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What is bad practice while speaking in public?

Speaking in public can be a nerve-wracking experience for many people. However, with preparation and practice, it is possible to become an effective public speaker. There are also many bad practices that should be avoided when speaking in front of an audience. Being aware of these pitfalls can help you deliver a polished, professional speech. In this article, we will explore some of the most common bad practices to stay away from when public speaking.

Reading word-for-word from a script

One of the biggest mistakes when speaking in public is reading directly from a script or notes. This makes your speech sound stiff, rehearsed, and monotonous. It also makes it hard to connect with your audience. Even experienced public speakers should avoid reading word-for-word from prepared remarks. Here are some specific problems with this approach:

  • Lack of eye contact – When you read from a script, you will spend most of your time looking down instead of making eye contact.
  • Monotone delivery – The cadence and tone of your voice is likely to be flat when reading verbatim.
  • Difficulty connecting – Without intermittent eye contact, it is hard to gauge audience reaction and engagement.
  • Lack of flexibility – Reading line-by-line does not allow you to adapt your content spontaneously.

Of course, you should develop speaking notes to help guide your speech. However, try to memorize key parts and speak extemporaneously whenever possible. Refer only occasionally to your notes, focusing instead on delivering your speech dynamically.

Inadequate Practice

Another common mistake is not practicing your speech thoroughly prior to the event. Even experienced speakers need to rehearse multiple times. Lack of preparation leads to problems like these:

  • Verbal flubs and fillers – Insufficient practice often leads to awkward pauses, verbal ticks like “ummm”, and embarrassing mispronunciations.
  • Incomplete mastery of content – Without repeated practice, you may forget key points or fail to smoothly transition between ideas.
  • Poor timing – Speakers without adequate preparation often finish too early or run well over time.
  • Less powerful delivery – Rehearsal helps fine tune emphasis, tone, and dramatic pauses.

Aim to practice your speech at least 3-5 times out loud prior to showtime. Become very familiar with the flow, phrases, and key data points. Time yourself each practice round and make adjustments accordingly. Recording yourself can reveal areas for improvement.

Inappropriate Body Language

Many novice public speakers undermine themselves through distracting body language and poor posture. Examples include:

  • Excessive fidgeting – Twirling hair, jingling change in a pocket, playing with a pen or clothes can be very distracting.
  • Rigid stance – Avoid standing stiffly in place or gripping the lectern tightly. Use natural movement.
  • Poor posture – Slumping, leaning heavily, or balancing on one foot does not convey confidence.
  • Too many gestures – Big, sweeping hand movements should be used sparingly for emphasis.
  • Closed off stance – Turning your back, folding arms across chest, or peering down at notes shuts out the audience.

Videotape yourself or have a trusted observer point out any nervous habits or distracting body language. Concentrate on keeping hands loosely down at your sides or using purposeful, measured gestures. Pause rather than pacing ceaselessly. Project poise and enthusiasm through positive body language.

Failure to Engage the Audience

Public speaking is not a one-way broadcast – it is a dynamic, interactive dialogue. Failing to properly engage your listeners is a common misstep. Tactics to actively engage an audience include:

  • Making eye contact – Scan the entire room frequently.
  • Posing rhetorical questions – Periodically ask the audience simple questions to prompt deeper thinking.
  • Using humor – Funny anecdotes and jokes stimulate listener attention and interest.
  • Personal stories/anecdotes – Help the audience relate through real-world examples and experiences.
  • Simple visual aids – Charts, images, props, or videos enhance engagement.
  • Inviting participation – Ask clapping, cheering, or voting on some point.

A disengaged audience may rustle papers, check phones, whisper, or even sneak out early. Keep your listeners attuned through lively, interactive speaking techniques. Gauge reactions and adjust your approach accordingly.

Speaking Too Quickly

Nerves often cause public speakers – especially new ones – to rush through their remarks. A fast speaking pace has several downsides:

  • Key points get lost – Audience members cannot digest or take notes at breakneck speed.
  • Vocalized pauses disappear – “Ummm” and “ahhh” become hard to avoid.
  • Words blur together – Tongue twisters and mispronunciations proliferate.
  • Volume increases – Speaking louder exacerbates the breathless, hurried tone.
  • Less connection – There is no time to pause for eye contact or reaction.

