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5 pitfalls to avoid when giving a speech

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3. Don’t think you can improvise a speech

A keynote speech cannot be improvised. Ever!

Actor Richard T. Jones discovered the pain of trying to make a commencement speech at the University of Maryland with no preparation. He started with a joke that worked well enough, “I had such great quotes for you today but every single one has been used already!” After that he came to a crashing halt and after a long pause said “I’m glad I looked up a word “improv” ‘cause that’s what’s going happen here today – an improvisation.”

It was like watching paint dry as he desperately tried to think of important things to say. Eventually he said “I believe in thoughts. Extraordinary thoughts.” However, through lack of preparation, they sadly all eluded him as he stood squirming at the podium.

Preparation, preparation, preparation!

4. Know who you’re introducing

If you find yourself having to introduce someone at a big event, my recommendation is always to have the name written down in front of you – however famous the person you are introducing.

At a Democratic rally for Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden in Tampa, Fla., campaign volunteer James J. Piccillo mistakenly introduced Biden as Republican ‘John McCain.’ Despite the huge introduction that had gone disastrously wrong, Biden walked on pretending as if it hadn’t happened, clearly hoping the audience hadn’t noticed.

If you make a mistake sometimes it’s good to own up but sometimes it works as well to bluff it out – the more audacious the mistake the more the audience might think: “Did he really say that? No, I must have misheard!”

5. Don’t drink before giving a speech

Tempting though it is to think that a quick glass will give you Dutch courage before giving a speech, the reality is that it rarely works. Mariah Carey was not the first, and certainly won’t be the last, celebrity to find this out this too late. Her rambling speech at the Palm Springs International Film Festival in 2010 is definitely something I wouldn’t recommend trying in front of an audience or TV cameras!

Robin Kermode is one of Europe’s leading communication coaches and founder of Zone2, a professional training and coaching consultancy. His new book SPEAK (so your audience will listen) – a practical guide for anyone looking to improve the way they connect with their audience – is available now from Amazon

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