The Blog

Public speaking hacks: 7 verbal banana skins to avoid

It’s the awards season in the music and film industry and artists are called on to make impromptu speeches.

Some are much better than others at public speaking.

But as we say on our public speaking courses, run mainly from our Glasgow studios, with the correct preparation, we can all say the right thing.

Rather this than stumbling through the wrong thing.

That goes for conversations as well as public speaking.

But what are these cardinal sins?

Well here’s our top seven phrases to avoid slipping on

1 “Wow, I haven’t prepared anything because I didn’t expect to win”

public speaking course glasgow dev patel.

Dev Patel

It’s often said as an actor attempts to show their humility by being “surprised” at being honoured in such esteemed company.

“Words, words, words,”

said British actor Dev Patel in his speech, struggling to find some sensible ones.

He won Best Supporting Actor at the BAFTAs for his role in the true and heart-warming story told in the magnificent film Lion.

Now, he knew he was short-listed, so stood a chance of winning.

Much better to come with some grateful and meaningful words prepared when it comes to public speaking.

Have a look back on American star Leonardo DiCaprio’s speech at the Oscars last year when he picked up Best Actor for his starring role in Revenant.

His speech led to his wise words being quoted around the world in 2016, rather than Dev simply saying “words, words, words”.

2 “That’s nothing, wait till you hear what happened to me!”

public speaking course glasgow man getting prodded in face by baby.

Hang on, what do you mean my story is “nothing?!”

It’s clearly “something” or I’d have kept it to myself.

I’ll only pay attention to your story if you pay attention to mine.

So let’s stop diminishing the tales told by others in our desperation to impress our friends.

This goes for public speaking as well as day to day conversation.

3 “Sorry, I’m really nervous”

public speaking course glasgow woman covering face nervous.

I’m sure you are.

But members of the audience naturally focus on your nerves if you tell them how nervous you feel.

It makes everyone feel anxious.

Instead, be excited.

Wake up excited to be making a speech in public that day.

Tell yourself on the way to the event that you’re excited.

Then take the stage and tell the audience how excited you are to be sharing your thoughts with them today.

Then they, too, may be excited rather than nervous and anxious.

4  “I’m just very lucky to be selected/have won”

public speaking course glasgow dice being rolled.

Luck is for lottery winners, a gamble.

A random draw made from millions of entries.

Was it down to luck or hard work, dedication and commitment to the cause?

Many athletes and sports people have told us during media training courses that they feel “lucky” to have been selected for the Commonwealth Games or Olympics.

We asked if their names were drawn from a hat or if they had to qualify?

Stop being “falsely modest”.

By all means be grateful or flattered.

But stop being “lucky”.

5 “I’m going to tell you a joke”

public speaking course glasgow laugh now.

You’re just signposting that this should be funny, even though it may be anything but funny.

Similarly, I have a number of American friends who’ll say “that’s funny” when all I want them to do is laugh.

Instead of telling jokes during public speaking, which may fall flat, recall funny stories.

Then, the audience can smile or laugh without asking “what’s funny about that?”

6  “I think I’ve bored you enough”

public speaking course glasgow cat yawning.

Well, I may have been enjoying it, but now you’ve just raised the strong possibility that it was boring all along.

If you feel it’s boring, why did you write it in the first place?

It shows a serious misjudgement to the audience.

Once more, stop looking for sympathy from the audience.

Earn their respect instead with bright, relevant, simple, vivid and well-told stories.

7  “Now please don’t take offence…”

public speaking course glasgow boy covering face.


If the thought that the audience may take offence has crossed your mind, why would you carry on?

It’s the speech-making equivalent of driving over the level crossing when the barrier’s coming down behind you.

Prepare for impact!

Always put the feelings of the audience first.

Apply the old journalistic adage: if in doubt, leave it out!


Bill McFarlan is Executive Chairman of  Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.

You can view his full profile here


Photo credit: Disney | ABC Television Group, bionicteachingthefuturistics, Thomas Rousing Photography via / CC BY

view all posts

Build Your Confidence

Some media trainers knock you down…and leave you down. Our media coaches show you how to deal with each knock…and still win through. So you have the presentation skills to perform – with confidence.

request a quote