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Five Deadly Sins of Public Speaking

If you want to be a better speaker, watch others in action. It’s a great way to reinforce the dos and don’ts of excellent communication. Sadly, there are more examples of what not to do and last week’s keynote address at a national conference was no exception. Once again, what seems fundamental cannot be over-stated.

Thou Shalt Not…

Submit a photo that is more than five years old.
Unless you are Madonna or Steven Tyler, you probably looked a lot better in photos from years past. But when the speaker looks nothing like the image in the conference program, it is a huge disconnect for the audience. Swallow your vanity and use a recent photo, or better yet, have a professional shot taken that captures the best of you today.

Wear clothes or jewelry that distract from your message.
Women: Let’s leave the glitter and the sparkle to Olympic gymnasts. This particular keynote speaker was wearing an ill-fitting, knee-length jacket that had a metallic weave and rhinestone buttons that practically blinded the audience when she moved. Men: Let’s leave the loud ties and big rings to anchorman Ron Burgundy.

Telegraph your mistakes.
When the speaker repeated the same sentence three times, we all understood the problem – she was having a brain freeze. With each reiteration, she lost connection with the audience by looking up and then down. If this happens to you, take a pause, refer to your notes that you knowingly placed on a table or lectern nearby, or share an anecdote. You will eventually remember what you wanted to say next…which brings us to the next deadly sin.

Tell a story you don’t fully remember.
Stories are powerful connectors to your content and your audience. We love them. However, to be effective, they need detail and an easy-to-follow connection to your key message. The speaker’s instinct was good, but her story left us on third base with no one waving us in.

Leave your opening lines to chance.
You must nail the first few sentences of your presentation. Never start with the word “um.” Second worst word? “So…” First impressions are critical. Be sharp, focused, and captivating. Memorize your first three sentences.

Next time knock ’em dead.

– Barbara and Charlotte


I am NOT a fashion mogul

I am an irrational dresser. In fact, I am sure that I join the ranks of millions who only wear the really nice clothes we own for special occasions. And by really nice I mean the ones that either cost a lot or that originally cost a lot and I got on sale (which would be 100% of my “nice” wardrobe.)  I don’t really think “out-of-the-box” either. No mixing high fashion (I spent more) with low fashion (I spent less) or wearing something really nice to a casual event. Never. I am not the daughter of a Depression-era farm boy for nothing! But, there is an important connection between public speaking and the clothes we wear.

 The beauty of a healthy attitude that emanates from looking our best is that it actually helps us to STOP THINKING about ourselves.  I feel good, I look good…. I can really focus on the people I am talking to.  That is our central message to our clients. Be prepared. Know what you want to say. Get out of your own way and think about THEM.

 Effective speakers prepare on many levels. One is dressing to feel strong, comfortable and self-confident. This is NOT about ridiculous standards of beauty, or fashion obsession, or the insane culture of narcissism we are living in.  I hate all of that.  It’s about understanding the power that comes from being our best, taking the time and energy to prepare for that and then focusing on what really matters between people.

I may have inspired myself to clean out my closet. Happy Holidays!

Charlotte Dietz