3 Keynote Speech Fails and Fixes

Business.com / Education / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Think a keynote speech is easy to deliver? Think again. This is your moment to shine - get it right.

You've imagined your audience hanging onto your every word, giving you their rapt attention. You've imagined their laughter at just the right moments. You've imagined the standing ovation at the end of your speech.

Congratulations, in your mind you've successfully averted common keynote speech fails. Let's look at three common pitfalls you can avoid.

FAIL #1: Imagining any outcome to your speech that isn't positive.

The trite, half-hearted recommendation of "just imagine everyone in their underwear" isn't very helpful advice when it comes to keynote speeches. All great speeches begin with your preparation, and the hardest part of all might be the preparation you take in your mind. So, do not focus on fears.

Many people are so terrified of speaking in public that they imagine their throats clenching, or themselves stumbling over words or even passing out!

Read: Giving a Powerful and Persuasive Speech

FIX: Psychology Today explains that the reason public speaking is so feared (sometimes even more than the fear of death!) is because public speaking is a kind of "emotional death." The process can be emotionally revealing, so the journal emphasizes that you should not seek perfection or equate public speaking with your self-worth.

Let's not gloss over it -- to conquer any lingering "glossopobia" (fear of public speaking), you'll need a combination of anxiety-elimination measures and positive visualization. Popular blogger, author, and podcaster James Altucher recommends watching stand-up comedians on a regular basis. Study how they work a crowd and use comedy to pump yourself up prior to facing a crowded room. Tell yourself a joke before you go on -- a smile is almost always the best way to start.

FAIL #2: Winging it.

You might be an excellent written communicator or casual conversationalist… but don't make the mistake of not preparing for a speech. This is a common trap if you know the material well and have a lot of confidence in your knowledge of the material.

Well, those facts are almost immaterial. An excellent public speech communicates through unspoken body language and careful emphasis on the verbal delivery. Focus on these aspects of your speech for maximum success. FIX: Every single speech is made better by preparation.

This applies to any style of speech. As the Public Speak Project reminds us, there are many styles available to fit your objectives: "manuscript," "memorized," "impromptu," and "extemporaneous." Each requires a slightly different approach to preparation.

FIX: Write out your speech and practice it several times by yourself and in front of others. Your goal should be that you become so familiar with the speech that you can deliver the impression of "winging it." That's just an illusion because in fact you're deeply prepared.

Join your local chapter of Toastmasters for regular practice. As Toastmasters advises the day of your speech: don't apologize for mistakes (why bring them to anyone's attention?) and remember that audiences can be very generous. As they remind us, "Audiences want you to be interesting, stimulating, informative and entertaining. They're rooting for you."

If you don't enjoy the regimented approach and ongoing commitment of joining Toastmasters, look for another group. The key is to practice your material in front of an audience and receive feedback. Look at your local community college or similar opportunities for formal practice. If you really don't want to practice your speech in front of someone, at least practice it in front of yourself.

Read: 10 Things You Should Never Do While Pitching to an Investor

In the old days, leaders practiced their speeches in front of mirrors. Today, there's something even better: your computer or smartphone. Record yourself practicing your speech using Skype or similar apps. When you play it back, you are certain to find major ways to make your speech work better.

FAIL #3: Shortchanging Your Body

Underestimating the role of nutrition, exercise, and rest on the days leading up to your speech is a big mistake. This can easily happen if you are traveling to an event to deliver a speech. Time zone changes, lack of exercise, or reliance on bad foods can conspire to reduce your overall effectiveness.

The National Institute of Health warns that jet lag can cause "disturbed sleep, daytime fatigue, decreased ability to perform mental and physical tasks, reduced alertness, and headaches."

FIX: Put everything possible in your favor. Plan for potential obstacles that could disrupt your success. For example, are you a light sleeper at hotels? Pack earplugs. Do you anticipate problems finding foods that keep your blood sugar even? Pack snacks. Do you perform best after your morning run? Pack your running shoes.

Use your self-knowledge as a guide for preparation here. You're worth the extra effort. Remember: highly paid speakers are worth the money they charge, first because they are so good, but also because it takes so many hours to prepare.

If you become an excellent speaker and soon you'll be charging big fees, too. Start visualizing your success today! 

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