“At this festive season of the year, it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute,” declares the kind-hearted gentleman in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, as he tries to secure a donation from flint-hearted old Scrooge.
In the same “spirit” of year-end resolve, I’d like to propose some public speaking “Do’s” and “Don’ts” for 2015.
To persuade, activate, and inspire listeners in your upcoming presentations next year, download my free cheat sheet, “4 Characteristics of an Influential Speaker.”
Throughout this year, I’ve had the privilege of coaching clients who’ve taught me many things about public speaking. This week and next, I’d like to share some of these lessons with you, to help contribute to your own improvement as a speaker or presenter. Today, I’ll discuss 5 bad habits that should be left behind in 2015. And next week, I’ll propose 5 public speaking New Year’s resolutions.
First, then, some behaviors that, to quote Hamlet, are more honored in the breach than the observance:
1. Worrying About How You’re Doing. Yes, public speaking can provoke self-consciousness, anxiety, and sometimes outright fear. But it's never about you, after all. It’s always about what your listeners are thinking and doing that matters.
Imagine trying to will yourself to have bigger muscles to outrun your competitors at the Olympics, or wishing that you were born in a different time and place. What wasted energy! If you know your topic and you’ve prepared and practiced, you’re as ready as you’ll ever be to succeed before a particular audience. Worrying about your performance not only puts you off your game—it actually impedes your ability to be present and have an enjoyable conversation with listeners.
2. Feeding a PowerPoint Addiction. Do you use PowerPoint because it’s the best presentation tool to help your talk succeed? Or is it a case of “it’s always been done that way” with you?
PowerPoint is all about visuals, with a powerful ability to display what must be shown. It’s not about story or discussion; and it’s rarely about context or the importance of what’s being talked about. Those components of a presentation depend upon you, and what you say and explain. If you ask yourself why you may or may not use PowerPoint at all, you’ll zero in on the true purpose of your talk.
3. Memorizing Your Talk (or Writing Everything Out). This is sometimes the refuge of the truly anxious speaker. “If I memorize everything,” they reason, “nothing can go wrong.”
The truth is that everything can go wrong. A memorized-and-delivered speech is a talk that’s living in the past, at the moment it was memorized. The speaker who delivers it isn’t living in the moment, when a dialogue with the audience is vital to creating influence. As to the second coping mechanism: the more you have written out, the more you’ll read, with your gaze glued to the page instead of making contact with the people in the seats.
4. Becoming a Talking Head. In terms of powerful speaking tools, the human body ranks high. So unless you prefer the wooden approach of sitting in someone’s lap when you speak with nothing moving but your mouth, you’d better get your body into the act. You need to use nonverbal communication effectively!
In my group workshops, I often use a PowerPoint slide with Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Vitruvian Man illustration, along with this advice: “Get out of your head, and into your body!” Speaking in public requires a physical approach as much as a mental one; and both your movement and gestures should help bring your content to life. So start to weave the things you’re saying with how you move when you say them; and don’t leave facial expressions out of the equation. Go to this link to create a great first impression through body language. And here on advice on using power poses to achieve amazing presence.
5. Trying to Fit a Big Foot into a Small Golden Slipper. Remember Cinderella, and the two evil stepsisters who each cut off part of a foot to fit into the small golden slipper the prince brings? Don't audition for the role of one of the stepsisters, trying to “fit it all into” your presentations!
Whether it’s a PowerPoint deck, a stack of handouts, or a talk filled to the brim with data, some speakers insist on getting their foot into the shoe. A presentation is like that shoe: limited in scope and time, but golden in possibilities. If you find yourself rushing through your talk to get all your points in, the solution is simple: Discuss fewer main points, perhaps in greater depth. Because let’s face it, quality over quantity will go a long way toward allowing your audience to have a ball.
Next week, the other side of the equation, in which I’ll discuss beneficial public speaking habits you can develop in the New Year. See you then!
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