Top Five Things to Never Say On Stage (and why, and what to say instead!)Aug 30, 2022
As a creative director and speaker coach for large events, helping people plan what to say is a big part of my job. Unfortunately, I can’t always anticipate all the things to tell speakers NOT to say. So in the interest of not having your speaker coach cringing at the back of the ballroom, here are five things to avoid saying on stage:
1. DON’T SAY: “Well, that’s a hard act to follow.”
If the speaker or performer just before you was amazing, congratulations! You’re now riding a wave of positive energy, and it’s your job to keep up the momentum and good vibes.
Why not say this? Self-deprecation has its place, but this is not the time. By saying “that’s a hard act to follow,” you’re advertising your own insecurity and making what just happened about you. Worse, you are bringing down the good vibes the audience was enjoying.
What to say instead? If what just happened was so powerful that you must comment, say something like, “Wow, that was fantastic! Thank you, (NAME)!” – and then jump right into your message. You’ll sound much more confident.
2. DON’T SAY: “Wow, those lights are really bright.” *shields eyes with hand*
The lights might indeed be bright, and for good reason – bright lights are necessary so the audience can see you, especially if you are on camera.
Why not say this? You’re letting us know you’re a novice; making the audience feel bad for your discomfort; and taking focus away from your message.
What to say instead? Say nothing about the lights, even though they are bright. Jump into your message and trust that your eyes and brain will adjust quickly.
3. DON’T SAY: “This is the wrong slide.”
It’s possible that something will look different than you expect. Maybe a slide will go missing or be in a different order. These things do happen. But calling them out to your audience makes you look like you’re not in control.
Why not say this? Your audience doesn’t know what you were planning to present, so unless you’re leaving out a critical step in a process, it’s not worth mentioning. They won’t know you left something out unless you call attention to it.
What to say instead? Usually, nothing. But depending on the topic and how important the right order or missing information is, you can speak to it in a way that fits the context. The key is to keep things comfortable for the audience and not call attention to what’s different than you expected. If they don’t care, then neither should you.
4. DON’T SAY: “In conclusion …” or “So here’s my last slide…”
You wouldn’t say “on the next slide” to transition within your presentation (at least I would not advise that you do that). Consider it part of your due diligence to have something more interesting to say as you get to the end of your presentation.
Why not say this? You are cuing your audience that you’re almost done, and their attention will start to shift to what’s next. (Also, too many speakers say “in summary” and then keep talking well past that point, which we call a false ending.)
What to say instead? Have a strong closing statement planned – one that concisely restates your main point and reminds the audience of what you want them to know, feel, or do after hearing your message. Stick the landing, say THANK YOU, and either exit the stage or introduce the next speaker.
5. DON’T SAY: “I think Joe’s up next?”
Too often, speakers don’t transition cleanly to the next speaker. If you haven’t planned how you’ll close and transition to the next speaker, you haven’t fully planned your presentation.
Why not say this? Wondering aloud what’s happening next is unpolished and unfair to the next speaker, who deserves a stronger introduction.
What to say instead? There’s a right way to transition to the next speaker, and I’ve detailed the full approach here. In short, you want their name to be the very last thing you say, after you conclude your topic, say thank you, and tease what’s up next. That way, when you say their name, they can enter to applause.
Margie Newman has more than 25 years of experience helping nervous speakers gain confidence, overcome anxiety and actually enjoy public speaking. Her book, Yoga for Public Speaking, is available on Amazon Kindle: https://amzn.to/3MxY2TK
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