Elizabeth Van Den Bergh
Last modified 02/06/23

Five mistakes made by (non-)experienced speakers

by Elizabeth Van Den Bergh

We can all speak. We speak everyday to our colleagues, our teams, our partners and our friends. It feels natural and words come easy. 

But, it’s very different when we have to speak in front of a group. We feel stress and it shows. 

Here are five mistakes I see most speakers make during public speaking training and coaching. These five mistakes are all symptoms of a lack of confidence and a lack of experience.

Which ones are yours and which mistakes do you see others making? And what do you do about them? Share your answers in the comments.


1. No relaxed breathing

Why does it happen?

You are under stress and don’t feel comfortable. Your inner conversation is making you feel even more uncomfortable. It probably goes along these lines: ‘See, one person is not paying attention, my presentation must be boring….’ Under stress you don’t control your breathing. 

What should you do instead

Do some deep breathing before you go on stage. Five deep breaths, five seconds in, hold five seconds, five seconds out. When you catch yourself breathing shallowly during your presentation. Just stop talking at the end of the next sentence and breath in, long and deep. Your audience will thank you for giving them time to process what you just said. 

2. Speaking too fast

Why does it happen?

You think it is best to speak a lot and speak all the time. You forgot which point you were about to make and you believe you will get there eventually if you just keep filling the space with words. 

What should you do instead

Structure your speech and presentation. Make the points that support your idea one by one. Indicate beforehand in your preparation where you will pause. Add rhythm and melody to your speech. 

Pro-tip: speak from the heart to win the mind. Do not shy away to add emotion. 

Extra pro tip: remember how much expression and emotion you put in your speech when you read a book to kids. 

3. No pausing

Why does it happen?

You are afraid of silence because you will feel all eyes on you. And that freaks you out. Or you believe you will look like you don’t remember what you wanted to say when you pause. Not remembering what you wanted to say, can happen and will happen. No reason to panic.

What should you do instead

Plan for pauses. They are a win-win. You win and the audience wins. Pausing makes you, as a speaker feel comfortable. Even if at first pausing feels awkward. Pauses give the audience nodding time and processing time. They love it! No word is more powerful than a well-timed pause.

Pro tip: Pause at the end of your sentence and/or before and after important words.

Extra pro tip: if you fail to pause, aim for pausing three times more often and three times longer than you usually would do.

4. Fail to connect to the audience

Why does it happen?

You never really considered how your listeners look at your topic, what they know already and why they should care to listen now. 

What should you do instead

Get into your audience’s mind when you prepare. Or even better, ask them directly and find out why they care about your idea. 

5. Giving too much info

Why does it happen?

Everybody wants to look smart. So do you. That’s why you want to tell your listeners everything you know about the topic at hand. Hoping this will impress them. But you forget that first you must inspire them to help them remember your talk. When you data-dump you fail to connect.

What should you do instead

Inspire your audience and connect with them. Focus on the one idea you want people to remember. Be very clear about that. Stick to that idea. Look at it from all angles. And make your talk relevant to your audience.

6. Now what?

Ask someone you trust to point out which mistakes you are making. Then start correcting them. Don’t be too hard on yourself. And remember practice makes perfect.