3 common tactics that public speakers should abandon
Some approaches to public speaking certainly seem to make sense.
Over time, however, you realize they are best modified, unlearned or
Here are three common practices to ditch:
1. Embracing the acronyms.
Acronyms and abbreviations are everywhere, from the FBI and CIA to FOMO and
SMH. Some are helpful, even essential. The FBI would never get anything
done if all its agents had to say, “Federal Bureau of Investigation,” every
time they explained where they worked. So, acronyms can be a time-saver.
In public speaking, they are not very good at doing what they’re
enlisted for: helping the audience remember a long list of concepts.
You, the speaker, may have spent hours figuring out that
E.X.C.E.L.L.E.N.C.E. stands for, well,
excellence, “xpertise,” craft, endurance, lavishness, length, enquiry,
and evergreen. Those in your audience won’t assimilate that. Back
in the office, they’ll be scratching their heads saying, “What did the
third ‘e’ stand for?” if they think about it at all.
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Medical speakers are particularly prone to abbreviations, having relied on
them as students to memorize body parts. Remember how much fun med school
was? Do you really want to inflict that same mental pain on your audiences?
2. Adhering to chronological order.
Most great literature doesn’t tell its stories in sequence, yet many
speakers do so because that’s the way the story rolled out to them.
The “Iliad” begins near the end of the Trojan War it describes,
just as “The Odyssey” begins with happenings in Ithaca to prime the reader
for Odysseus’ extended journey and tardy homecoming. The juxtapositions of
past and present bring the overall sagas to life.
Avoid a strict chronology, especially if the story is about you; the
temptation to keep needless detail is almost irresistible.
3. Offering lists of rules.
in the early days of the internet, a speaker promised to tell us how to get
rich quick, using just three rules.
The first rule, it turned out, had 12 sub-rules. The second rule had seven
sub-rules. The third had 15—fifteen—sub-rules. We realized we had
been tricked. There weren’t three rules to remember; there were
34, plus the original three. We in the audience skulked away with our heads
down, feeling conned.
The technical term for these useful lists is taxonomies, and they
require extreme care. They must make deep sense, be used sparingly and be
integral to the topic. You can get away with one, or maybe two, in a talk.