Things Not To Do During a Public Speaking

Maybe it’s an urban legend, but nearly every discussion like this starts with the poll which supposedly found more people are afraid of public speaking than of dying. Nevertheless, as CBS newsman Charles Osgood observes bluntly, “Public speaking is the definitive difference between leaders and followers.”

If that’s the bad news, Osgood’s good news is that anyone can become an effective public speaker. Here are some tips, borrowed from a variety of sources:

Don’t use props, visual materials or multimedia to distract attention from you. You’ll wind up as audio video technician — that is not your job. And even the simplest props can be fraught with danger. Not everyone’s Ross Perot.

Eye contact is critical, but that doesn’t make it easy. Here’s a trick. Think through one idea, deliver it to one person in the audience, check your notes, think through another idea, deliver it to someone else. One idea, one person.

Tell them what you’re gonna tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them. It’s a hoary cliché, but people really are more likely to remember the point you are driving at if you are explicit about what it is.

Don’t go on too long. A laughably long speech at the once Democratic Convention nearly ruined the former US president Bill Clinton’s career. Charles Osgood tells of the time Marlene Dietrich dispatched Mikhail Baryshnikov to accept an award on her behalf. “What should I say?”

Baryshnikov asked. Dietrich replied: “Take the thing, look at it, thank them, and go!”

Just because you are speaking, that doesn’t make the event life-­and-death. Maybe most people are just there to have a chicken dinner and donate a few bucks to a (hopefully) worthy cause. Maybe the only person who thinks your speech is a life-and-death issue is you. Think about it, and match your tone to the expectations of your audience.

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