Based on my experience of publicly speaking for almost two decades, here are the top ten public speaking mistakes that I have made. I am fairly certain I am not alone in making these mistakes. So, let’s jump right in.
1. Providing Too Much Information. We make people drink from a fire hydrant. We want to present as much as we have studied in our preparation. Keep in mind that much of the material you have studied can be used in various settings – not only during the time when you are speaking publicly.
2. Not Providing Enough Information. Make sure you know your audience, know their needs, know their worries and frustrations and speak to those things.
If you are not constantly spending time with the people to whom you are communicating, you will consistently provide either not enough information or information that is irrelevant.
3. Assuming People Know What You Are Talking About. Never assume. When you are speaking publicly, you can’t assume people already know what you are talking about. The people who are listening to you did not spend forty hours in preparation for this topic.
4. Not Putting The Cookies On The Bottom Shelf. You need to harness the conglomeration of mechanisms within your sphere of circumference. Did you find that last sentence difficult to read? I found it difficult to write! Imagine if you heard someone say that. We need to simplify our communication for all.
I remember when I was just a fresh preacher. After preaching at a church, I called everyone to pray. During the prayer, an older gentleman started praying passionately. Here was his prayer: Dear God, I really did not understand anything this young man said, but please bless him and help him with whatever it is that he needs in life.
That was a priceless experience. I will never forget it. How can you present what you are saying, in a simpler way?
5. You Study Too Much. There needs to come a point where you need to ship your content. Turn off the podcast. Put the book down. Power down the iPad/Kindle. Go share with someone what you have learned. Keep in mind #4 above.
6. You Study Too Little. People immediately know if you don’t know your content. You can’t fake it until you make it on this one. Know your stuff. Read it. Pray over it. Memorize it. Saturate yourself in it. The more you prepare for it, the better you will be able to communicate it.
I always like to put it this way:
When I am well prepared, I feel like a fish in water. I am in a very familiar environment. I can swim around in it – and go from destination to destination – with ease and confidence.
7. You Speak For Too Long. If people are thinking about what they want to eat for lunch, then either you have gone on way too long, or they are just hungry. Most of the time, it is the first option. I think every preacher, including yours truly, have made this mistake. Learn to land the plane. Assign some people who will show you some hand signals that you should get into the end zone. Look at your speech now. Now cut out about 40% of the material. You are good to go. Plus, you get invited back more often when you don’t go into overtime. (If you have stuck with me to this point in the post, thank you! Can you please “share,” this post with your network? I hope you can use it to help others.)
8. You Are Too Enthusiastic. I had someone recently tell me that they don’t enjoy my preaching. I asked how come? They said that I was too energetic and enthusiastic when I speak. Some people like that. Others tend to enjoy it less.
It is not what you say, but how you say it.
If every point you are making comes at the listener like a life or death situation, then your most important points will be taken as seriously as the point you were making about when the next potluck is coming up. Switch up your voice inflection.
Insert a pregnant pause into your speech or talk.
Allow the info to sink in.
9. You Are Too Monotonous. Don’t be like the guy from the red-eye commercial. If you sound like you don’t believe in what you are saying, what makes you think I will be convinced? We should speak in a way in which we are gripped by the content we are presenting.
10. You Don’t Practice What You Preach.
When I was in seminary, I had a great greek teacher. Upon receiving back an assignment, I was surprised because I was sure I would not get that good of a grade. When I asked the professor, he said the following: I can’t teach you about grace without also extending it towards you.
A student will never perform above his teacher. People listen to what you have to say, but they will do what you do. Your consistency in displaying what you are presenting bolsters the confidence people have in you and in what you have to say.
Jesus was the ultimate public speaker. He used the environment that He was in. He knew and understood His culture. He was both tough and tender. He was both enthusiastic and sober. He definitively practiced what He preached. We do well to learn from Jesus, the ultimate communicator.
Bonus Content: Click here to watch a recent clip where I was speaking to a group of young people. I start about twenty minutes in to the video. What suggestions would you have for me personally, based on the clip? I would love to hear them in the comments!
Question: What else would you add to this list? What other mistakes do public speakers make? What mistakes have you personally made that you can share about?