The 7 Worst Speaker Mistakes

Dynamic communication is one of the keys to success that I discuss in my book Straight Talk for Success.  If you want to become a dynamic communicator, you need to master at least three basic communication skills: conversation skills, writing skills and presentation skills.

Bob Bly is one of the best known copywriters on the web.  He has written more than 70 books.  I have learned a lot from his ezine, blogs and eBooks.  Recently I read Bob’s new book Persuasive Presentations for Business.  Like all of Bob’s writing, this book is filled with great common sense ideas. 

I particularly liked a section in Chapter 7 called: “The Seven Worst Speaker Mistakes.”  Check them out…

1. Total dependence on mechanical aids.
2. Failure to research an audience.
3. Unsupported opinions.
4. Wrong facts.
5. Lack of audience involvement.
6. Speaking in a monotone.
7. Politically incorrect behavior.

Bob has nailed it here.  Any one of these seven mistakes can really derail a talk and get you labeled as a poor communicator.  On the other hand, if you avoid these seven mistakes, you’ll be able to deliver high quality talks that will get you recognized as a dynamic communicator.

I have had personal experience with mistakes 3 and 4.  I was once doing a talk at the basic management program for a very large (Fortune 50) company.  I mentioned a Harvard study that supported the point I was making.  During the Q&A, one of the people in the audience asked me to cite the Harvard study to which I had referred.  He was skeptical about my point.

I didn’t have the cite at my fingertips.  I said “I’m sorry, I’ll have to get back to you on that.”  This opened up a flood gate of questions, and even recriminations.  One person went so far as to accuse me of making up the study to bolster my point.

When I got back to my office, I went to my library and found the citation.  I sent it to the woman who had hired me to do the talk.  She sent it to all of the people in the class. 

In the end, I was able to salvage my reputation by producing the citation.  However, the talk was not a success, because it got off track because I did not have the citation for a surprising and somewhat controversial piece of data immediately at hand.

In short, even though I could substantiate my opinions and facts after the fact, I could not do it during the talk.  This caused me to lose credibility with my audience during the talk.  I regained it somewhat by producing the citation afterwards, but the damage had been done.

Now, when I do a talk I have all of the citations ready.  Very seldom do I get asked for proof of the ideas I am presenting, but I feel better being prepared than having a repeat of one of my most embarrassing professional speaking moment.

The common sense point here is simple.  If you want to become a dynamic presenter you need to do several things.  Make sure you can deliver your talk without the benefit of PowerPoint slides.  Research you audience.  Make sure that you give them what they want and need from your talk.  Get your facts straight and make sure you can support them.  Get the audience involved.  Ask questions, listen and respond to their answers.  Put some excitement in your voice.  Avoid crude or insensitive jokes or behavior that can turn off and audience and paint you in a bad light.

That’s my take on Bob Bly’s seven worst mistakes a speaker can make.  What’s yours?   Please leave a comment sharing any embarrassing presentation moments you’ve had and the lessons you’ve learned from them.  As always thanks for reading.


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  1. I have made my share of mistakes during presentations. The worst was doing a program at a hotel with two separate towers so distant from one another that an underground tram ride was offered to take attendees from one tower to the other. I made the mistake of looking on the hotel map for the room in which my presentation was scheduled. Unfortunately, I didn’t physically check out the location earlier in the day because I had another presentation prior to the fatal session. By the time I went to the 22nd floor of Tower A, found out it was the wrong location, descended 22 floors, was unable to locate a tram going back to Tower B, ran the distance and made my way up the the 22nd floor of Tower B, I was late for my own presentation and gasping for breath. Some of the audience members never forgave me. I never forgive myself and have not repeated that mistake.

  2. In my top seven, I’d include “Know your audience.” Knowing your audience would include audience research and knowing how to behave, speak and act when on the podium. What’s appropriate for an after dinner speech is probably not appropriate for the Trade Association conference!
    I wouldn’t need point seven, political correctness; that’s already covered. Instead I’d include “Prepare questions and answers” as my seventh point. Preparing answers to potential questions can be a real help to building audience understanding.
    Your point about the Harvard study will make me check my references again. Good one.

  3. Lydia, Peter:
    Thanks for your comments — and great common sense advice on making good presentations.
    I like both of your ideas on preparation –from knowing exactly where you’ll be speaking to anticipating audience questions.
    Have a great weekend…

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