6 Public Speaking Habits to Take Off of Your Naughty List

Man writing list

Are you mindful of your public speaking habits, especially the bad ones?

It’s unlikely that a week will pass where you are not called on to either attend of give a presentation. With that in mind, it’s worth becoming aware of your public speaking habits.

Get yourself somefeedback through presentation skills coaching or booking yourself on a really good public speaking course. In the meantime, avoiding some of the bad  public speaking habits on our naughty list will focus the mind and go a long way towards helping you.

Public speaking habits naughty list

1. ‘Uptalk’

You may not be familiar with the term but you will definitely have been on the receiving end of it at some point. It’s that extremely annoying habit of ending statements with an emphasis that makes them sound far more like questions.

The solution

-Record yourself speaking

Make a recording of yourself presenting, having a chat with someone or even a telephone conversation.

Play it back to yourself and listen carefully.

If it’s something you do, rest assured you will hear it.

Your challenge as you hear yourself ‘Uptalk’ is to understand why it doesn’t work and can be so painful to listen to. Once you accept the challenge, the next step is to have the mindfulness and courage to work on it.

Spend some time repeating each sentence where you noticed the upward inflection in your voice at the end of a statement reducing the upward pitch.

Record yourself again once you’ve practiced a few times and notice the difference.

2. ‘Noise’

In a previous article called, ‘Most presentations are far too long – Less really is more!’ ,I wrote: ‘We need to cut out the superfluous noise.’

This one is still very high up on the public speaking naughty list. In our public speaking courses we show people how to present even the longest and most complex presentation in just 90 seconds.

We do it to demonstrate the power or focus and clarity

The solution

Cut out the ‘noise’

As you craft your presentation ask yourself the following questions:

Will  this be totally relevant to my audience?

How much of this do they already know?

Is there an unnecessary level of detail?

Am I repeating myself unecessarily?

How much of thishelpful to my audience?

If you ask these questions mindfully you will find the, ‘superfluous noise’ if there is any.

3. ‘Handcuffs’

When you are presenting your ideas, the words you choose to use are of course critically important.

Your hands reveal a great deal about you and your message as well.

In our training workshops, one of the most common public speaking habits we see on the naughty list is presenters:

– Clasping their hands in front of them or behind their back

– Keeping their hands in their pockets

– Holding onto their notes with both hands

If this is one on your naughty list then you are doing both your audience and yourself a huge disservice.

When you gesture with your hands you instantly look more confident. You convey energy and enthusiasm and you become more fluent.

Movement offers visual energy and stimulation for your audience. Your hands are a potent tool in breathing life into your words.

The solution

Take the ‘handcuffs’ off

Gesturing is such a natural part of speaking. You’ll notice  this the next time you are simply enjoying a conversation with someone completely informally.

Set your hands free by taking them out of your pockets.

Unclasp them.

Put your notes down.

Your hands know exactly what to do. You don’t have to give them any instructions or personal attention other than to let them be free.

Start with your hands by you side or  slightly raised. As long as they are free they will join you as you speak and get into the flow of your presentation. Your hands will speak as much or as little as they naturally choose to.

4. ‘Visuals’

The one thing that has been on the public speaking naughty list for decades and seems to be climbing rather than falling, is bad visuals.

Bullet points, clip art, too much text, weird fonts, complex data, templates and totally unnecessary animation… should I go on?

These are just a few of the bad public speaking habits that are becoming even more prevalent in a time when they should all be now relics of the past. Not only are they still high up on the list, the problem is greatly exacerbated by professionals reading their slides.

The solution

Think billboards.

Use relevant, clear and compelling images.

Use colour and contrast.

Keep it simple.

Use less words and bigger fonts.

Ask yourself why you are using a slide in the first place.

How it will help your audience to understand and connect with your message.


We all know what a robot is of course but I ‘Googled’ it today just to be certain it hadn’t changed from what I had been taught as a child.

‘Resembling or characteristic of a robot, especially in being stiff or unemotional.’

Everything I have put on my naughty list so far pales into insignificance compared to being ‘stiff or unemotional’.

The solution


Be prepared to be a little vulnerable.

Tell them stories.

Lighten up

Be your best self.

Prepare and practice but don’t memorise.

Use your voice and your body as well as your intellect.

Put yourself in your audience’s shoes.

6. ‘Bogeyman’

The ‘bogeyman’ or ‘boogeyman’ as they call him in America, is that mythical creature we created as parents to scare our children into behaving well.

It seems to me that many of us become adults and when asked to present or speak in public we conjure up our very own, grown up ‘bogeyman’.

In the context of public speaking, the ‘bogeyman’ is our self-created illusion of all of the bad things that will happen to us if we don’t deliver that perfect presentation. For the nervous presenter the ‘bogeyman’ is that voice in our heads:

‘I don’t know enough, they will see right through me’

‘I’m rubbish at presenting’

‘What if they know more than me?’

‘I bet my mind goes blank?’

‘What if they ask me a question I can’t answer?’

The solution

It’s not about you

Instead of focusing so heavily on your personal performance and how well you come across, remind yourself that your audience aren’t interested in how good you look up there. They only care about how you can help them.

Instead of entertaining the ‘bogeyman’, try this instead.

– Focus entirely on how you can help your audience.

– Acknowledge and accept the fact that everyone gets nervous when presenting.

– Know your content inside out.

– Challenge the voice of the ‘bogeyman’.

– Create a conversation rather than a presentation.

– Practice breathing exercises.

Developing your presentation and public speaking skills adds enormous value to so many areas of your life. It’s not something any of us should reserve exclusively for the workplace. Sometimes the best place to start is by learning from the mistakes others have made before us.

Avoiding or overcoming the 6 public speaking habits on this naughty list will serve you and your audience extremely well.

If you’d to identify and work on your public speaking habits:

– Book yourself onto a powerful public speaking course.

– Invest in some really good one to one public speaking coaching.

– Get yourself some excellent presentation training

Image: Courtesy of Flickr.com

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