You’ve heard lots of advice on how to improve your presentations. But what about the bad habits you may need to break? Here’s a heads-up on 7 clunkers!
If you’re like many professionals, you’ve heard ad nauseum about the things you need to do to be a better presenter. Know your topic. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare. Be sure to include strong eye contact. Speak to the audience not the slides.
“Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera,” as the King of Siam says in the musical The King and I.
In fact, people who regularly read this blog know that I’ve given plenty of that kind of advice myself. (To truly enage your listeners instead, download my free cheat sheet, "5 Ways to Captivate an Audience")
And now for something completely different.
7 Bad Habits of Public Speaking
Would you say that focusing on acquiring something (like new skills) might make you blind to the baggage you’re already carrying? I would.
It may be the case that you don’t have any unproductive habits as a speaker. If so, go ahead and keep your eye exclusively on that prize of newly acquired skills. But just in case, peruse the list below of seven ways in which you may be undermining an otherwise solid presentation.
If you do have any of these bad speaking habits, recognizing them is the first step toward giving a more effective performance. That will not only delight your listeners and improve your influence, but build your confidence as well. If you need a boost along those lines, here's how to turn negative self-talk into positive thinking.
Here are the seven habits, in more or less the order in which they occur from the preparation stage to your speaking appearance.
1. Not Performing an Audience Analysis. You’re probably familiar with your audience. But do you know them in the ways that matter for a presentation? You may be focused on demographics and listeners' knowledge of the topic, and that's fine.
But what about their expectations and preferences? And is anything happening with this company or organization's situation you should know about? How about the emotional climate—anything going on there? Even the time of day (and whether the audience has just eaten lunch) can mess around with your otherwise carefully constructed content. Consider other variables!
2. Thinking of Yourself Instead of Your Listeners. Okay, let's call this one by its true name: narcissism. Now, please understand, I don’t mean arrogance or self-love. I do mean worrying about how you’re doing instead of whether your listeners are getting what they need from this talk.
It’s the easiest equation in the world—though damnably difficult if you’re turned inward because of anxiety: Giving your full attention to your audience’s continued engagement = a more effective transaction between you and them. And that, of course, means speaking with the right kind of focus for leadership. (Speaking of leadership, did you know that even presidents suffer from speaking nervousness? Here's how to use Abraham Lincoln's experience to overcome your own stage fright!)
3. Failing to Launch Your Speech. How important is your opening? Consider a rocket analogy: If you’re NASA and your rocket launches successfully, the mission has a good chance of success. But an engine that fizzles at “Blast off!” dooms the mission, period.
It’s common that I’ll work with a client whose presentation is bright and shiny except for one thing . . . the opening. And we’ll end up spending hours on that with our sleeves rolled up. It’s that important to getting an audience interested, stimulated, and inspired—not to mention that a number of important things are happening as you begin a speech. Here are tips on how to start a speech: 12 foolproof ways to grab your audience!
4. Relying on Weak Body Language. We’re certainly interested in other people’s body language. But most of us need to pay attention to our own, especially when speaking in public. One of the best ways to succeed is through learning the body language rules for more powerful public speaking.
Do you achieve physical expression to match the verbal kind? You need to go beyond posture and gestures to find stage positions and movements that amplify or support your message. Study practiced speakers; and watch TV and film actors with the sound turned off. See how you can recognize the speaker’s intentions?
5. Using Vocal Skills that Lack Expressiveness. M-O-N-O-T-O-N-E may literally mean “single tone,” but we’ve changed the meaning to “boring.” No tool of public speaking—none—equals your voice for the flexibility, variety, and subtlety it can achieve.
There are layers and layers of meaning to be expressed in what you’re saying. If your voice isn’t accomplishing that, what else will? Get training if necessary! In the meantime, take a look at my 5 vocal skills that will help you influence audiences.
6. Playing It Too Straight. Passion alone—in the absence of so many other speaking skills—can compel listening, and sometimes agreement. Trying to be “businesslike” and “professional,” on the other hand, is usually just deadly.
Who remembers a speaker who conveys sheer content and little else; and who will be moved by him or her? Your information can take care of itself in reaching people’s consciousness. But you make it matter in human terms.
7. Keeping Your Distance. Every audience wants a charismatic speaker, someone who embodies presence. But presence isn’t as mysterious as we make it out to be. It’s simply a function of being present or mindful, i.e., fully aware of the here and now.
Audiences scare some speakers, and so those presenters develop the bad habit of keeping their distance. Whatever it means to you specifically, throw yourself into your audience. You’ll be sharing the moment with those people; a very special moment—a wonderful thing!—and “presence” and influence will be yours.
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