The Seven Deadly Sins of Public Speaking

Whenever you speak in public, you want to make a good impression, communicate your message effectively, and make the best use of everyone’s time. While I often talk about the dos, here are a few of the don’ts to remember when giving your speech. Commit these deadly sins at your own risk when you speak in public.

Sin #1: Lack of preparation 

Some people are born with the gift of the gab, and sometimes they get cocky and think that  

they needn’t write their speech out or at least jot down some notes they want to speak from. I prefer to write my speech out and then more or less memorize it and then bring a notecard or two with a few key words on it that can help me cover the main points in my speech. If you are a demon at memorizing, then great, do that. And if you are so comfortable with yourself that you needn’t write out your speech first, please do us all a favor and at least write an outline and practice speaking to those points. You will still improve your speech and you will decrease, if not eliminate, the hems and haws and ums and you knows. Listening to a speaker who is overconfident but who just rambles on is a tragedy. What could have been a good speech-given the speaker’s abilities-is instead a rambling mess.

Sin #2: Too much hamburger helper before you speak

When I say hamburger helper, I’m not talking about the stuff that comes in a box at the grocery store that you can use to prop up a pound of ground beef. No, I mean the mealy-mouthed talk and blather that so many speakers engage in before they speak. “I’d like to thank everyone for coming out tonight,”… “I don’t really like speaking and was astonished when I was given this opportunity,”… “I got a call last week from the director asking me to speak, and I wished I hadn’t picked up the phone.” Perhaps these kinds of statements occur more during speeches given at my church, but many speakers in a professional capacity or at least in business and commerce and government still don’t know how to begin a speech. I say, begin the speech. If you feel that have to thank everyone for allowing you to speak, then fine, but don’t ramble on for a few minutes about how bad a speaker your are or how great everyone there is or how honored and humbled you are to speak, just speak. Get started and take advantage of our short attentions spans while you still have them. Take too long to get going and we’ll tune out. It’s as simple as that.

Sin #3: Not knowing your audience

While this sin is one of the deadliest to make in speechmaking, fortunately, it is less common than some of the others. Still, if you write of give a speech that does not take into account your audience’s makeup (their educational level, age, sex, interests, prejudices, etc.), then you are making a grave mistake. I think most of us have had a teacher in school who talked to us like we were scientists (or literature professors, or whatever), rather than the young, bored kids that we were. Consider your audience when you choose the vocabulary, tone, and content of your speech.

Sin #4: Never using stories to make your points

This really isn’t so much a deadly sin as forgetting one of the main rules of good speechmaking. And that is this, the best speeches (and nonfiction books for that matter), use one main technique over and over, and it is this: tell a story, make a point, tell another story, make another point, and so on. If you want to illustrate your points, engage your audience, and have them remember a little of what you told them, use a story to illustrate each point. I’m sure that my little article here could benefit from a neat little story or two.

Sin #5: Never making eye contact while you speak

Making at least some eye contact when you speak is pretty basic, but you’d be surprised how many speakers fail to do this. Instead, they keep their head buried in their notes, only to glance up occasionally. Making good eye contact is mainly a matter of practice. The more you speak, the better you’ll get at making eye contact, but you must make a conscious effort to make eye contact for your practice to yield good results.

Sin #6: Too many jokes, dumb jokes, or off-color jokes

Enough with the dumb jokes already. One of the worst things I hear in some speeches and talks is a dumb joke told at the beginning. And again in the middle, and again, and again. Humor can be a good way to underscore a point, get your audience’s attention, and even get them to like you. But if you overuse it or don’t use it well, it will hurt your speech more than help it. And 99% of the time, off-color humor is not appropriate in most public speaking situations. Unless you’re engaged in standup comedy at a club or venue where the people there are expecting your to give them risqué humor, don’t. Do I really need to explain this? Use humor, but do it sparingly and make sure the joke relates to the topic at hand.

Sin #7: Running over time

And last but not least, stay within your time when you speak. No one likes listening to someone who thinks that what they have to say is so important that they can step on everyone else’s, especially the next speaker’s, time. Want to lose the respect, tolerance, and good will of your audience? Then run over time and appear to speak on and on with no end in sight. It will work every time.

That’s it for now. Those are some deadly sins that can sink your public speaking but are relatively easy to prevent. Now go and sin no more!

Keep speaking!…


Do you dream of writing a book but aren’t sure about your writing ability? If so, maybe you should hire a ghostwriter. As a ghostwriter, I will help you tell your personal, professional, or creative story, and no one will ever know you got help.


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