READY, AIM, SHOOT YOURSELF IN THE FOOT: The 3 Biggest Speech Mistakes Leaders Make

Podium 2You have a big presentation to make to your people. You want to create enthusiasm for your upcoming goals, you want to encourage buy-in for the changes happening within your organization, and you want to give sagging morale a shot in the arm.  Big goals for one speech.

All the more reason to be mindful of EXACTLY what it is you want to accomplish with your talk.

In my Executive Speech Coaching Practice, I work with high-powered leaders who just need a little help aligning their desired intentions with their actual impact. 

Over the years working with these leaders, I have noticed a pattern.

Here are the 3 Biggest Mistakes I see leaders making when preparing an important speech:

#1: TMI: Too Much Information.  It is important to get very clear on what it is you want to accomplish with your speech. Is this an inspirational speech OR a technical presentation? Leaders mean well when they set out to share EVERYTHIING they know in one speech, however this is a sure-fire way to lose your audience.  The solution is to stick to communicating overall concepts and the reasoning behind them, and leave the minute detail for another forum. Don’t lose your audience in the details.

#2: Taking it Personal:  As a leader, your people want to know who you are as a person.  They want a peek behind the curtain to what drives you, what excites you, what you enjoy. Give them a peek.  Don’t be afraid to bring all of yourself to the podium.  In my coaching, I enjoy helping leaders find personal anecdotes that they can use to illustrate teaching lessons.  This is what great speakers do.  They create interesting detail and personal connection on their way to making their point.

#3: Word for Word:  A question I am constantly asked as a speaking coach is: “Do I have to memorize my speech?”  The short answer is Yes and No.  If you are crafting a story, then you should have it memorized.  If you are using humor to illicit a specific response, then yes, you should have it memorized.  However, I am not a proponent of memorizing your speech word for word.  I have seen speakers do this and it is not a good approach.  What happens when you get hung up on memorizing every word, is that you get hung up on memorizing every word. Don’t lose your connection with your audience by getting pre-occupied with committing your entire speech to memory.  A good rule is: Memorize your Opening and your Closing and any stories and humor points. Then outline your 3 main points, get comfortable with the overall flow of your talk, practice well and then go deliver with confidence.

If you are a leader with a BIG message, the intentional crafting and delivering of it deserves your love and attention.  Don’t try to wing it.

Karyn Ruth White is a nationally recognized Keynote Speaker, Award-Winning Humorist, TED Presenter and Public Speaking Coach. She works with leaders and speakers who want to connect and engage through a professionally crafted message. She delivers Funny Keynotes across the U.S., helping business to thrive and have fun doing it! She is the owner of Laugh and Learn Productions, LLC, an enterprise helping people to stress less and work happy.  Visit her at, on LinkedIn or on Twitter @karynruth. TED TALK "She Who Laughs, Lasts" with Karyn Ruth White

Blame It on The Hokey Pokey; The Power of Personal Stories

 Hokey Pokey 2by Marguerite Ham (Re-Posted with Permission)

I was recently teaching a Presentation Skills workshop for a client, and one of my dearest friends, gifted speaker and presenter, Karyn Ruth White ( did a guest presentation on The Power of Personal Stories and how to integrate them into our presentations, speeches, trainings and daily interactions with people.  Karyn Ruth taught us that personal stories can create “universal teaching points” by which we and others can learn and grow.  Karyn Ruth believes that stories are information with a soul!

Think of a personal story, circumstance or experience that you have had and that created an impact on you.  It could involve your interaction with one of your children, a friend, a family member or a complete stranger!  Here is a personal story that Karyn Ruth shared with the group:

Karyn Ruth White was walking into Walmart. She was not having a particularly good day or feeling energetic or social.  (We have all had days like that – part of the human journey!)  As she entered, she saw one of the check-out ladies that she had seen before and had had a casual conversation with from time to time, Tiffany.  As Tiffany was checking out a customer, she was humming the song “Hokey Pokey”.  (Yup!  You got it…. “you put your right foot in, you take your right foot out”…now try to get that song OUT of your head for the rest of today!)  Karyn Ruth  realized in that moment that she had a choice: she could walk right by and not acknowledge Tiffany or her song and continue feeling not so energetic or social, OR she could join in with the song and lighten up her day.  (You guessed it, she chose the latter.)  Karyn Ruth went right over to Tiffany and started singing the song out loud and doing “the dance”.  Before long, there were giggling children and light-hearted adults dancing the Hokey Pokey in Walmart!  Everyone who was participating or just passing by was laughing and clapping along!

Pause for a moment and reflect. What “Universal Teaching Points” do you see in that story? In other words, what’s the moral of the story? [Hint: there can be more than one!]

When I listened to this story, I heard these Universal Teaching Points:

  1. Every day there are choices: to choose to be sad or happy, engaged or not engaged, it’s a choice to stay in a negative place or shift to a positive outlook.
  2. We can choose to participate in life or walk right by and ignore the moments or opportunities that show up in our lives.
  3. We can connect with other human beings or we can retreat into solitude.
  4. Within all of us is a giggling, dancing child wanting to do the Hokey Pokey!
  5. When we are dancing the Hokey Pokey, we are all connected, doing the same dance. We become united through the movement of the dance and joy.  Judgments, positions, titles, all disappear, we become one, dancing the same dance.

You may take something different from any given personal story. When we hear someone else’s story, we can’t help but hear it through our own life’s experiences. What we learn from a story depends on the storyteller AND on what our lives bring to the tale! So, if you took a few different Universal Teaching Points away from “The Hokey Pokey,” don’t worry!

I challenge you to mine your life for stories that can create a “Universal Teaching Point”: an experience you have had, a situation you survived, a circumstance that has occurred or that you have observed.  Dig a little deeper to find a golden nugget of learning and growth for yourself and others.  Find ways to share that story and, more importantly, share what you learned from that moment or experience.  Research shows that storytellers and their audience actually think more alike as the story goes on – the story creates a meeting of the minds! 

As leaders, it is one of our goals to connect with others, to find ways to continuously grow and learn ourselves, and to challenge others to grow and develop as well.  Storytelling is a great tool to use as a leader!  Have fun mining your stories and growing and teaching through the “Universal Teaching Points” of your stories.  And never forget, no matter how bad your mood…you always have the power to “turn yourself around.”

Karyn Ruth White is a nationally recognized Keynote Speaker and Success Humorist.  She is also a Professional Speaking Coach. She works with leaders who want to up-level their impact with personal story and a professionally crafted message.  She is the First Place National Winner of The Jeanne Robertson “Comedy with Class” Competition and delivers Funny Keynotes across the U.S., helping business to thrive and have fun doing it! She is the owner of Laugh and Learn Productions, LLC, an enterprise helping people stress less and work more joyfully. Visit her at, on LinkedIn or on Twitter @karynruth.

This blog was re-printed with the permission of the author, Marguerite Ham. Marguerite is the CEO of Igniting Success.  She works with leaders and their teams to create team cohesion and enhance productivity with training and coaching.  She is an exceptional Trainer and Coach in the areas of:Leadership Development, Team Dynamics, Workplace Conflict, Presentation Skills, and Memory Acuity. She brings heart and humor to everything she touches. Find out more about the author, Marguerite Ham at