Mistakes to avoid in public speaking can range from what you say, to how you say it. In this case, though, I want to zero in on one particularly egregious mistake I see over and over again.
Whether it’s telling a personal story, or whether it’s giving a speech to raise funds for your nonprofit, folks keep on doing one huge thing that’s shooting them in the foot and ruining their whole speech before they even begin.
They’re starting off with an assumption that just because the subject of their speech is interesting or passionate to them, that it ought to be equally interesting for their audience. That assumption is single handedly one of the biggest mistakes to avoid in public speaking.
If you ever have a chance to read Dale Carnegie’s great book, “How to Make Friends and Influecne People,” this tendency is a topic he attacks head on over and over again in the book. Carnegie maintains that one of the easiest ways to guarantee you want persuade anyone, or get anyone to like you, is by focusing on what you want–instead of what they want.
It’s not that people are selfish. On the contrary, if you are giving a speech about a particular issue you have invested years of time and energy into, and simply assume that your audience should have the same level of passion for, you’re being unrealistic at best and vain at worst.
Instead, it’s critically important to build for your audience, over the course of your presentation, a completely new emotional experience they can take away with them, that will give them a reason to be emotionally invested in your subject or story.
In future posts, we’ll explore exactly how to do just that. For now, though, you need to start off by seriously asking yourself “why am I assuming that my audience will care or reaction strongly to this story?” For most presenters, you’ll often find yourself grasping at straws to answer the question. People don’t feel passionately about a subjective because there is anything “inherently emotional” about it; they won’t be riled up because the deforestation in the amazon is an “obvious injustice” and they couldn’t possibly care less about the funny joke your girlfriend told you on the way to a date.
Make your speech, your points, your examples, your emotional connections….EVERYTHING…about your audience. The fact that your stories, examples, or anecdotes happen to offer up an opportunity to to give a unique insight or perspective onto THEIR needs, interests, hopes or fears is just a happy coincidence.
As a speaker, you are not being invited to speak to speak at your audience. You are being invited to give your audiences a deeply personal, relevant emotional experience, that they will take with them, cherish, and reflect on after you’ve gone.
If you have done anything less, you have committed one of the biggest mistakes to avoid in public speaking and have utterly failed your audience.