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Diana Mather is a British etiquette and presentation skills tutor based in Cheshire and London. She is the author of eleven books, including four children’s books.

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19 May 2023


It is always easy to spot a bad public speaker and here are five things that give them away. 

Lack of preparation. Bad speakers are unprepared: they stand up and clear their throat several times, often shuffling papers or adjusting their laptop. Nerves can hit us all, but if we are properly prepared and know our subject we can conquer them. When bad speakers start they aren’t sure of their objective – why are they there, what is the objective? A good, well prepared story should have a beginning, a middle and an end. When I say ‘story’ I mean that every speech, however technical, should aim to inform, educate and entertain, as the BBC slogan used to say.

Bad traits. Most people don’t listen to their voices or rehearse in front of a mirror or video camera. They never hear how they sound or see how they look, so they cannot use these vital instruments properly. It is not just what we say but the way we say it that will have an impact on the audience and help get our message across. Swaying, wandering around and a quivering voice all show lack of confidence.

Misuse of visual aids. How often have you seen a speaker turn their backs on the audience, face the screen and read aloud everything written on it? Visual aids are there to help those gathered to listen, not the speaker to remember what they’re meant to be saying. They should amplify the message with interesting facts, images or graphs. Nothing is worse than ‘Death by PowerPoint’ with slide after slide sending everybody into a stupor.

Fall apart with questions. Bad public speakers haven’t thought about the questions they might be asked. They aren’t prepared and don’t answer comprehensively.

Mess up their timing. More evidence of bad public speakers is their inability to stick to the allotted time because they have yet to rehearse the speech thoroughly! It’s very bad business communication protocol not to respect other people’s time. Less is often more when it comes to speaking in public, but preparation is the key to confidence, and confidence is the key to success.

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