The Worst Public Speaking Advice I’ve Ever Heard

Friends, I don’t want to waste time, so, today, I’m going to share with you the WORST public speaking advice I’ve ever heard. Pay attention to these because they are important!

Bad Advice #1- Don’t practice too much or you lose spontaneity

Let’s be real, if you’ve run through your “speech” 3 times and are worried about doing it any more, then fear not… you will NOT be “over rehearsed”. There’s plenty of places to go wrong, and when you do… TA-DA!…Spontaneity! Most people, especially teens, don’t rehearse enough to let the piece evolve and get better.

If you’re feeling over-rehearsed, switch up your delivery during rehearsal. Try something new. Try going really slow, fast, over the top, monotoned, or try adding more details to certain parts…or just have an audience and feel how their energy affects your delivery & focus.

Bad Advice #2- Practice by speaking into a mirror

This advice just doesn’t make sense. Speaking to yourself in a mirror won’t help you to get comfortable speaking because it’s not how you speak normally. Most likely, it will distract you and cause you to focus on how you look speaking, not your audience. Your content won’t be evolving.

On top of that, I fear you’ll add oddly forced “looks” and “gestures” to you speech.

For example, in college, I went to watching my friend swing dance with his female dance partner. The room had a 2 story glass wall on one side, and in the evening, it turned into a giant mirror–because of the reflection of light in the space at night.

Throughout the whole evening, I observed him quickly looking over his shoulder to see himself in the glass wall/now turned mirror. He would make the oddest overly exaggerated poses and facial expressions–unaware that ANYONE was watching him. He never appeared to connect with his dance partner the whole evening because of his self absorption on how he looked dancing.

I don’t want you to be like that. Prepare to LIVE IN THE MOMENT. Prepare to connect with your audience.

If you want to get better, practice speaking to another person! 🙂 Get their feedback. (And if you’d like to get insanely excellent feedback, check out my Rehearsal Feedback Toolkit.)

Bad Advice #3- Record yourself on video ASAP

Don’t record yourself on video… at first. Wait a while, and develop your delivery of your presentation. Rehearse and THEN, you can record yourself!

Video has a similar problem as rehearsing in a mirror; it causes you to focus on your imperfections. It’s easy to look at the video and start nit-picking apart your body…and then you start to feel self-conscious.

Video is great for seeing & hearing things that you weren’t aware of before.  Such as, touching your hair too much or identifying spots where your voice trails off, etc. So, use it if you’d like, but NOT before you have gotten a working speech and are curious what else you can do to enhance it.

Bad Advice #4- Slow down

While it may be well intended advice, “slow down” isn’t what is really meant for any situation. I get that when you’re nervous and you’ve let your body take over your brain…and you seem to be saying EVERYTHING quickly, but it’s not universal advice.

You naturally use different speeds depending on what your saying. The key is to be aware of your speed and be purposeful in how you use it.

**One time when you should slow down, are when you are not a native speaker and the audience may not understand what you’re saying. (And especially if you have a translator translating what you’re saying.)

Bad Advice #5- Picture everyone naked

Nope. No thank you. Why would this help? On top of the discomfort of being in a room of people in their underwear, picturing your audience takes a ton of focus that would better be put into something more useful!

On top of that, it’s not respectful to your audience. I see it more as a way of shaming them…so you can feel elevated above them. That’s not going to help you serve them through your presentation.

Instead, try acting “as if…you were confident” or “as if…you couldn’t fail” or “as if…the audience was made up of your best friends”. Use your mental energy to help you to be more emotionally pumped and energized to speak, rather than to embarrass the audience.

Bad Advice #6- If you say “Um” and “Ah” you have already failed

Sure. I get it. Um’s and Ah’s are distracting…and almost every teacher in your life has drilled this into you…but, it’s not the end of the world if you say these.

