Public Speaking Success: Three Mistakes to Avoid When Preparing a Speech

Photo by Marcelo TerrazaIf the mere thought of having to give a speech makes you cringe, chances are that you’re not terribly enthusiastic when it’s time to prepare. However, even the most eager presenters can find themselves overwhelmed when getting ready for their big talk. Regardless of where you fall in, it’s important to not fall into some of the common traps that people are prone to when it’s time to prepare a speech. So here are three of the most common, yet avoidable, mistakes that you should watch out for when preparing your speech:

Mistake 1: Waiting until the last possible minute to prepare:

People who don’t like giving speeches are the most likely to fall into this trap as are those who have a tendency to procrastinate. Sure, it’s easy to put off something you’re not excited about doing or something that seems less important than the other things going on in your life, but keep in mind that preparing a talk takes a significant amount of time. And unlike other tasks, speech preparation needs to be spread out to get the most benefit so that time can’t simply be crammed into an all-nighter the night before your talk.

I recommend creating mini-milestones for your speech. Some examples of these mini-milestones include:

  • Completing your research.
  • Completing your speech outline.
  • Completing your speech.
  • Practicing your speech in front of a mock audience.

The last point is one that I highly recommend. When I was involved with Toastmasters, I used to schedule a speech at my club about a month before a big speech. This not only forced me to get my speech done ahead of time, I also had the benefit of getting feedback on my speech and my delivery.

Also keep in mind that this is a very common mistake made by both new and experienced speakers – with the latter, it’s mainly due to overconfidence in their abilities.

Mistake 2: Not researching your audience ahead of time:

There are two major things to consider here: whether your topic is right for your audience and whether your content is appropriate. One of my rules of speech preparation is that you can never ask too many questions about your audience. And the questions you need to ask about your audience include:

  • Is my topic one that the audience would be interested in?
  • How will the audience benefit from my presentation?
  • Does the audience have the necessary knowledge or background to understand my talk?
  • Can the audience relate to my stories and language?

It’s easy to prepare a speech that we can personally relate to, but keep in mind that we are the speaker, not the audience. It’s important that your speech is written for your target audience.

Mistake 3: Not confirming the details:

There is a lot more to giving a successful talk than simply writing a speech and practicing it. There are a number of minute details that can cause you a great deal of stress if things don’t work out as planned. Some of the things that you should confirm prior to your talk:

  • If the event is still on.
  • The date and start time.
  • Lodging arrangements if applicable.
  • Equipment arrangements such as microphones, projectors, PCs, etc….
  • Payment arrangements if applicable.
  • Meal details if a meal will be served at the event and especially if you have special dietary needs.
  • Any other special requests you might have (room set-up, etc…).

I recommend following up a week before (add an extra day or two if there’s a holiday in that timeframe) to confirm all important details as that will give you ample time to make alternate arrangements if necessary. Another thing to keep in mind is that since many speaking events are planned months (or even years) in advance, that it’s easy for meeting and event planners to forget about some details that they planned on dealing with as the event date became closer.

So keep in mind that preparing a speech takes a significant amount of effort. By preparing ahead of time, ensuring that your speech is appropriate for your audience and confirming the details surrounding your speech, you’ll increase your success and decrease your stress.

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