Public Speaking Problems #1

I recently attended an event that had as its main attraction a public speaker. The speaker had all the trappings of a good speaker. They were cool and calm in the face of thousands of people hanging on their every word. They were still and stoic during their lengthy (often hour long) talks. They employed hand gestures infrequently (and usefully) to help demonstrate a concept or idea and this particular speaker (a male) also had a deep deep voice that somehow presented itself to be interpreted as authoritative (much like a British accent is, for Americans, a signal of intelligence and/or snobbish disposition). The speaking, however, still suffered from some basic problems that prevented it from being wonderful.

As a student I have given a variety of speeches. Some were successes and some were failures. Some employed the dreaded “presentation software” well, some poorly, and some not at all. Success was never dependent on the technology I used to deliver the message. As a teacher I’ve been able to see a variety of styles for public speaking employed by students. Oftentimes they are a perfect demonstration of putting too much reliance on “presentation software” instead of actual research and preparation. The non-tech version of this “presentation software” failure I’ve always described as the use of paper charts, handouts that look like research papers, and the dreaded use of yellow lettering on a white background (you can’t read it!). There are truly many difficulties inherent to public speaking and I’m going to try to address some of them in the next few installments of the Education Blog here at While there are many resources you could purchase, read, and watch via libraries and other media (like the vastness of the internet) this exploration will be limited to my experiences of the topic as a student, teacher, and audience member of a recent large-auditorium speaking event. It should be helpful at least to the extent that it focuses you on potential pitfalls in your own presentations. Don’t worry about perfection, however, as that will quickly lead too imperfection. Simply try to consciously address whatever shortcomings you may have. Improvement takes time.

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