3 Public Speaking Mistakes Observed On a College Tour

My daughter is taking a public speaking class at college and she called home to talk with me about an assignment she had. Of course, she and her brother grew up with an annoyingly intense focus on their presentation skills thanks to a father who makes business presentations on a regular basis and a mom who makes a living helping business executives communicate well.

2009 NYTimes story about college tour guides

My daughter’s class assignment was to talk about the worst public speaker she’d ever heard.  She reminded me about the tour guide at one of the colleges she visited during her junior year of high school.  We had a hard time imagining why this individual was selected to represent her school to prospective students and their families.  She didn’t seem particularly excited to be with us…or at the college. Unlike most college tour guides who have mastered walking backwards so they can stay 100% connected with their audience (whether or not it’s the safest skill), this young woman barely looked at us at all as she talked — whether walking around the campus or standing inside a lecture hall. We got her unintended message loud and clear, “I could care less about being here speaking with you.”  Her delivery had no passion…in fact no emotion at all. When I tried to help the tour guide by asking if students were happy at this school, she mumbled (while looking down at her toes), “Yeah, I guess so.” We didn’t stick around for the end of the tour and my daughter crossed this college off her list of potential schools. The school never had a chance after the tour…well really the tour guide.

This awful speaker made three classic presenter mistakes:

  1. No insight into the expectations, needs and wants of your audience: Prospective families visiting a college expect the tour guide to help them fall in love with the school. Anything less has the exact opposite effect.
  2. No effort to build a connection with her audience. Good speakers deliver their messages eyeball to eyeball. They smile. Their facial expressions and body language respond as they speak with (not at) their audience.
  3. No passion in her delivery. If the speaker has no passion about their topic, why should the audience.

P.S. During this excruciatingly bad tour my daughter decided that she wanted to be a college tour guide because she knew she could do it so much better. She applied to the tour guide program as a first semester freshman, was selected and trained, and is a proud, exuberant and articulate tour guide for The George Washington University where she’s taking a public speaking class….

One Response to “3 Public Speaking Mistakes Observed On a College Tour”

  1. Rich Guida says:

    Beryl – Make her take your course and have her deliver a presentation with no words…only gestures. I remember that one!!

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