Eight things not to do in public speaking

I’ve worked with some outstanding speakers over the last 10 years for TEDxEastEnd and other events. For the most part, my experiences have been positive, and I’ve been privileged to work with dedicated and very talented speakers who take what they are doing seriously.

However, I have also worked with difficult speakers. Those who appear determined to ruin their talk and speaking experience. Here is what not to do if you have been asked to give a talk – at a TEDx or another similar speaking event:

1. Wing it

Preparing for your talk is the single most important thing you can to do to make it a success. Yet, I have come across plenty of speakers who say they don’t like to write down their talk or prepare. “I like to keep it spontaneous and fresh” is their attitude. Preparing for your talk doesn’t imply you are somehow lacking in talent or flair. In fact, professional public speakers and the best speakers I have ever worked with prepare tirelessly and rehearse their talk as much as they possibly can. You can read more about this here.

2. Refuse to rehearse

I’ve had some creative (and sometimes insulting) reasons for not wanting to rehearse on stage – from speakers wanted to keep their material fresh or being afraid of censorship. Getting to rehearse under the same conditions that you will give your talk (lighting, sound, slides etc) is a fantastic opportunity – take it! Not only will you become more comfortable on stage, you’ll get to an insight into how the event will be on the day. From how the lighting feels to how you feel moving around the stage, these are all amazing insights into how you can maximise the impact of your talk on the day.

3. Refuse to send your slides in advance

It’s very tempting to keep working on your slides until the very last minute. But this just makes you less prepared. Your slides should never be more important that what you’re saying. So finish them early and move on to practising your talk. Sending slides over in advance also allows the organisers to test your slides and make sure everything is perfect – no one likes technical problems.

4. Read your talk

In the era of TED, this one goes without saying, but don’t read your talk and don’t read off your slides. Very occasionally you do see an example of when this is done well (e.g.: Taiye Selasi: Don’t ask where I’m from, ask where I’m a local), so if you want to practice reading you can – instead why not use that time to find a way to speak without notes. Your slides can help you along, or a single cue card with the top five points of your talk can help you if you get stuck. It is also OK to look at a cue card for a statistic you want to get right, or to read a quote. However, if you read your whole talk from them, the audience will wonder why they have to listen to your talk rather than reading it for themselves.

5. Death by PowerPoint

Again, TED has helped hugely in changing attitudes around how to use PowerPoint and other programmes like Prezi have made presentations much more interesting. Then again, in general, unless you’re pitching for funding or giving a highly technical presentation, think of your slides as a picture book to your talk – not a script your audience can or should read. Images, simple graphs, quotes or a key phrase work wonders: they keep the audience anchored to what you’re saying without distracting or boring them.

6. Be late

Be on time for your talk. In fact, be early! I know this is hard (I’m notoriously late all the time!) but make the effort and get there with enough time to have a hot drink and relax before your talk. If you are late, let the organisers know and give them a realistic estimate of when you will arrive. They will want to plan around your arrival time effectively. How you manage time will show others – the audience and the organisers – how you respect them and how much you value what you and they are doing.

7. Badmouth other speakers

I’ve only experienced this once and it was really shocking. Public speaking is hard and for many it is downright scary! Respect other speakers, even if you think their delivery is lacklustre or you think they didn’t present their points particularly well. Everyone has their own taste and style – sharing your negative opinions won’t endear you to anyone!

8. Be rude to the organisers

You’d think this goes without saying, but take this as a reminder. It is absolutely fine to tell an organiser if they are doing something unhelpful or if they have done something inappropriate. It is never appropriate to take out your stress on the very people who invited you to speak. Remember that the event organisers are dealing with 100 things in the run up to, and during, the event. Be nice, be helpful if you can and if you’re stressed let them know and let them know how they can help. I’m the biggest advocate of speakers who communicate with me openly. At the end of the day, the event organisers will decide which speakers to promote, to invite back or to recommend for other opportunities. Leave them wanting to work with you again!

I’ve worked with over 100 speakers over the past few years and it is one of the favourite parts of my work. I’ve worked in depth with some speakers to help them create their talk from scratch and with others I’ve given them simple feedback. In all situations, my goal is to help people give the best talk of their lives and create something they will be proud of.

As an events producer, TEDx organiser and speaker coach I am always on your side – as is any other speaker coach or events organiser! The advice we give is not because we don’t have faith in you or your ability. The events organiser is never trying to catch you out. Keep this in mind and you’ll have a great experience and give a brilliant talk.

Best of luck if you have been invited to give a TEDx style or similar talk and remember to be the speaker that everyone remembers as not only extremely talented but also as a pleasure to work with!

Thanks to Alex Proimos for this image (https://www.flickr.com/photos/proimos/)

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