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Paul Sloane



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The 8 Worst Mistakes that Keynote Speakers make


(And trainers make them too!)

Have you ever been bored rigid by a conference speaker? How can you avoid that fate if you have to give a talk? Here are the worst sins that speakers commit. Be sure not to make these mistakes.

1. A Weak Start. The first impression that you make on the stage is very important. It should be positive and animated. Many speakers make a feeble start. They look down and mumble their first words or worse still, they make an apology. The audience wants you to succeed. They want you to be professional, informative and entertaining. So meet their expectations.

2. Over-use of PowerPoint.  Slides can be useful – especially for showing charts or images. But many speakers load up their presentation with too many slides containing too many words. Then they read the slides. The audience reads the slide and does not look at the speaker. This is what’s known as, ‘death by PowerPoint’.

3. No Clear Message.  Often speakers try to cover too much ground. They overload the audience with data. There are many different messages but there is no clear theme. Ideally your talk should have one central idea. And your talk should have a structure that communicates the idea. For example you might start by talking about a problem, you might tell a story, you might propose a solution then you might end with a call to action – something you want the audience to do.

4. No Human Interest.  Many talks are crammed full of facts, data, charts and statistics. They are dull. There are no stories. People relate to stories about people. So if for example, you want to improve customer service do not drone on about the percentage of net recommenders. Tell a story about someone who gave great service. Describe them and the situation. Make the story come alive.

5. Lack of Enthusiasm.  A speaker who lacks enthusiasm cannot generate enthusiasm in the audience. Many speakers deliver their content in a dreary monotone, reading dry statements from a script. They send the audience to sleep. Your job as a speaker is to inform and entertain. You should look the audience in the eye and speak from the heart. Walk about the stage (but not too much). Vary your voice – pitch, speed of delivery and volume. Try to include some humour or something interesting and unusual; but keep it relevant to the topic.

6. Too much Me and not enough You.  A big mistake is to make the talk about you, your company, your issues and your achievements. The audience is interested in their problems. You have to make your talk about them. So if you give examples about your company then draw out larger issues and lessons that are relevant and useful to your listeners. Count how many times you say ‘I’ or ‘we’ and count how many times you say ‘you’.

7. No Rehearsal.  Many speakers make elementary mistakes on stage. They struggle with the equipment. Things they should have checked do not work. Their slides are out of order. It is clear that they have not rehearsed. You should practice your talk before the event so that you can be confident about every aspect of it. On the day of the event you should check all the equipment on stage and be familiar with all the logistics.

8. Overrunning on Time.  This is a sin that many speakers commit. Event organizers and audiences do not appreciate a speaker who overruns his allotted time. Worse still, the speaker compounds the error by rushing towards the end to cram in all his remaining slides. If you have a 45 minute slot then practice a talk that fits comfortably into 40 minutes. That way you can end the talk in a strong, confident manner and take the time to really deliver your key message, If you have time over you can always offer to take questions.

Practice your talk and deliver it with confidence and enthusiasm. You will enjoy it; more importantly so will your audience.

One Response

  1. Good points!

    Thanks for this summary Paul. And you are right – some trainers  make these mistakes too. I recently attended a death by PowerPoint session and now know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of such an experience. It's frustrating and infuriating and worst of all time-wasting!

    But everyone can use such a list to check that we are not letting standards slip. It doesn't do to be too complacent!


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Paul Sloane


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