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How to Avoid the Biggest Presentation Mistakes People Make Online and In Person
Anne B. Freedman -- Speak Out, Inc. Anne B. Freedman -- Speak Out, Inc.
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Miami, FL
Wednesday, June 3, 2020


One of the best ways I’ve found to reduce anxiety when undertaking anything new is to ask a bunch of questions before diving into the task. Maybe it’s my journalist training. Or, it could be a wish not to appear dumb in a new arena, especially technology.

In this blog series, to help you minimize any of the notorious “F” words that come to mind when you think about speaking online or in public, I will give you a rundown of the most common mistakes people make and how you can avoid them.
First, I’ll explain why a lack of preparation dooms most presentations and meetings. On the flip side, if you find yourself doing impromptu speaking, it doesn’t mean you can’t do a terrific job. You’ll analyze how a presentation that maintains the interest of those in your audience differs from a deadly lecture.

Next, you will also gain an understanding of the need to delete more content than you expect, strategically, before you speak. And I’ll give you pointers on storytelling and reading your audience that will keep you on top of your speaking game – online and in person.

Speaker Mistake Number One: Winging It.

What do you mean by “Wing It?

Where did this English-only expression originate, and why is it not a recommended tactic for most leaders and speakers?
The phrase “winging it” seems to have several different late nineteenth and early twentieth-century origins.

One theory says that actors who had trouble remembering their lines in the late 1800s often relied on prompts from men and women off stage in the wings of the theater, those adjacent areas not visible to the audience. The performance of ill-prepared actors – or those who had to carry on when the prompter wasn’t on hand – became known as “winging it.”

Another explanation is that the phrase simply describes a baby bird taking flight from the nest for the first time, a wonderful image that applies to fledgling speakers as well, yes?

I had been told early in my speaking career that the phrase was attributed to Orville and Wilbur Wright, the Indiana brothers who invented the airplane. They did an extensive amount of testing on gliders before advancing to what we think of as airplanes today. On the gliders, a man would stand up and literally walk up and down the wings of the aircraft to help balance it during flight, a feat that gained the name “winging it.” I confess that I’ve looked for corroboration of this explanation and couldn’t find any, but I still like the mental image it evokes.

How to Tell If a Speaker Is “Winging It”

Here are some clues that let you know when a speaker (maybe you?) is not ready for prime time:

  • The speaker is obviously unprepared for the situation or question and looks uncomfortable or nervous.
  • You hear many fillers such as “er,” “uh,” “um,” and “you know,” between sentences because the speaker doesn’t know what to say next.
  • The message is disorganized, hard to follow and not particularly impressive.
  • The speaker asks the audience or the person who made the introduction how long the presentation is supposed to last and is clueless about the expectations of the organization that invited them.

You’ve no doubt seen speakers exhibiting behaviors in the examples above. It’s painful for everyone in the room or during the online meeting, and especially painful for the person who’s in front of the group or on camera.

Experienced speakers and leaders are not actually “winging it” when they get up to speak extemporaneously. They are pulling up content that has previously worked from their experience “bag.” They know how to pace themselves, how to interact with the audience, and how to make their points. Public or persuasive speaking is an acquired skill you can develop with practice and commitment.

Why not wing it? No one in an audience appreciates sitting through an awkward, poorly-crafted message, which is what happens most often when someone wings it. If you’re the speaker or expected to lead a meeting, not having a definite plan or the opportunity to practice can mean you accidentally leave out critical points, stumble when pronouncing words, or muddle through with irrelevant or inaccurate statements.

What Are Some of the Anti-Winging-It Solutions?

  • Give yourself ample time to clearly identify the two or three main points you want to get across in your remarks and build your message around them.
  • If you receive a last-minute request to speak or answer a question, write down the two or three critical ideas you want to get across, on a napkin or in Notes on your cellphone, if necessary. You can also do this mentally by allowing yourself to envision those two or three points.
  • Try to recall a good, relevant story that you tell with comfort to incorporate into your comments.
  • For best results, always practice aloud, out of order, and time each element to make sure you are not exceeding your scheduled allotment of time. For last-minute situations, assume control as if you had practiced.

Excerpted and adapted from Public Speaking for the Genius by Anne B. Freedman, available on Amazon.

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Anne B. Freedman
Title: President/CEO
Group: Speak Out, Inc.
Dateline: Miami, FL United States
Direct Phone: 305-273-6641
Cell Phone: 305-733-4054 – cell
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