Make a conscious effort to speak slowly and clearly. Take a deep breath between sentences to reset your pace. If necessary, include pacing notes in your script like “PAUSE 3 seconds here.” With practice, an appropriate cadence will feel natural.

Inadequate Volume

Public speakers often fail to project adequately, leading to key elements being inaudible. Excessive softness prevents audience members from hearing properly. Contributing factors include:

  • Insufficient breath support – Shallow breathing undermines volume.
  • Poor posture – Slouching collapses the diaphragm and voice box.
  • Room variables – Microphone issues or a very large room make projection vital.
  • Nasal tone – Speaking through the nose muffles oral resonance.
  • Fear – Anxiety makes some speakers talk quietly and tentatively.

Volume should be appropriate for the room size and audience position. Move closer to the mic for soft passages, but avoid deafening loudness. Speak enthusiastically from your diaphragm, keeping your head up. Modulate volume for emphasis rather than a constant yell. Get audio feedback during rehearsals.

Inappropriate Language

Word choice and language style must align with the audience and speaking context. For example:

  • Jargon/acronyms – Avoid technical terms or shorthand when speaking to general audiences.
  • Slang/profanity – Curse words or colloquialisms are inappropriate in most formal settings.
  • Condescending tone – Avoid seeming arrogant, smug, or overly simplistic.
  • Humor/references – Ensure these are suited to the organizational culture.

Adapt vocabulary and style for listeners at different knowledge levels. Define necessary specialized terms. Eliminate offensive, alienating, or demeaning language. A professional tone builds credibility. Check with event organizers about expectations. Know the audience demographics and sensitivities.

Poor Visual Aid Preparation

Charts, graphs, photos, and slides reinforce speaking points, but only if well-prepared and utilized smoothly. Common visual aid issues include:

  • Too much text – Slides should highlight key phrases; avoid long paragraphs.
  • Illegible elements – Text and images must be large and clear from the back.
  • Disorganized flow – Ensure slides progress logically without abrupt jumps.
  • Unrehearsed transitions – Smoothly introducing each visual without long pauses takes practice.
  • Technical difficulties – Confirm full compatibility with equipment and have backups.

Keep visuals clean, clear, and simple. Do not simply read the slides – provide context and explanation. Face the audience rather than turning your back to read slides. Advance carefully timed with speech flow. Ensure your presentation software and any videos function properly in advance.

Failure to Manage Q&A

Many talks conclude with audience questions and answers, which require specific public speaking skills. Rules of thumb for Q&A sessions include:

  • Repeat each query – Ensure everyone hears the question clearly before answering.
  • Keep responses concise – Answer directly without rambling off topic.
  • Defer irrelevant questions – Politely table questions that are irrelevant, complex, or argumentative.
  • Admit when you don’t know – Offer to follow-up later if unable to answer a question.
  • Wrap up strategically – Leave time for one final key point to end the session purposefully.

To manage Q&A professionally, anticipate likely questions and formulate responses in advance. Keep body language receptive and tone friendly yet authoritative. Avoid becoming defensive or losing control of the conversation flow. Prepare to steer the discussion back on track as needed.

Inadequate Conclusion

Many speakers neglect to properly conclude their remarks, missing an opportunity to drive home the core message. An strong conclusion:

  • Summarizes key takeaways – Reinforce the most important material covered.
  • Ties back to introduction – Bookend by revisiting opening ideas or anecdotes.
  • Ends on a high note – Close with an inspirational concept, call to action, or memorable one-liner.
  • Completion cue – Let the audience know definitively you are finished speaking.

Do not merely stop talking and sit down abruptly. Signal the end with a phrase like “In conclusion…” or “Thank you for your time.” Share a relevant inspirational quote or ask a thoughtful rhetorical question. Drive your message home with passion and purpose as you conclude.


Public speaking is a learnable skill that improves with preparation and experience. Avoiding common pitfalls goes a long way towards delivering a polished, professional presentation. Steer clear of bad habits like reading verbatim from notes, insufficient rehearsal, distracting body language, failure to engage listeners, inappropriate pace or volume, poorly chosen language, and other rookie mistakes. Hone your speech, engage in extensive practice, and implement strong beginning and ending. With these tips in mind, you can confidently avoid the most damaging errors that undercut public speakers. Remember – proper preparation and delivery will enable you to share your expertise while avoiding negative behaviors that diminish your presentation’s impact.