And don’t do THESE things when speaking to a group, either!

Boredom is not valuable!

You might think that the eight speaking screw-ups I addressed last week are more than enough to ruin any presentation, and they are. However, there’s more where that came from.

Here are five more things never to inflict on a group you’re speaking to. The first three have to do with mismanaged communications.

Fail to set expectations up front.

Adults like to know what they’re getting into and what they can reasonably expect to experience during any given activity.

Presumably, attendees at a talk you’re giving had a chance to read or hear a description of the topic; that’s why they’re there. But if you, as the presenter, don’t also provide an agenda at the presentation itself, you run the risk of attendees getting antsy and losing focus. It’s simple enough to summarize the key areas you’ll address on a slide or even a low-tech flip chart.

It’s also a mistake to let the participants think you’re going to do all the work. They need to know your expectations of them, whether it’s to participate in small-group activities, share problems and ideas for solutions, or simply think about particular situations in which they can apply the information you share.

Try to keep the audience’s attention by force.

You may have seen presenters who, in an attempt to maintain the audience’s focus, discourage tweeting, or call on participants just because their attention seems to be wandering, or encourage (read: beg for) input with strained smiles on their faces.

If audience members are so notably disengaged, it means you’ve missed the mark when it comes to providing relevant, valuable information.

It also means it would be easy to fall prey to communication screw-up #2, which follows.

Ignore meta-communications.

While there are a number of definitions for this term, the one that’s most useful in speaking situations is this: Meta-communication is the message that’s being conveyed without words. Sometimes it supports the verbal message, and sometimes it totally contradicts it.

A speaking gig is a great marketing opportunity. Don’t waste it!

(A common example: Say you ask two different acquaintance how they’re doing, and  both reply, “Fine”. One does it cheerfully, with an easy, relaxed smile, and the other snaps it out with a frown on his face. Same word, two totally different meanings.)

Similarly, you may at some point face attendees who are apparently listening to you but whose non-verbal cues are clearly indicating that they’re just not buying whatever you’re saying. If you try forging ahead without addressing their resistance, it will be a long, arduous, unproductive session for all concerned.

Far better to gather your courage and ask what’s going on. This will not only make your attendees feel…well…attended to, but will enable you to have a much more powerful impact by addressing their underlying concerns.


These next no-no’s focus on technology taboos.

Use technology as a substitute for preparation.

There’s probably not a business professional alive who has not at some point been subjected to Death By PowerPoint. You know: a presenter who turns his back on you to read – verbatim – the incredibly tightly packed text on the screen that you can read for yourself.

This is basically the adult version of a grade-schooler’s cheat sheet, only even less acceptable.

If you don’t know your topic well enough to present it, rather than read it, perhaps you get to ask yourself if you should be presenting in the first place.

Figuring out the key bullet points of the presentation and putting only those on your slides, practicing illustrative stories, and stepping away from the tech long enough to pay attention to the humans in your audience will serve you – and that audience – far better.

Use technology as a substitute for substance.

Some presenters fall so in love with slides, animations, video clips, music, and other tech bells and whistles that they fail to provide much information that has actual value to the listeners.

Tech for the sake of tech does no one any good. If you can’t clearly identify how a particular tech tool is going to more powerfully make an important point, leave it in the toolbox.


Have you endured any of these painful mistakes as an audience member? What have you done to avoid them when you’re the speaker? Share your comments below so we can either commiserate with or learn from you.

And if you’re stalled on figuring out how – or even if – to incorporate speaking into your marketing mix, we probably ought to talk.

My specialty is throwing a life-line to stuck entrepreneurs who are tired of mediocre results. You and I may or may not make a good un-sticking team, but there’s an easy way to find out. Just grab a spot on my calendar for a no-charge, no-risk, get-acquainted call. In just 30 or 40 minutes, both of us will be able to confidently make a go/no go/go later decision about working together.

What have you got to lose? Only the paralysis of overwhelm or the frenzy of fruitless activity.

(BTW, thanks to whateverjames for posting the bored cross-stitch image in the Creative Commons section of Flickr.)

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