Six "Small" Mistakes That Can Doom Your Next Speech

You have an important presentation coming up.

You’ve done everything right to prepare for it. Hopefully, you’ve even incorporated many of the ideas in my post “The 25 Most Essential Public Speaking Tips.”

But when the day of your presentation comes, you forget to do these six “little” things. They’re small details, to be sure, but they can undermine all of the preparation you’ve done.

Take it from me. I’ve forgotten all six of these things at some point in my career. I hope you’ll learn from my mistakes!

1. Wearing a Nametag: Nametags can swing across your body every time you gesture, distracting your audience. But in one case, it was much worse. A conference planner used magnetized nametags—and without thinking about it, I put mine on before taking the stage to speak to 100 important people in San Francisco. The magnet wasn’t very good—so my nametag started to dangle precariously throughout my talk. I didn’t notice. Afterward, a few people told me how nervous they were that it was going to fall off. That’s not exactly what I wanted them to remember from my speech.

2. Forgetting to Run Updates: If you’re using PowerPoint, little is more frustrating for speakers—and distracting to audiences—than having those little pop-ups show up reminding you to update your software or run your virus protection program. If you’ve been putting off your computer’s updates, run them a day or two before hitting the stage.

3. Neglecting to Close Your Email Program: I forgot to close my Microsoft Outlook email program before one talk—and every time a new email came in, the little blue box would flash at the bottom right of my screen showing the first few lines to the entire audience. I finally caught the error when I saw an email come in from my wife that sent me into a panic. Why the panic? Because my wife and I had been discussing an upcoming doctor’s visit, during which we would learn whether or not she was pregnant. Fortunately, I clicked away before anyone saw our private news.

4. Ignoring Your Teeth and Clothing: Yes, I’ve given a presentation with a small chunk of lunch stuck in my teeth. It’s disgusting. But it’s also easily preventable. One tip: Many smartphones have a camera that can face you. Use it to check your teeth; use a mirror or your eyes to make sure that your pants leg isn’t tucked into your sock, your pantyhose doesn’t have a noticeable run, or your skirt isn’t rising up (unless you’d like to be remembered for a particularly provocative speech).

5. Not Changing The Microphone’s Battery: I’ve made it a habit to always ask the hotel tech whether the lapel microphone has a fresh battery. There’s nothing worse than cutting out within seconds of beginning your speech. Also, test the microphone in advance by walking around the entire room—you might find that the microphone has a feedback problem in certain spots, which allows you to avoid them when your presentation begins.

6. Live Streaming Your Video: If you need to do a live demo, remember to connect to the facility’s WiFi before beginning. Get the password in advance. Check the connection again during every break. Better yet, download any video to your hard drive so you don’t have to live stream during the event. You can do that using a free program such as YTD Video Downloader. When I’ve failed to do that, I’ve had videos stop halfway through, pause to buffer, or play without audio. (Which reminds me — check the audio in advance, too.)

What “small” things have undermined your own presentations? Please leave your experiences in the comments section below.