Guest Posting: The Top 4 Public Speaking Mistakes Executives Make…and how to fix them

By Angela DeFinis, DeFinis Communications

Angela DeFinisAfter working with a number of executives during the past few months, I’ve noticed some common pitfalls that diminish the quality of an executive’s presentation. These public speaking mistakes affect executives across the board, regardless of industry or profession.

Like everyone else who speaks to groups, executives must spend time preparing their message and practicing their delivery. However, many executives have formal speechwriters. Their content is often written for them and then passed around to other senior leaders in the company. As a result, the Marketing VP wants his spin included, the Engineering VP has certain requirements to be added, and the HR manager has a point of view that also needs to come through. The message goes through many rounds and edits until the final draft is perfected.

That’s a lot of time devoted to content creation. My only wish is that the executives would give the same amount of time and attention to actually practicing and rehearsing the delivery. Because they don’t, here are the common blunders that occur:

  • Appearing unprepared to deliver the speech. You can have the most finely crafted message in the world, but if you’re not prepared to deliver it, your message can fail. The fact is that poor delivery can overshadow great content. Therefore, spend the same amount of time practicing your delivery as you do creating your content. And if you didn’t craft the content yourself, then find out how long others spent preparing it and practice at least an hour longer.
  • Not focusing on the listeners’ needs. Many executives spend too much time talking about what’s important to them and don’t focus on the needs of the audience. This is the classic case of not knowing the audience. Unfortunately, audiences often interpret it as “this speaker doesn’t care about us.” Get clear on what’s important to your listeners and spend the majority of your time covering those topics. If there’s something you feel is important and that you need to say, then go ahead and say it. But don’t forget about or gloss over the audience’s needs.
  • Foregoing conventional etiquette. Foul language, “good old boy” style, off color jokes, slang…these are things you should never use in your business presentations. If you’re speaking to a global audience, any of these things will be a turn off. And if even one audience member is offended by your language, style, or demeanor, then your credibility just went down a notch. When you follow conventional etiquette standards, you smooth the conversational pathway so you can reach understanding and build relationships. And isn’t that one of your main goals when presenting?
  • Not using a “speaker’s tone.” Speaking in a “conversational” tone is fine for small group communication; however, when you’re giving a formal presentation, you need to use a more projected “speaker’s tone.” Remember that public speaking requires using the skills of the speaking trade. And one of those is maintaining an emphasis on vocal skills. Often, executives think that their personal style is enough and that they do not have to use professional speaking skills. But if you want to position yourself as the leading authority on any topic, you must use good vocal skills.

What’s the best way to overcome these mistakes? In a word: Practice! Yes, practice really does make perfect. By focusing on your delivery and approach as much as you focus on creating your speech, you’ll avoid these mistakes and give an executive level presentation that hits the mark, enhances your reputation and sets a high standard for presentation delivery throughout your company.

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Angela — This is an excellent post. I have had the same experience. Speakers need to practice, practice, practice if they expect their speeches to have the desired impact. How sad it is to hear a speaker give a speech that falls flat, even though it was written by me!!

Great post Angela. I often work with speakers and have to remind them that even though I look like I have it together on stage, it is because I practice. And not matter how good you get, you owe it to your audience to always practice.

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