The Biggest Mistake Many Public Speakers Make

I’m fortunate to work with many clients who take their public speaking responsibilities quite seriously.

Many of them have risen to their current station in life, at least in part, by preparing diligently for every task. When they prepare to deliver a speech, they labor over their laptops for days or weeks, making sure that every word communicates the precise message they want their audience to remember.

When they finally finish composing their presentations, they have a beautifully written speech that’s certain to wow their crowd.

Right? Well, not so fast.

There’s nothing wrong with preparing for a speech so carefully. In fact, writing it out can help speakers organize their thoughts, edit out less important points, and stumble upon some beautiful phrases they otherwise wouldn’t have discovered.

But too often, they put too much of a premium on their words—and not nearly enough on how they deliver them.

Executives often plan to read their prepared remarks from stacks of paper or from a teleprompter. But when I watch them deliver them during a practice session, it becomes clear to me that their quest for linguistic perfection comes at the steep cost of their audience connection.

So I’ll often ask them a question: What is more important to you? Delivering every word with precision or forging a genuine connection that moves, influences, or educates your audience?

Almost everyone picks the latter.

Suddenly, their quest for perfection on the page doesn’t make sense. I offer them an analogy to a radio mixing board. Let’s say that one switch on the mixing board is your “words,” and that it’s cranked up to a “9.” But as a result of looking at the page instead of having a genuine connection with your audience—through solid eye contact, physical proximity, and a warm delivery— your “audience connection” switch is only at a “5.” Does that really make sense?

Personally, I’d rather see a speaker who gets a “7” on their words but an “8” on audience connection. So do most members of your audience. And audiences that like you personally will be more receptive to your ideas.

So if your tendency is to try to deliver your words perfectly, try an experiment before your next presentation. Readjust your mixing board. Place an equal (or greater) premium on the connection you forge with your audience instead.

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