Church Leadership

8 Things Public Speakers Should NEVER Say

August 20, 2015

If you have any type of job, at some point you will most likely have a presentation in front of a group of people. Yet, the very thought of public speaking terrifies most people. The Book of Lists reports the Top Ten Human Fears as:

  1. Speaking before a Group
  2. Heights
  3. Insects and bugs
  4. Financial problems
  5. Deep water
  6. Sickness
  7. Death
  8. Flying
  9. Loneliness
  10. Dogs

As Jay Leno quipped, “I guess we’d rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy.”

Still, you can learn to be a more comfortable, confident presenter. Gary Moyer, our Vice President for Administration in the Carolina Conference shared with us ten no-no’s of public speaking. In his words, a good 90% of this  was from Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, accomplished speaker and founder of TwitterCounter and The Next Web. He edited it with his own experience and what he’s learned from others – deleting some things and adding a few.

The recommendations were solid and I want to share his thoughts with you today.

1. “I’m really tired” or other excuses.

Not sure where this comes from, but one in five presentations at any conference starts with an excuse: “They only invited me yesterday,” or, “I’m really tired from my trip,” or another excuse the audience really doesn’t want or need to hear.

The audience simply wants you give it your best. If you tell them you’re tired, or start off with some other excuse, you’ve set them up to expect a less than excellent presentation. It also sets you up to deliver a sub-par speech.

2. “Can you hear me?”

This is how many people start their talks. They tap a microphone three times, shout, “Can you all hear me in the back?” and then smile apologetically when it becomes clear that, yes everybody can hear them, but no one raised their hand.

It isn’t your responsibility to check the audio. There are people for that. (And if there aren’t, test the volume ahead of time.)

But if you do speak into the microphone and get the impression it’s not working, just relax, count to three, and try again. If you still think the sound isn’t working, calmly walk to the edge of the stage and discreetly ask someone to check it for you.

Throughout, smile at the audience and be confident. Assume everything works until proven otherwise, then stay calm and wait for a fix.

3. “I can’t see you because the lights are too bright.”

Yes, when you are on stage the lights are bright and hot and it will be difficult to see the audience. But they don’t have to know about all that.

Just stare into the dark, smile often, and act like you feel right at home. Feel free to walk into the audience if you want to see them up close.

4. “Can you read this? Sorry about the small text.”

The common rule is to make the font size on your slides twice the size of the average age of the audience. Yes, that means that if you expect the audience to be 40 then on average you are stuck with a font size of 80 points.

You won’t be able to fit a lot of text on the slide, which is a good thing and brings us to the next point.

5. “Shut off your phone/laptop/tablet.”

Once upon a time you could ask an audience to shut off their devices. Not anymore. Now people tweet the awesome quotes you produce or take notes on their iPads. Or they play solitaire or check Facebook.

You can ask for the audience to turn their phones to silent mode, but apart from that you just have to make sure that your talk is so incredibly inspiring they will close their laptops because they don’t want to miss a second.

Demanding attention doesn’t work. Earn attention instead.

6. “You don’t need to write anything down or take photos; the presentation will be online later.”

It’s great that you will upload your presentation later. But if it’s a good presentation it won’t contain too many words.

For many people the act of writing is good way to better remember something they’ve heard. In short, allow people to do whatever they want during your presentations.

7. “Let me answer that question.”

It’s wonderful if you can answer a question right away, but you need to do something else first. Often the question from an audience member will be clear to you, but not everyone else was able to hear it.

So please say, “I’ll repeat that question first so everybody can hear it,” and then answer it.

Plus, when you make a habit of repeating questions, it gives you a little more time to think of an appropriate answer.

8. “I’ll keep it short.”

This is a promise no very few of us keep. But a lot of presentations start that way!

Generally speaking, if you have an engaging message, the audience really doesn’t care if you keep it short or not. They’ve invested their time and want to be informed and inspired.

“But,” you ask, “What, I’m out of time? But I have 23 more slides!”

If you come unprepared and need more time than allowed, you know what you have to work on for next time. Make it a habit to practice your presentation to make it fit within the allotted time.

Conclusion: come prepared, be yourself, and be professional. The audience will love you for being clear, for being serious, and for not wasting their time.