Public Speaking 101: How to Lose Credibility in 3 Easy Steps

I recently attended an information session and tour at a prestigious Ivy league university as part of our college search with my daughter. It’s an intense process and this was the first college we were visiting. As we sat down in the hallowed room, reeking of history and great minds, we were all excited to hear the wonderful things the admissions director was bound to tell us about the school.

Unfortunately, I have no idea what the woman said. From the first words out of her mouth, which had something to do with welcoming us, I couldn’t understand about 90% of what she was saying. She didn’t have an accent, she just spoke incredibly fast and didn’t enunciate her words. The fact that the room echoed didn’t exactly help. The result was one big jumble of noise.

Lesson #1. Always speak more slowly than you think you are. To you, it may sound slow, but to your audience it sounds normal. This applies to both online and face-to-face speech.

Lesson #2. Enunciate your words. Didn’t your mother teach you this? Consonants are there for a reason: so people know what you are saying.

The fast-talking and mumbo jumbo was bad enough, but this nice young woman who was representing the university had a much worse habit that truly destroyed her credibility. She raised her voice at the end of every sentence. Do you know what I mean? As if every statement was a question? Maybe she didn’t really know what she was talking about? Or she hadn’t already delivered the speech a thousand times?

Lesson #3. Make a statement a statement. Make a question a question. Record yourself and listen carefully. Your voice should not go up at the end of a statement or else it sounds like you are doubting yourself. Why should anyone listen to you if you don’t believe yourself?

Speaking of voice modulation, you also need to avoid dropping your voice at the end of sentences. Losing the last word of a sentence is like missing the punch line. One good clue is if everyone is leaning forward with puzzled expressions on their faces. That would be a good time to ask a real question.

I won’t talk about things like body language or gestures, which are all important parts of public speaking. That’s a whole separate discussion. The way you speak and use your voice are enough to make a huge difference on their own.

Back to our college visit. We sat very politely trying to understand what was being said for about 20 minutes. At that point, my husband pulled out his Blackberry and started dealing with emails while I pulled out my Droid to take notes on ideas for articles on public speaking. Life is too short to waste time, after all. My daughter just sat there trying not to look too embarrassed by our behavior.

What about you? What’s the worst public speaking mistake you’ve seen or heard?


P.S. Stay tuned for when I release some public speaking private label rights articles on Business Content PLR. I’ll let you know when it’s done.