15 Mistakes to Avoid When Speaking To A Group


I thought it would be a good start to the New Year sharing tips that will make you even better in front of a group.

I get it, you already know the basics for speaking in front of a group, whether it’s in a meeting or presenting to an audience. You may even be getting tired of people saying “be prepared,” “know your audience,” “don’t make inappropriate comments, (although I’m still amazed at how many people do), and do away with the text-obsessed powerpoint slides!”

Good news!

This article is different.

I’m taking things a bit deeper.

Here are 15 mistakes many people have never thought about, but they matter.

In no particular order …

  • “I’m not feeling well.”  This is not the phrase that will engage any group. Seriously, they don’t care how you feel. They care about what they are going to learn. If you are not feeling well, take an Advil and move on.
  • “This is going to be hard.” And even if it wasn’t going to be hard, it will be now that you’ve planted that statement in the audience members’ heads. Don’t under-estimate your audiences’ abilities. Let them determine if it’s going to be hard or not. You could say, “you’ll find this fun and interesting” or “this is going to be valuable to you” etc. You get where I’m going with this, right?
  • “I’m going to tell you …”
 Nobody likes to be told what to do. Instead say, “You will learn …”
  • Talking when they’re talking. 
This is the quickest way to lose control of a group or have your value diminished. Ask for their attention and then … wait for it.
  • Asking a deficit question. 
Most people don’t like to admit they don’t know something, especially in front of a group. Instead of asking “Who doesn’t know what X is?” assume at least one person doesn’t know and give a quick explanation.
  • Off the cuff comments
. “Duh, who doesn’t know that?” These kinds of comments can sometimes be funny IF you know exactly who is in your audience. If you don’t know who is in your audience, don’t make these comments because there is a great potential you’ll offend someone.
  • Blaming the clock. 
It’s not the clocks fault you ran out of time. Work within the time frame you have (in other words … be prepared).  Audience members don’t need to know about information you didn’t include (i.e. If I had more time, we would talk about audience participation strategies). Don’t mention what you omitted, it’s that simple.
  • Being the only expert in the room
. You come with lots of knowledge and experience and so do your audience members. Tap into their wisdom – it adds to the collective learning in the group.
  • Making it a monologue. 
Now this one you’ve likely heard me talk about before. Instead of giving a monologue (where you are the only person speaking), make it a dialogue – ask them a question!
  • Brief is better
. Remember attention spans are kind of short. As the speaker, time will seem to go quickly for you but the same is not true for listeners!
  • Not using state changes. 
The rule of thumb is change the audience’s state every 10 minutes. That means ask a question, do an activity, show a video, give an individual exercise etc.
  • Going over time
. It doesn’t matter how good or knowledgeable you are, very few people want to go home late, readjust their schedules, or hold their bladders because you didn’t manage your message with the time.
  • Interrupting individual activities. 
Give people uninterrupted time to think, if that’s what you’ve asked them to do. I get it that you may have forgotten to tell them something – can it wait? It’s really annoying to be talked at, when you’re trying to think.
  • Complicated talk
. I don’t know anyone who prefers things complicated. Be clear, be concise, know what you want to give to the group (knowledge, process, ideas, motivation etc) and if you are asking them to give you something back, be clear on what you are asking for (feedback, input, decision etc).
  • Ignoring energy
. As the person speaking, you are the Energy Master. You control the energy in the room. If you don’t have energy, neither will the group.

Remember little things matter. Learn to manage them well.

Learn, Laugh, Share

Barb Langlois RN, BSN, MSN


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    Associate Director at the Centre for Professional Development, Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, University of Toronto.

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    Saskatoon Health Region


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