I attended a intensive course on presentation skills last year and during the course I picked up common mistakes that we all make when engaged in public speaking and giving lectures. I failed on every one of them, but I am learning.

There are plenty of ways in which you can lose your audience and ruin the impression you leave on audience, albeit a group of health science students. You will want to avoid these eight common mistakes that lecturers and public speakers make:

  • Too much seriousness. Public speakers don’t need to be serious to be taken seriously. If you are overly reserved, you can look wooden, stiff and uncaring. A smile goes a long way. Show that you can take a joke or handle pressure with graciousness and warmth.
  • Weak speaking skills. In a media-saturated world, people know a good speaker when they hear one. Speaking with a flat or monotone voice, inappropriate volume or poor diction will not be tolerated. Whether you’re speaking one-on-one or to a crowd, pay attention to how you speak, not just to what you say.
  • Lack of clarity. Of course, what you say is important, too. By speaking with clarity of thought and message, you’ll convey an image of effectiveness that a teacher who rambles or speaks disjointedly does not convey. If the message is unclear and non-specific, your listeners will tune out and assume you don’t know what you’re talking about. In many cases the old adage “those who can, do. Those who can’t teach.” apply. An expert in the filed cannot necessarily teach others his or her skill!
  • Self-absorption. By overusing the words “I,” “me” and “my,” you will isolate yourself and fail to engage your audience. Even if you’re speaking about your idea, your vision and your responsibility, keep in mind that your job as a teacher is much bigger than you.
  • Lack of interest. Think back to when you were in school. Which teachers captured your attention? The energetic teachers who seemed to love their job or those who lectured dispassionately? Energy, interest and passion for your work are incomparable assets. Are you genuinely interested in what you are saying and doing?
  • Obvious discomfort. It’s painful to watch a leader who is awkward in conversation or uncomfortable before a crowd. If you are tentative or uncomfortable in your role, people begin to doubt your ability to be an effective leader – especially in difficult situations.
  • Inconsistency. Over time, your image becomes tied to your larger reputation. If you have a reliable pattern of behavior – one that’s reflected in what you do and how you do it – your image as a lecturer or public speaker will be seen as genuine. Inconsistencies, however, create an image of a person who’s flaky, insincere or dishonest.
  • Defensiveness. When a teacher is on the defensive, confidence and assurance are undermined. Being unwilling to consider other views, giving a knee-jerk defense of your decision or being incapable of seeking and hearing feedback all weaken your image as a capable, effective lecturer.

A good way to jump-start a change in your image is to see yourself the way others see you. Ask a coworker, boss or direct report to give you feedback on how you come across to those around you. Above all – be teachable. The ancient Greek word for “unteachable” is the same word we use today for the word “heretic”!

David Wiles