I have worked with students who give a pretty rough presentation…and then when I ask them why they feel it went poorly, they tell me that they said “um” too many times. They hardly noticed how rushed and monotoned they became…or how they were unclear about how main ideas connected together. Those weren’t even apparent because they were so hyper-focused on “Um” or “Ah” (and similar filler words).

Well friend, it’s not the end of the world if you say one of these “filler words”.

As an audience member, I really could care less if you use “um” 10 times, as long as you’re emotionally connecting with me –sharing stories that mean something–and inspiring me (or teaching, or motivating me, etc), then I don’t really notice the um’s.

What I think is happening is that when a speaker say “um”, they start panicking in their head…and lose their focus. It can cause a chain reaction of mess ups …and can really bring a speaker down like the titanic.

My advice is to rehearse and prepare more extensively than you think you should. The more prepared you are…and the more you know your content, the less likely you’ll say “um”. Additionally, you’ll be able to stay in the moment instead of beating yourself up inside your head during a presentation.

Bad Advice #7- Jokes are the best way to start

It really helps to be funny when you speak, but it doesn’t need to be with a forced joke. Unless you’re a comedian, and you KNOW it will laugh and help you to transition into your 1st speaking point, don’t start with a joke.

Instead, start with one of YOUR stories. It will help the audience to get to know you, your perspective, & maybe even your authority to be speaking on the topic. Then you can put funny parts into the story, and try to get laughs that way to break the ice. It’s a fantastic way to set an emotional tone for your presentation…and draw your audience in.

So, skip the joke. Maybe try a story instead. (To start and develop your story, check out these blog posts: 5 Details to Include in Basically Every Story,   3 Mistakes Your Teen is Making When It Comes to Their Audience, or 7 Things to Brain Dump Before Crafting Your Story.

Bad Advice #8- Stare at people’s foreheads instead of their eyes

If you’ve ever had someone looking at somewhere other than your eyes, you can tell…and it feels weird. You start wondering what they’re staring at. (Like…”Is that zip I popped this morning bleeding? Oh my gosh, they must be looking at it!!! NO!….. I’m dying inside! Don’t look at me!”)

There really is no way to get around it. You need to look people in the eyes as you look around the room. Connect with a few people.

They will feel you looking at them. It will remind them to pay attention, because you’re really trying to communicate and engage them.

Sure, it can feel weird to do at first if you’re not used to looking people in the eyes, but it will most likely come off as confidence and sincerity (as long as you’re not staring at ONE person too long.) 🙂

Remember, no foreheads. Only eyes.

Bad Advice #9- Tell the audience you’re nervous to get them on your side

Um…noooooo! You are setting yourself up for failure before you ever tried. Don’t make excuses. Telling your audience your nervous is like telling them to prepare to be bored. It turns them off from listening.

Additionally, it is a waste of time. It doesn’t move your audience forward towards your end goal for them by telling them about your nerves. They care more about themselves…and peek their interest to listen more.

So, just cut this “nervous” talk out…and just start your presentation. (Maybe with a story!)

Bad Advice #10- Always Use Slides

I remember my teachers in high school warning me about “absolute words” such as “always”…and how they often are incorrect. That’s why I disagree with this piece of advice that get’s passed around stating that you “always need to use slides” when you speak.

There’s many ways to do awesome things.

You might not not NEED slides. All things you use should help your audience to better take in your message. If slides don’t, then you shouldn’t feel forced to use them.

Sure, I get that there might be a teacher in school, or a boss, who THINKS you need to have slides, but if you don’t think you need them, bring your concern up to the person in charge and explain why you feel you can get your message across without them. You might be able to change their mind.


So, in wrapping up—all advice is not created equal. Maybe you don’t agree with my list of “worst” advice for public speaking, but at least you know where I stand. 🙂

To me, public speaking is a time to share part of you. It’s a time when I do not want a summary of facts alone. I want to hear your perspective and take on the ideas you are discussing.

Take time to develop and rehearse your presentation. Remember, your story matters & how you tell it makes a difference!

Leave me a comment and tell me which Bad Advice blunders you’ve come across!