Elizabeth Van Den Bergh
Last modified 05/06/23

Five common speaker mistakes made by (non-)experienced public 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, all of a sudden it’s very different when we have to speak in front of a group. We feel stress and it shows when we go on stage.

Here are five mistakes I see most speakers make during public speaking training and coaching. In addition, you will find five great tips on public speaking.

These are actionable tips for taking the stage you can immediately put into action.

These five speaker mistakes are all symptoms of a lack of confidence and a lack of experience.

Which public speaking mistakes 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?

Right before speaking on stages you are under stress and don’t feel comfortable. Once on the stage, your inner conversation is making you feel even more uncomfortable. It probably goes along these lines: ‘See, one person is not paying attention, so my presentation must be boring….’ Under stress, it is very difficult to control your breathing. 

What should you do instead

Do some box breathing before you go on stage. Box breathing helps you cope with panic and stress when feeling overwhelmed. Breathe four seconds in, hold for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds, and hold for four seconds. Do this for two minutes. When you deliver your opening sentences, make sure to have planned for pauses to breathe. If you catch yourself breathing shallowly during your presentation. Just stop talking at the end of the next sentence and take a breath. Your audience will thank you for giving them time to process what you just said. 

2. Speaking too fast

Why does it happen?

Unwillingly you speak too fast. You know it, but it seems you can’t help it. 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. As a speaker on stage in front of an audience this is not your ideal scenario.

What should you do instead

Structure your speech and presentation. Make the points that support your idea one by one. My number one tip is that you indicate beforehand in your preparation where you will pause. And that you practice your pausing. Don’t forget to 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 speaking when you read a book to kids. Apply this also when speaking to adults.

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?

It might be you are so deep in the topic that you never really considered how your listeners look at your topic, what they know already, and why they should care to listen. 

What should you do instead

Get into your audience’s mind when you prepare. What do they know about the topic already? Why is the topic important and relevant to them? What do they feel about it? 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. And, so do you. That’s why you want to tell your listeners everything you know about the topic at hand. Because you hope this will impress them. But you forget that first, you must inspire them so they feel curious to know more. Some speakers still data-dump, and then of course 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. Choose the angle that will captivate your audience. That’s how you start making 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 one by on. Don’t be too hard on yourself. And remember practice makes progression.

If you are looking for a coach to help you become a much better speaker quickly, I am here to help. As a speaker coach, I have helped hundreds of experts, entrepreneurs, and leaders become and embody the inspiring speaker they deserve to be. You can book your free call and discuss your public speaking challenges with me. Book your call via this link.