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Three Things You Should Never Say to an Audience

10/07/2014 05:27 EDT | Updated 12/07/2014 05:59 EST
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Giving a presentation is a huge responsibility. When you're in that power position in front of an audience, you've got to make sure that you're leaving them informed, intrigued, and hopefully, inspired. But all too often, speakers can say certain things that negate the effectiveness of their message, leaving their audience irritated, alienated and frustrated.

Of course, no speaker ever intends to turn off their audience. And the good news is, these turn-offs are actually easy to avoid. Here are three things that you NEVER want to say to your audience:

1. "If I can do it, so can you."

Before you step onto the stage or in front of the room, there's a good chance that we may not have met before. And even if we HAVE met, there's a good chance that we don't know each other extremely well. So let's be real: We all have struggles in our lives, we all have our unique life story, our motivations, and our challenges. For you to say that because YOU did something meaningful automatically means that I could do implies that your struggle has been harder than mine. How can you say that if you don't know me? How can you say that even if you DO know me?

I understand that this sentence is loaded with good intentions, and it's meant to be inspirational.

But it isn't.

In reality, some people in your audience may actually view it as thinly-veiled condescension, wrapped up in a warm and fuzzy blanket. So by all means, share your story, share how you overcame your struggles, make it really relevant to your audience, but don't tell me that I can -- or should -- do something simply because you did.

2. "But that's a WHOLE other story that I'm not going to get into right now."

Then why are you bringing it up? But what if it's the best story EVER? Now I need to know!

Honestly, though....why won't you tell us? Did you run out of time? Is it too raunchy? Is it because it has nothing to do with your topic?

The problem with this statement is that as soon as you tell me that you're specifically NOT going to tell me a particular story, I want to hear it. And once that decision has been made in my head, instead of listening to you, I'll be thinking, "Now I want to hear it. I wonder why won't she tell us." After that inner-dialogue starts, you've lost my attention, and it may take a few extra minutes -- or longer -- to re-engage in your presentation.

A speaking coach I worked with once said, "Don't give your audience an off-ramp." Don't give them an opportunity to disengage from your topic and don't distract them from your main point. If YOU stay focused on your main point, so will they.

3. "Looks like we're running out of time. Can you guys stay a little longer?"

This one makes me cringe.

No, I cannot stay longer. And I'm really annoyed that you even asked.

A few years ago I attended a marketing workshop that promised to leave me with a number of extremely useful and relevant ways to grow my business. The workshop wasn't cheap, but I decided to make the investment because of the amazing business-building outcomes that were promised. Imagine my irritation, alienation and frustration when, 15 minutes from the end time, when we were only halfway through the material, the speaker asked "Does anyone have to leave exactly at 5:00 p.m.? Sorry we went over, but there was a lot of discussion among us, and I think that discussion and answering your questions is so much more important than going through the content."

Um, no it's not.

What's important is delivering what you said you would deliver. That's why I signed up. You mean that because I have to leave on time to go to another meeting/make a phone call /pick up my kids from school, I'm going to miss out on some of the important information that I paid all this money to learn? You mean that I get penalized because of your poor time management? By the way, YOU originally decided the length of this workshop, so why didn't you just plan for it to be longer so then at least I could have planned accordingly?

What a turn-off.

A later start-time, allowing for audience discussion, or telling "one more story" does not mean that you can single-handedly decide to push the ending time forward. Ending on time is crucial to keeping the respect and goodwill of your audience.

Indeed, giving a presentation is a huge responsibility. Part of that responsibility is sharing valuable content, staying focused, and showing respect to your audience. The other responsibility is choosing your words carefully, so that there are no distractions or irritations that keep your audience from leaving your presentation anything but informed, intrigued, and inspired.