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‹ View all articles22nd September 2016

Public Speaking Pitfall: Over Preparing!

Writing your Content

Getting structured is all well and good, but I don’t mean to encourage you to engage in over preparing – this can lead to your content seeming rehearsed (which usually looks like bad acting), or leaving you completely stuck on the train tracks.

If this happens, it’s difficult to adapt when something changes from the plan.

True balance in your content is like you were a wrestler, standing with his knees slightly bent, ready for action.

Form yourself enough structure so that:

  1. Your information is powerfully put together;
  2. You can easily remember the journey your talk goes on, without having to know every single line;
  3. Your audience can follow your talk, enjoy it and act on your information.

Any more structure than this can hinder you and isn’t really needed.

When speakers over prepare it’s usually because they’re ‘scared of doing it wrong’ or trying to be 'perfect'. The surest way of making yourself feel wrong is to prepare a word-perfect speech; then anything you miss out or do differently feels like a mistake.

Being Perfect isn’t Perfect

Perfectionism goes a little something like this:

  • I’m speaking.
  • I’m supposed to be good at this, even if I’ve never done this before.
  • People are judging me and THEY WILL NOT BE SATISFIED UNLESS I’M PERFECT.
  • Everything I do and say, therefore MUST BE PERFECT.

Okay there... hold on a minute. There a few problems with this very common thought pattern…

  1. You can’t possibly be perfect in public speaking. It’s like saying ‘I want to have a perfect conversation’. There are simply too many factors to take into account. Public Speaking is an interaction, not a 1-way monologue.
  2. Perfect is exhausting to even aspire towards and will drag life out of your speaking.
  3. Who said that the audience even wants perfection anyway? Some of the most inspiring moments in public speaking come from going off-piste and showing your emotions. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech wasn’t perfectly on script; in fact the most famous part of it came from him ad-libbing as he talked.


Here's what to do if you find yourself over-preparing...


Look for a speech structure that compels your audience to act on your words.

  • Organise your thoughts so that you don’t have to make snap decisions while presenting.
  • Structure your speech so that you send your audience home remembering your key messages rather than wondering “what was that all about”?
  • Don’t be afraid to edit your speech down to the simplest possible structure. If your structure is simple (without being over simplistic) you will keep everyone on board.
  • As you establish your structure and feel confident about it, you are more able to improvise and then come back to the plan. This helps you to be more fresh and empathetic with your audience.

In reality there are countless powerful ways to deliver a compelling message, over preparing is NOT one of them.

Public speaking is not a science – the words that work for one audience might not be so powerful for the next. So take everything you know about your audience, take your structure and speak to them passionately and from the heart. That’s where inspirational public speaking comes from.

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