5 Reasons Why People Suck at Public Speaking

“All you gotta do is picture everyone in their underwear…” One of the most commonly used solutions people have for public speaking. Are kidding me? This is your sick perverted advice? No wonder so many people are such terrible public speakers. It’s advice like this and more that set people up for failure when speaking in front of a group of people. Luckily, there are real solutions that work well. In this 2-part blog series, I’ll share with you the top 5 reasons why people suck at public speaking and then the top 5 reasons why people kick ass. First let’s talk about what people are doing wrong:

1. Tee-Off

For some reason, many people like to start off their speeches by explaining to everyone why they’re such terrible speakers. Why would someone do this? That’s setting yourself up for a terrible speech without even making one! The word tee-off is from golf where your objective is to start off each course by hitting the ball off the tee. Pretty simple concept. In public speaking, it means practically the same thing in the sense that your starting off your speech. Just like in golf, your first shot can vastly improve your score or hurt it, your opening line during a speech will affect you in the same way. Some of the lamest ways to start off a speech:

  • I’m not a good public speaker…
  • I’m so happy to be here today…
  • I’m sorry I didn’t have time to prepare…
  • I apologize, this is my first time speaking to an audience…
  • I hope I don’t come across too nervous tonight…

2. Telling Jokes

Now some people are great at telling jokes, but most people suck. So if you know that you’re a terrible joke teller, please refrain from starting your speech with a joke. Even comics know that sometimes their jokes aren’t funny until the audience warms up a bit. For amateur joke teller, telling a terrible joke will instantly make you believe that you suck, thereby ruining your mindset. After this feeling, a person might end up speeding through the rest of the speech and suck some more.

3. Mimicking Other Speakers

Your intentions might be in the right place, but if you mimic another speaker, you’re setting yourself up to become the short end of the stick. What I mean by that is that you’ll be viewed as the guy who acts like that other guy. Or if you suck at mimicking, you’ll be viewed as the guy who tries to act like that other guy. This eliminates your individuality and doesn’t set you aside far enough to be noticed. Yes there are a very few number of people who can mimic someone else and do a great job, but chances are it’s not you ;). Be unique.

4. Reading Verbatim

Reading verbatim has to me always been a surefire indicator of a very boring speech. When someone reads off of their notes verbatim, they kill the potential creativity, enthusiasm, and overall excitement. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s always a fantastic idea to have notes in front of you. Even take a  glimpse at your notes if you have to, but reading it word for word is one of the worst things you can do. If your focusing on what your going to say next, you won’t be able to read what your audience likes or dislikes. This ruins your chances in building rapport with the group.

5. Act as Stiff

Since so many people are self conscious about the way they’re dressed, the way they look, whether they’re too fat, too skinny, etc. It becomes a challenge to focus on anything else. One of the biggest mistakes you can do while public speaking is stand stiff. By not moving on stage, you are showing off signs of uncomfortableness and a lack of confidence. Remember, your body has the ability to amplify your energy and enthusiasm better than anything else.

There are obviously more than 5 mistakes someone can make while speaking in public, but I felt as if these 5 are the most critical indicators to make one suck. Now that your aware of what you shouldn’t do, stay tuned for the 2nd part of this 2 part series on what you should do.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you have seen during a speech?

32 thoughts on “5 Reasons Why People Suck at Public Speaking

  1. Alex Shalman

    Practice, practice, practice… and then just let it rip off the top of your head. I like conversational speeches the best, where you really feel like the speaker could be talking to a friend, or you.

    Reply
  2. Reasonable Robinson

    You know, I'm so bad at writing comments, and that reminds of the time my mother in law spent the whole night talking 'at' instead of typing into MSN messenger, what's THAT all about???? (gufffaaawwww), however at this time in this place I have dream that change has come to Social Media, and that as you know, this-has-been-an-obvious-one-for-a-very-long-time-and-a-surefire-indicator-of-a-very- boring-comment. I do have some difficulty with ShIfT key it seems to be StUcK though.

    Reply
  3. Andreaz

    I believe that a public speaker has to be a great writer too. All communicators in one or another way are great at writing.

    Let me put it this way… Great communicators can organize their thoughts in logical way and down-to-earth manner, so that everyone can understand them and get their message, whether it's written or spoken.

    So first step in effective public speaking is effective writing skills. When you write well, you can sum-up many sentences in few, self-explainable keywords. To do that is an art of communication. So as Alex said…practise, practise, practise… 🙂

    Reply
  4. Andreaz

    I believe that a public speaker has to be a great writer too. All communicators in one or another way are great at writing.

    Let me put it this way… Great communicators can organize their thoughts in logical way and down-to-earth manner, so that everyone can understand them and get their message, whether it's written or spoken.

    So first step in effective public speaking is effective writing skills. When you write well, you can sum-up many sentences in few, self-explainable keywords. To do that is an art of communication. So as Alex said…practise, practise, practise… 🙂

    Reply
  5. AndreaZ

    I believe that a public speaker has to be a great writer too. All communicators in one or another way are great at writing.

    Reply
  6. AJ Kumar

    Correct. It's always important to be a powerful writer because what you put on paper will eventually come out of your mouth. For many people, it's easier to express your ideas on paper than it is to just say it out loud. So the next time your planning on 'winging it', then there's a good chance you may just word-vomit in front of everyone. Spend an extra 5 minutes and organize your thoughts.

