision-making role). Delivering the right information to the wrong audience can ruin your credibility and show you’re not prepared. Find out who you are speaking to before you present — do research online, speak to clients, arrive early to interview some members, etc. Know who your “real audience” is.
There’s no need to practice my presentation out loud. Making mistakes and fumbling — appearing unprepared and unprofessional. Practice out loud three to six times. Simulate the environment, including use of slides.
There’s plenty of time to get to my speech location; no need for directions. Arriving at the presentation/meeting looking harried. Lacks professionalism. Use Google Maps or MapQuest, go the client’s website or call your contact person. Leave plenty of time!
Getting off the platform/stage brings me closer to my audience. Most audience members won’t be able to see you when on the same level and will get annoyed. Connect in better ways, using questions and interactive exercises.
My rate of speech is fine for audience members to understand me. Speaking quickly can lose your audience members’ attention, and prevent the message from being properly conveyed. Adapt rate accordingly to regions, when the information is technical and also when English isn’t a first language.

What do you think?

What faulty assumptions have you made, only to learn the hard way?

Please share your lessons in the comments.

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Comments icon10 Comments

  1. Drew Provan says:

    This is a great post and highlights, yet again, fairly basic concepts which are generally ignored by presenters, who feel they know better. If we pay attention to the 8 assumptions and address even half of them it will improve our presentations and make us appear more professional.
    Cheers, Drew

  2. I feel like you reached deep within my soul and pulled these out of me. Or, at least I feel like you did an evaluation of most of my Toastmasters speeches and gave a spot-on report. I’m guilty of all of these.
    Thanks for the wonderful article.

  3. K8 Peters says:

    One thing I might add to Assumption #5 is my favorite quote from Igor Stravinsky. “Practice! If you don’t, somebody else will!” And another thought about Assumption #7. DO get off the platform if you are in the dark!! It’s a funny thing but most people are so visually oriented that if they can’t see you, they can’t hear you either. Thanks, Marjorie!!

  4. nick morgan says:

    Hi, Marjorie —

    Great article. You rightly deflate a number of standard misconceptions about public speaking. I particularly agree with #s 1, 3, 5 and 6. The only point I’d take issue with is #7. There is almost always a way to use the audience space to work the room and get closer to your listeners. Of course, you have do it in a way that respects sight lines and the needs of the entire audience. But it can almost always be done. And it will almost always lead to stronger connections with the audience — certainly than staying behind the podium. Each space has to be taken individually and you have to choreograph your moves carefully to be right for the room, the audience, and the topic. But it usually can be done.

  5. Amazing post!

    I think this is a great primer for anyone who’s had trouble with public speaking (like me)

    I belive the sinlge most important element that goes through all of these tips is the element of preparation – you can’t invest enough time into preparing your entire “show”, from arrival to departure.

  6. China Law says:

    Great post. Re #6: I often speak at seminars and I always try to make it a point to get there in time to hear a bunch of other speakers talk before I do. That enables me to better understand my audience and also to riff on something else another speaker may have already discussed that also is relevant to my portion.

  7. Dale Collie says:

    Great tips and “speaker wisdom” in Marjorie’s list. Every professional speaker should compare these 12 items with each of their presentations. The number of “experts” who make these faulty assumptions is amazing. Just last week I saw a professional speaker stand before a crowd of 100+ and say, “I don’t need a mike!”

  8. Fred Miller says:

    Marjorie’s Assumption #5 is correct.

    I remember practicing ‘in my mind’ while preparing to talk at a memorial service for a friend. I thought I’d better try it out loud, also, and WOW – it was tough to get through it!

    It was an important message, so I practiced out loud several times, and the talk went well.

    Good thing I didn’t stick with just ‘practicing in my head’.

  9. Wayne Davies says:

    Wow, this is a great article. I am VERY guilty of #1 and #3, perhaps an occupational hazard for those of us who work in somewhat technical areas. I have some SEO training coming up, and they’re all absolutely beginners. This has me thinking (or rethinking to be precise).

  10. Sere says:

    Awesome, awesome article though I could say that oftentimes I feel guilty because inspite of the seminars and trainings that I have attended to, I am still afraid to speak in front of so many people.

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