Never, Nevers in a Speech

I usually stay with the positive in giving advice on becoming a better speaker, but every speaker should pay heed to certain “no-nos.”

Never tell an audience you did not have time to prepare adequately. You are saying, in essence, that they are not important enough for you to spend time preparing to speak to them. If you have not adequately prepared, the audience will figure that out soon enough!

Never drink alcohol before you speak. Some may feel that a drink before speaking can relax them, but it only dulls the senses and makes keeping a sharp mind problematic.

Never make an audience member look bad. Do not be flippant in answering a question. It’s insulting to the audience member if you make light of his or her question or comment.

Never make an audience member the brunt of a joke. Poke fun at yourself but not at an audience member. You never know when someone might be offended at what you believe to be completely innocuous. And even if that person is not offended, some others in the audience might start fearing that they will be next.

Never take more time than you have been allotted to speak. Our culture is very time-conscious, and the audience generally knows when you should stop speaking. The audience will think less of you and your speech if you go overtime. In fact, finishing a minute or two short of your time limit may make you a star.

Never allow an audience to go to sleep as you speak. If you see people’s heads nodding or eyes closed, it is time to stop, no matter how long you were given to speak. If that is not practical, do anything you can within reason to awaken them. You might have a question and answer period and ask yourself the first question to get them thinking. Change what you are doing. Move away from the lectern. Speak louder or speed up your rate.

Finally, never deliver a persuasive speech in which you make a point without sufficient evidence. If you can’t provide relevant and recent evidence, then delete the assertion from your presentation.

All aspects of a speaking situation will never be perfect; some things you can’t control. However, these “never” statements will help you be at  your best in every speaking situation.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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