Are you guilty of any of these six speaking sins?

The success of your presentation will be judged not by the knowledge you send but by what the listener receives.

– Lilly Walters

Have you ever sat through a really bad presentation? Maybe the speaker rambled on and on and didn’t seem to have a clear direction. Or perhaps the presenter allowed an audience member to hijack the presentation. It can be really difficult to sit through a bad speech. To keep from being that speaker avoid these six speaking no nos.

Sharing your nervousness

If speaking to a group gives you sweaty palms and a racing heart, be comforted by the fact that you’re not alone in your nervousness. Public speaking is the number one fear people have. There is something about having all eyes on you that can be terrifying. However, don’t tell the audience you’re nervous. It will only make them anxious for you. Usually the doubting, self-critical, anxious experience you’re feeling inside is not the experience your audience is witnessing. So, keep it your secret and pretend you are cool, calm and collected.

Drinking to dull your nerves

I understand, you’re nervous, but don’t use alcohol to calm yourself. You’ll lose focus and could end up being a babbling idiot. And, if the audience sees you imbibing they may dismiss you entirely. I once saw someone not only drink two beers while he was speaking; he also pointed it out. It was very unprofessional and it made him go off on tangents and lose his audience. Don’t do this. A certain amount of nervousness will help you to do your best.


Practice your presentation enough so that you are able to stay on track and on point. I’m not a fan of writing out a speech and memorizing it word for word. Instead, create bullet points and know them well. I do recommend, however, memorizing your opening and closing lines. Because presenters tend to feel most nervous when they begin speaking, knowing your opening line(s) will keep you from searching for your words when you first look out at the audience. And, knowing your closing line will help you succinctly wrap up your presentation.

Allowing side-trackers        

As a speaker, it can be gratifying to have someone ask you questions or make a comment. You feel like they are engaged and interested in what you’re saying. However, watch out for the know-it all, the agitator or the attention seeker. When you allow these people to take the topic off track or regularly interrupt your presentation you will annoy the rest of your audience. When faced with one of these bad boys simply acknowledge him and mention you are happy to have a conversation after the presentation. Then immediately get back to your speech.

Having slides with lots of words

Your PowerPoint slides should enhance what you’re saying not distract from it. Replace words with images that convey what you’re communicating. People remember pictures and how they made them feel; they typically don’t remember words, graphs or numbers. Rather than having a list of bullet points about the new product you’re going to roll out, post a picture of someone using it. Or show an image that depicts how people will feel after using the product. Images are evocative; words on a screen are not.

Going over time

People expect to be in a presentation for the specified time and will start to get fidgety and angry if you continue past the allotted time. To avoid this, have a clock or timer that keeps you on track. You can also ask a friend or event organizer to give you a five minute warning. As you approach the end time, start wrapping up even if you aren’t finished. Your audience most likely has no idea you were going to cover more material (so don’t tell them) and they will be grateful you ended on time.

When presenting, remember, it’s all about the audience and what they receive. They don’t care about your experience they care about their experience. Avoid the six speaking sins and you’ll be much more successful in delivering a well-received presentation.

What would you add to this list? Are there other speaking faux pas you’ve witnessed or have been guilty of?

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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. Tracy on February 13, 2017 at 3:09 pm

    Great tips Arden! I recently started following your blog after Maria posted an article. I am now addicted!

  2. Arden Clise on February 13, 2017 at 10:24 pm

    Thank you Tracy. So glad to have you as a subscriber. Feel free to suggest article ideas or questions. Always open to suggestions.

    Best regards,

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