Common Mistakes Speakers Make

For over three years I have been a professional speech writer. I started off using the freelancing site Fiverr, but departed as their rules were simply not worth the bother. (The final straw was when, a month and a half after I had submitted a speech and their system marked the order closed, they informed me that the buyer had reported that I had delivered the speech late. That was incorrect and I proved it with screen shots. They refused to acknowledge that I had submitted the order on time and threatened to dock money from my account. As I had already withdrawn all the money from my Fiverr account, the only thing they could do would have been to remove money from my bank account. I informed them, in no uncertain terms, that if they did that, I would file criminal complaints against them with the authorities. Since the buyer’s claim was ridiculous, and he is a police officer, I demanded that they confirm that he had been notified that his account, which I believe to be the case, had been hacked, and inform me that they had done so. They refused and I closed my account.)

During my time with Fiverr I wrote over well over 200 speeches. Some people asked me to write their speech, providing little direction. Others wanted their speeches edited. Most of those had to be rewritten because of the following errors:

1) Don’t forget your audience. You may have things you would like to tell the world, but the world may not be interested. Too much information can be as bad as too little. I am reminded of two clients: The first, a rape victim, wanted to share details of the attack which no one wants to hear. She wanted, and probably needed, to vent. But that’s why there are mental health professionals. When giving a TED talk about overcoming personal tragedy, you say what the tragedy was, rape, and then how you overcame it.

At the other end of the spectrum was the speech I wrote for a product launch. The speech I was sent to edit merely said what the widget did, what it cost, and how to order it. Hardly what an audience wants to hear. So we added a couple of case studies about how the widget had already helped customers and how, like WD-40, customers discovered surprising ways to use the product that the manufacturer had not realized.

2) Don’t use PowerPoint unless your audience has to see something to understand what you are talking about. Most people don’t remember the slides. I know of presenters who literally spent weeks preparing graphs and flow charts which no human being could possibly follow. The only time I use PowerPoint is if I need to show my audience something, for example, the LinkedIn page where you eliminate the option of showing viewers of your profile similar profiles viewed by people who viewed your profile. After all, they are your competition, so why promote them?

PowerPoint is great if you want to remember what it is that you want to say. In that case, each slide should have no more than six to 10 words. Don’t read them! No one wants to hear your read. Talk about the significance of the words.

Remember, you want your audience to listen to you, not to be distracted by slides with long quotes, funny graphics, or complicated charts with writing so small they cannot be read.

3) If you are no good telling jokes, don’t tell jokes. And if you are speaking to an international audience, don’t use any humor. Humor can be dangerous. What you find funny someone else, even from your own country, may find offensive. So, don’t use humor.

4) Start with a meaningful story. Parables are great! Personal experiences are better. Just make sure to tie the story to the presentation. Thank the people who need to be thanked, then tell the audience what you are going to do and then do it! When you have finished the speech, connect it back to the story. You have to go full circle, so to speak.

5) Finally, end with a call to action. There has to be a point to the speech. You have to want your audience to do something. Tell them what to do. But don’t turn the speech into a commercial for your products or services. That’s it a huge turnoff. You will lose your audience. This is even true for a product launch. It’s a little harder in that case not to make it sound like a commercial but a professional speech writer knows how to do it. If you prove that you are the professional in your sector, the sale will take care of itself.

Follow these five rules and your speeches should be impactful and effective.