    Reply
  7. Patricia

    I am an awful joke teller…so I never tell jokes…and I take a few minutes to warm up myself so I like to look out at the folks and just smile and try to gather them up first thing – make 'em curious.
    I like a lectern because my hands have tremors and they make people worry about me and I have great difficulty memorizing….so I have highlights and cue.

    Even if I have performed a wedding ceremony repeatedly, I practice and practice so that I can just look like I am talking to the couple….and to the gathers at the right moments.
    The hardest wedding of all was outside and everyone opened the umbrellas – no eye contact with anyone….and they could not hear a word….we should have skipped the ceremony and just signed the license to a glass of champagne and I think no one would have cared ! The minute the ceremony was over the downpour stopped.

    I think knowing that people see me as a nobody, or strange, or fat…and knowing that just allows me to be aware and work with what I have. The first year of any of my classes I just hoped for 10 students to sign up ….but the 3rd year they were turning folks away…and I even got fired for students refusing to take the tenured faculties class!

    I just need to warm them up, draw them in, and know my information down cold….

    Reply
  8. Patricia

    I am an awful joke teller…so I never tell jokes…and I take a few minutes to warm up myself so I like to look out at the folks and just smile and try to gather them up first thing – make 'em curious.
    I like a lectern because my hands have tremors and they make people worry about me and I have great difficulty memorizing….so I have highlights and cue.

    Even if I have performed a wedding ceremony repeatedly, I practice and practice so that I can just look like I am talking to the couple….and to the gathers at the right moments.
    The hardest wedding of all was outside and everyone opened the umbrellas – no eye contact with anyone….and they could not hear a word….we should have skipped the ceremony and just signed the license to a glass of champagne and I think no one would have cared ! The minute the ceremony was over the downpour stopped.

    I think knowing that people see me as a nobody, or strange, or fat…and knowing that just allows me to be aware and work with what I have. The first year of any of my classes I just hoped for 10 students to sign up ….but the 3rd year they were turning folks away…and I even got fired for students refusing to take the tenured faculties class!

    I just need to warm them up, draw them in, and know my information down cold….

    Reply
  9. Kathy | Virtual Impax

    The picture is hilarious – and that audience is in a lot better “shape” than many I've seen!!!

    If you even THINK you're going to need to give a speech – one word – TOASTMASTERS. Practice does make perfect – and that group gives you the opportunity to give your awful speeches to them – and save your best speeches for your “real” audience.

    Reply
  10. Tess The Bold Life

    Good stories are what makes a good speaker. Also acting them out rather than just talking is a must. People want to be entertained not just look at a talking head.

    I also agree with practice practice practice!

    Reply
  11. AJ Kumar

    For people who have a quiet voice….they need to speak up! lol. Besides speaking up, they should be VERY animated because body language alone has a drastic effect on an audience.

    Reply
  12. Swimwear Clothing

    In regards to starting off your speech, you list some don't-do techniques. The main one TO DO is actively engage your audience by “embracing them” from the start. I'm not talking about a lame 'thank you for having' me or physically embracing them (ha). I'm talking about finding a way to connect with your audience from the start based on what brought them all there to hear you in the first place. My experience is that by doing this, you immediately engage your audience from the beginning and they are instantly drawn to what you have to say.

    On a side note, I also think public speaking is like acting, in a way. You are the one at the head of the auditorium and the spotlight is on you. Just like Alex started off by saying… PRACTICE! Brad Pitt (or insert your favorite actor here) never steps in front of a camera without a rehearsal, does he?

    Reply
  13. AJ Kumar

    I agree…the whole 'thanking everyone' thing is lame. Be unpredictable. Yes public speaking is a lot like acting…you gotta be an entertainer.

    You got it spot on with that Brad Pitt example!

    Reply
  14. Jacques Groenewald

    LOL! I am a business graduate and on the 5th year, you have to stand in front of 1000 people and present something you invented. Now, with a thousand people watching you and literally judging you, i couldn't help making some lame joke. Guess i'll be remembered as the graduate who made the crappy joke.

    Reply
  15. Tiana

    I took speech class in High School, later on the Dale Carnegie course. There I learned to do a 2 minute speech. That is the hardest thing to do, but once you master it, the ability to get your point across in such a brief speech, you can elaborate and become a good speaker.

    Somewhere in the mid-80's I gave a speech about the pros and cons of home based businesses. The co-orinator told me 15 minutes. I practiced… 25 minutes! Cut and cut and practiced some more. Never was sure I was going to condense it to 15 minutes.

    Time come for the talk, I had visual aids, I had a hand-out, I even told a joke. But I felt reaction from the crowd that told me I was doing fine. When I finished, the co-ordinator said I was exactly 15 minutes. But I had people come up to me and congratulate me for such a good presentation. I was kind of shocked, but it all came down to learning to do a 2 minute speech.

    I have recently had to present an idea to a meeting. I did it in 2 minutes, and was again thankful for the Dale Carnegie course.

    Reply
  16. AJ Kumar

    Wow I love it Tiana. I think the concept of a 2 minute presentation is great! Your right, learning to do a speech in 2 minutes can help you get the point across and give you the versatility for timing it.

    Reply
  17. vasilica blohat

    Public speaking is just like acting. You have to be relaxed, calm, warm, and to live in the moment. That way you can let your spontaneity and your creativity come out. I don't agree with the-tips-of-the-trade so to speak. Everybody has a public speaker inside waiting to come out, and i think that once you embrace your fears, you can do great!
    Jon Stromberg

    Reply
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