Bonnie Gross | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Bonnie Gross


SpeechScience International is devoted to strengthening its clients’ capacity to be influential leaders, professionals and communicators, through the development of dynamic speaking and communications skills. It was founded in 1997 and has offices in Toronto and New York.

The Mistake:

Making assumptions about your audience is a mistake made even by professional speakers. I know because I’ve made it myself.

As a public speaker who specializes in the science of speech, I’ve given well over 100 group seminars on effective communications and presentation skills to corporate executives, salespeople and designated professionals. A few years ago, I was asked to present a professional development seminar to an audience of professional accountants in Vancouver – the same seminar I had given to professional accountants in Toronto.

Same seminar. Same professionals. Same sector. Same mix of positions. What could go wrong, right?

But when it came to the point in my seminar for audience interaction, the audience in Vancouver was nothing like the audience in Toronto. They wanted to watch a presentation rather than participate, and nothing I could do would change their minds. I had to shift gears quickly and integrate the audience participation segment into my presentation through other means.

It’s not enough to prepare and practice your presentation.

The Lesson:

Prepare for the unexpected when you give a presentation, whether you’re speaking to 10 people or 100, whether you’re in a boardroom or on a stage. Simply sticking to the words on your page, teleprompter or PowerPoint does not guarantee success. Bad things happen to even the best public speakers. Expect the unexpected.

It’s not enough to prepare and practice your presentation. Only by fully understanding your audience’s needs – and realizing that audiences are diverse – will you be ready to shift gears and improvise on the spot when something goes wrong.

Watch Bonnie’s videos public speaking and presentation skills on YouTube at speechscientint and follow her on Twitter @speechscience.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share or know someone we should feature? Email

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's Toronto.