Five things to avoid when making a speech

5 Things to Avoid When Making A Speech

Here at Future Present, we spend a lot of time and energy helping people to create awesome PowerPoint slides. However, as we’ve said time and time again, it isn’t your laptop making the presentation, it’s you.

There are many things you can do to improve your performance and boost your confidence when speaking publicly. But today we’re focusing on the things you really shouldn’t do when standing up to present your ideas.

Here are five things to avoid when making a speech.

1. Closed body language

We all know that not everything we say is done via our voices. Body language is hugely significant when communicating, and it often transcends spoken language. Remember that long before humans had the ability to communicate verbally we would rely on physical body language to express our desires.

When making a speech it is important to get your audience on your side. You need to ‘let them in’, so they can empathise with you and trust you.

Closing your body language hinders this. Crossed arms, hands covering you face and mouth, quick and timid movements – they all combine to communicate the impression that you feel exposed and vulnerable. It’ll seem like you don’t want to be there. And if you don’t, why should your audience?

So… keep your body language as open as you can.

Keep your chest and stomach clear and visible, and make sure your arms are always apart. Invite people in and welcome them into sharing your passion.

2. Retreating

Retreating might be a sound military tactic when faced with impossible odds, but it really shouldn’t be deployed on stage.

If you’re presenting on a stage large enough to allow you plenty of movement, be sure to use that freedom wisely. Retreating involves moving away from your audience; literally reversing backwards and increasing the distance between them and you.

Like closed-off body language, retreating at certain moments in your speech can send the wrong message. Namely, that you don’t want to engage with your audience and would prefer to move away from them. 

Therefore, you should do the opposite at key moments in your presentation: attack!

When starting your speech be sure to approach them, get closer, and reduce the distance between you.

If you feel you’d like to get even closer to the audience, but don’t want to leap off the stage and crowd surf (which we’ll never advise), get low. Crouching at the very edge of the stage lowers your position and brings you nearer to them.

3. Locked hand gestures

In his TEDx Talk, David JP Phillips identifies different types of body language that he has witnessed be used by thousands of speakers across the world. He noticed that many people struggle with their hands; what to do with them and where to put them when giving a presentation.

From the ‘Bunny’ to the ‘Major’ he identified many awkward positions into which some speakers put their hands. As you might imagine, many of these ‘locked’ hand gestures result in more closed off body language mentioned above.

Also, some of them just look ridiculous and make the speaker seem nervous.

So what should you do with your hands? Well, use them to compliment what it is you are saying.

Keep them loose and flexible, allowing them to move and flow as you speak. Gesturing isn’t something to be worried about. Humans naturally use their arms to reinforce verbal communication – especially when on stage, so a greater number of people can ‘see’ what is being communicated.

There’s a reason why theatre actors tend to be more flamboyant that screen actors.
4. Fast pacing

Often when delivering a speech or presentation there is a time pressure. If you have a lot of important things to say, you might find yourself increasing the pace to fit them all in. However…

…a fast paced speech does not make for an impactful performance.

Speaking quickly not only makes it harder to understand and comprehend what it is you’re saying, but it also lessens the significance in the minds of the audience.

Blowing through several points only serves to communicate that those points weren’t all that important.

So slow down to a calm and relaxed pace.

Doing so will make you seem calmer and happier; less like you want to get the hell out of there as soon as you can.

Speaking at a normal conversational pace will demonstrate your confidence and ease with public speaking. Doing so on a regular basis will also help you conquer the next and final thing.

5. Don’t fear pausing

By all the gods, there’s power in a pause. Pausing at the right time during a speech is an incredibly effective way of pulling even more attention onto yourself and increasing the importance of what it is you’ve just said, or are about to say.

However, not everyone is comfortable with pausing during a speech. Many people might fear the silence and fill it, intentionally or not, with…


Yes, ‘errs’ and ‘umms’; the filler words and sounds nobody wants to hear. The presence of an ‘err’ communicates a sense that you’re unsure of what you’re about to say. If your audience think you’re unsure of your speech, it could come across as unprepared, unfinished, or poorly planned. This will diminish your impact.

It actually takes real practice and effort to remove the errs and umms from a speech. Even when delivering a highly polished, scripted presentation, they can naturally slip in, to help fill a pause that needs no filling.

Recording yourself rehearsing might reveal that you’re letting the fillers slip, even without noticing.

Practice really does make perfect in this regard, and mastering the previous four points will help you to conquer this one. Savour those pauses. Relish them.

Get in touch with us today to find out how we can help you put together that killer presentation. 

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