The Art of Speaking  

Four common mistakes new speakers make

Don't make these mistakes


By Wade Paterson

The concept of public speaking was redefined in March 2020.

Instead of standing on a stage — or at the front of a boardroom — and facing an in-person audience, many of us sat on an office chair and spoke at a webcam while being watched by a screen full of faces inside rectangular boxes.

Recently, the Kelowna AM Toastmasters Club — which I’ve been a member of for six years — transitioned back to hybrid meetings, including a limited number of in-person participants and unlimited Zoom guests. That first in-person meeting back in front of my Toastmasters group a few weeks ago was eye-opening. I realized my public speaking skills regressed over the past year-and-a-half, and I experienced nerves I previously thought I had eliminated forever.

As we re-enter life with group gatherings over the coming months, I believe many people who are tasked with public speaking may have a similar experience to mine. Public speaking is a common fear… and the fact we haven’t been able to practice makes it even scarier.

With that in mind, I’m sharing this video (from my YouTube channel) and blog post to outline c. By avoiding these mistakes, you will come across as a confident and polished speaker while others scramble to shake off the rust.

Mistake #1 – Ahhs and Umms Instead of Silence

One of the most common mistakes new speakers make is the use of filler words (such as “ahh” or “umm’) instead of silence. This is a difficult habit to break, because as a speaker, it feels very uncomfortable to pause between sentences.

But the truth is, for the audience, silence between sentences is much more pleasant to listen to than constant “ahhs,” “uhhs” or “umms.”

If you are someone who uses filler words often, don’t worry, there are a couple ways to fix this.

First, prior to giving your speech or presentation to the intended audience, ask a friend or family member if you can practice in front of them. Have them make note of any filler words you say and how frequently you use them. If you don’t have someone who is able to help, you can record your speech on your phone and watch it back. Sometimes we don’t realize we are saying a particular word until someone points it out to us or we see it for ourselves.

The second way to fix filler word addiction is by attending a local Toastmasters meeting. At each Toastmasters meeting, someone is assigned to be the “Ahh Counter,” with the goal of keeping track of everyone’s “ahhs” and “umms,” then reporting on who used what filler words at the end of the meeting.

If you can avoid using filler words in your speech or presentation, your message will be communicated more effectively.

Mistake #2 – Leaning or Swaying While Talking

It’s very common for new speakers to hold onto something or fidget while speaking in front of an audience. For example, if there is a lectern, many will grip tightly onto the sides of it while they speak. If there is a chair in front of them, they will hold onto the chair. If there is nothing to hold onto, many new speakers will still fidget or rock back and forth on their feet.

While you may not even notice yourself doing this, the audience likely will, and it can come across as distracting.

A better approach is to stand with your feet planted and your hands at your sides. You can bring your hands up to utilize body language at specific times during the speech, but when you’re done, let them rest back at your sides. While this takes some getting used to, once you master it, you will come across as an impactful communicator to your audience.

Mistake #3 – Distracting the Audience with Notes

I truly believe that the best speeches and presentations use limited notes, or no notes at all.

That is a scary thought for many — especially new speakers who plan to write out their entire speech word-for-word. But what’s much more effective is writing out just a few words or phrases on cue cards, which trigger you to remember what to talk about next in your speech.

For example, if you were going to speak about second quarter results at your business, instead of writing out and reading verbatim: “In the second quarter of 2021, our company exceeded earnings expectations by 20%, which was unexpected due to a weak Q2 in 2020…” you can simply write “Q2 of 2021: +20%.” The brief note will jog your memory to speak about the actual results, which you are familiar with. You don’t need to be reading all of the additional words off of a piece of paper; in fact, it will be distracting to the audience if you do. Instead, you can focus on eye contact and body language to more effectively communicate your message.

Mistake #4 – Winging It

For some reason, we romanticize the idea of “winging” a speech with no preparation.

Great speeches are rarely improvised; great speakers know the importance of practice and preparation.

By practicing a speech, we can work on things like vocal tone and body language to emphasize important moments. We can also eliminate filler words and any distractions that may take away from the message we’re attempting to convey.

Similar to the process of eliminating “ahhs” and “umms,” practice on your own several times and then consider asking a friend to watch your speech or presentation before you deliver it.

And if you really want to take your speaking skills to the next level, wake up early on a Thursday and attend a Kelowna AM Toastmasters meeting.

If you’re interested in learning more about being an impactful communicator, head over to my YouTube channel.

Wade Paterson is a champion public speaker with Kelowna AM Toastmasters.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Wade Paterson is an award-winning Toastmaster who is passionate about Impactful Communication.

His columns and accompanying YouTube videos are focused on helping others become more confident public speakers and communicators.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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