5 Mistakes Successful Speakers Never Make

I make my living as a professional communicator, which means I have the honor of speaking with audiences at over 50 corporate, association and conference events each year. Whenever possible, I like to attend other sessions at these events – because I enjoy learning, and I also want to watch great speakers, so I can continue to grow and improve as a speaker myself.

Last year, I attended a conference breakout session led by a speaker with an impressive title. His bio listed many professional accomplishments and years of experience in a topic that I was very interested in learning more about. Even though his session was scheduled a few hours before my closing keynote, I made a point to get to the venue early in order to take advantage of the opportunity to learn from him.

Unfortunately, very quickly into the 75 minute session, it became clear that learning was going to be a challenge. Even though his professional experience and accomplishments related to the subject were impressive, the speaker conveyed zero excitement or passion for the findings of the case studies and research that he was sharing, and he didn’t seem to care at all about connecting with the the audience.

Pretty soon, in an effort to salvage the time investment as a learning opportunity, my note taking shifted towards capturing quotes and actions from the speaker that affected my ability to learn from him.

10 Audience Engagement Killers

  1. “I’m not going to bore you with that…”
  2. “We don’t have time to talk about that today…”
  3. “What time is it?”
  4. “Here’s a picture of an article I wrote in 2008…”
  5. “I’m not going to go through each one of these…”
  6. “How much time do I have left?
  7. “There are a variety of reasons for this, we just don’t have time to talk about them here…
  8. “I’m not going to go into this, it’s too involved for this gig…”
  9. “Am I still okay on time?”
  10. “This slide shows a whole bunch of reports which focus on financial metrics. Blah, blah, blah, blah…”

The 10 statements above were exact quotes from the speaker during this session – even number ten.

I left the session frustrated, because myself, and about 150 others, had wasted 75 minutes. I’d met the speaker’s expectations of not being able to understand or take action based upon the material presented, but he had not met my expectations as an audience member – to provide value.

I can guarantee you that no meeting planner plans for their audience to leave a session having learned nothing new, or having been challenged to try something new – and no speaker should either.

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Speaking in front of any size of audience can be tough on the ego. Even when you feel that you’ve knocked it out of the park, there will likely always be a few people in the audience who didn’t connect with the material, or who didn’t care for the delivery. But you’ll increase the odds that your message will connect with the majority of audience members if you can answer the following question:

“What do I want the audience to DO with this information following my presentation?”

Then care enough to use the time you’ve been given to help them understand why and how they can do that.

[Tweet “Successful speakers care about the audience and their learning experience. – @JenniferMcClure “]

If you’ve been selected or appointed to speak in front of an audience – you’ve been given the valuable gift of people’s time. And whether it’s a keynote in front of thousands, or a presentation to your team in the conference room, you can show your audience respect and appreciation by never making these five mistakes as a speaker:

5 Mistakes Successful Speakers Never Make

Never show, mention, or refer to something the audience cannot see clearly on the screen.

Examples: “I know this is an eye chart, but…” or “You can’t see this, but let me tell you what it says…”

Never show a statistic, reference a study, or display a quote without also sharing the source.

Who said this? When was it? How can I follow up to learn more? <- What your audience is thinking.

Never include stats, studies, or reference material on a slide that is more than 2 years old.

If your idea or premise is based upon 7-year-old research, find (or create) new research to support it.

Never refer to your own presentation materials, content or speaking style as boring.

Don’t plant seeds that you don’t want to grow. If the audience wasn’t already thinking that – they are now.

Never ask how much time is left for your presentation.

Asking the audience about time remaining shows a lack of preparation – and implies that you plan to fill the allotted time – no matter what. Bring a clock, use a time app on your phone, have a friend hold up a sign to keep track of time – but never ask the audience to do it for you!

Create your presentation and deliver your message with the goal of educating, informing, encouraging and inspiring your audience. They’ll love you for it – and maybe even say something nice about it! 🙂

President & Chief Talent Strategist

Jennifer McClure is a Keynote Speaker, Talent Strategies Expert and Executive Coach who works with clients and companies in the areas of leadership development, communication and talent strategy. Jennifer McClure offers keynotes, workshops and training that inspire and empower business leaders to be more effective in their careers and as leaders of their organization’s most valuable resource – people.

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