Skills

The number 1 mistake public speakers make.

I’ve been a professional speaker for the last 9 years.

“Professional” basically just means that I own a sport coat and a belt.

The number 1 mistake that I see over and over is actually very simple.

Want to know what it is?

It’s a mistake that people make whether they’re talking to 10,000 people or 10. I think that’s what we forget sometimes. Public speaking doesn’t just mean you’re a famous person on stage. (Like Betty White or Lorenzo Lamas.) It also means you know how to lead a meeting at your company.

Being able to clearly communicate an idea is critical for your career.

You might never keynote a big event, but if you need to get buy in from your manager at work, you better know how to deliver a speech.

So, what’s the mistake most people make?

Most people think the first step in creating a speech is to write the speech.

It’s not.

The first step is to understand the audience.

When you give a speech, you’re not there to speak. You’re there to serve.

It’s not about you.

It’s about the audience.

The first thing you need to do, long before you work on your speech, is talk with the audience. If it’s an event, you need to call the event planner. If it’s a meeting, you need to talk with one of the attendees.

Every time I give a speech, I ask the client a specific list of questions I have developed over the years. Some of the questions are obvious, but one of them is very, very surprising.

Depending on the size of the event, I’ll even go meet with them face to face. It gives me the chance to get a sense of how to best serve them.

One of my goals with a speech is to make the audience know I care about them. I don’t get to do that unless I know them.

Empathy requires curiosity.

Have you ever been at an event where you could tell the speaker had one speech and no matter who was in the audience, it was going to be the same talk every time? You feel invisible, like you don’t matter.

That speaker didn’t try to understand who was in the crowd.

They had a stock talk and that’s what you got.

What questions do I ask people before I talk to them? How do I use social media to really figure out who my audience is? What’s the best thing you can ask before you lead a meeting or speak at an event?

I’ll give that and much more with my new free resource, the Speaker’s List.

Once a week, I’ll send you a speaking idea it took me years to learn. My goal is to help you give better speeches. Pure and simple. If you’re a professional speaker, my goal is to help you make more money in your speaking career.

How you communicate your ideas matters, regardless of what your job is.

Ready to win at public speaking?

Sign up here.

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Jon Acuff
Jon Acuff

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20 Comments

  1. A. Reply

    The first step is to understand the audience.

    When you give a speech, you’re not there to speak. You’re there to serve.

    It’s not about you.

    It’s about the audience.

    Love this reminder! Thank you!!!

    • The greatest talking lesson I’ve scholarly is straightforward: Practice! Try not to wing it. Readiness is everything. When you have your material down chilly your certainty truly takes off and you can be available at the time with your gathering of people. That is the point at which the enchantment truly happens.

  2. This is a topic I’d love to see you elaborate on. My two cents: I think there are three things I do to be a good public speaker: do it often, keep it short, tell a story from your own life (or a great movie) that illustrates a point you are making. I was forced into “public speaking” in AA and it went from something that terrified me to something I love. And I think I love it because of all the people that come up to me after and say, “That is so true! Me too! I feel the same way but I thought it was only me.”

  3. Jeff Reply

    Jon — You just put words to a vague sensation I have encountered most of my life. I have been invited to speak in many different settings over the past 25 years, and mostly I have enjoyed it. However, every time I go to a NEW venue or group, I have a terrible sense of dread about the unknown. I feel convinced that I will be an utter failure this time (even though that rarely happens). The only cure for this dread has been to get a sense of the audience and/or venue. If I can talk to the organizer or some of the attendees ahead of time or if I can see the room and feel the ambiance — or even just listen to a previous presentation they already had — all of these things really help. Once I gain an understanding for who will be there or what they are expecting, I can think through my content related to those specific people and their needs. My cowardice then turns into excitement — my jitters turn into energy. I sorta thought I was just weird that way! Thanks for describing this phenomenon in a way that makes me feel so much better about myself!! LOL Now I can pretend that my fear was actually a strength all along! HAHA

  4. Hi Jon Acuff

    Happy to read your excellent blog post about public speaking. You write in a way that’s easy to understand. I like the informal tone and the way you bring the topic into a perspective where SMALL also is OK.

    I’m not into public speaking, but I use your tips in my blogging – and they help.

    I get less nervous about standing up for what I mean online because of people like you 🙂 thanks.

    You suggest moving attention from writing the speech to knowing our audience first. I think that’s an eye-opener for many new public speakers.

    I also use the idea of letting my audience know I care about them. If I promise to do something, I also follow up on it.

    Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about what you write about the lost connection between the audience and the person giving the speech.

    They’ll say what they say without thinking who is listening.

    I quote you “You feel invisible like you don’t matter.”

    I often feel like this with people who have had great success online.

    They say the same thing over and over again. Initially, I had sympathy with their views, but at some point, I feel they talk/write to a crowd, not to me.

    This goes for 90% of the big personalities I follow online.

    Enjoyed clicking through to your free speaker’s list and one question came to my mind:

    What is the easiest audience you have experienced to talk to? 🙂

    Will share . . .

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  6. Thank you so much for sharing this! When I was preparing for my TEDx talk I had to constantly remind myself about this. That the talk isn”t for me, it isn’t about me – it’s about the audience and what they need. You have to check your ego and serve how you are needed.
    Thanks for the reminder 🙂

  7. Much thanks to you such a great amount for sharing this! When I was planning for my TEDx talk I needed to always remind myself about this. That the discussion isn”t for me, it isn’t about me – it’s about the crowd and what they require. Saleonleather.com

  8. When you give a speech, you’re not there to speak. You’re there to serve. It’s not about you.

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  11. Very interesting topic.

    Although I’m not a professional Public Speaker at the moment, I’m really curious to know the number one question to ask people before you talk to them.

    The reason is because I see myself in less than one year becoming a professional Public Speaker.

    I’ll subscribe immediately so I don;t miss this.

    Thanks for the write-up.

  12. It will be surely going to help me as i am shy and i wish i could give speech on public

  13. The speech is just exgagerating the way it is described upfront and it made me feel high rather being a shy

  14. This is a topic I’d love to see you elaborate on. My two cents: I think there are three things I do to be a good public speaker: do it often, keep it short, tell a story from your own life (or a great movie) that illustrates a point you are making. I was forced into “public speaking” in AA and it went from something that terrified me to something I love. And I think I love it because of all the people that come up to me after and say, “That is so true! Me too! I feel the same way but I thought it was only me.”

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