www.wellsaid.com June 2014

Dear (Contact First Name), 

  

When it comes to public speaking, do you have any bad habits? Most of us do. They're those pesky unconscious behaviors that undermine our best intentions. It's easy to spot them in other speakers. As Mark Twain jests, "Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits."  The tough part is seeing them in ourselves-and eliminating them. This month's article covers seven of the most common bad habits, plus tips for avoiding them. For the complete 'Top Ten List,' please read my recent interview with Inc. Magazine:  http://tinyurl.com/pqrqc3r

 

Best wishes for your continued speaking excellence, and thanks very much for your loyal readership.

 

Kind regards,

    

Seven Public Speaking Habits To Avoid: 

 Eliminating Mistakes That Undermine Your Message

  

By Darlene Price, Well Said, Inc.

"We are what we repeatedly do.

Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."
--Aristotle
 
A habit is a routine way of thinking, feeling or behaving, which tends to occur unconsciously.  In golf, no player intentionally raises up on the backswing--you're sure to top the ball and make a poor shot; however, it's among the most common errors on the course. Similarly, as a speaker, you would never consciously clench your hands, pace the floor, and avoid eye contact with the audience--your listeners would likely perceive you as nervous and insecure; yet, these common bad habits occur daily in the workplace by presenters who are otherwise smart accomplished professionals.

 

Here's a list of seven common public speaking habits to avoid at all costs, along with their potential consequences and helpful remedies:

 

#1: Not knowing the audience. As Benjamin Disraeli once said, "Talk to a man about himself and he will listen for hours." If you want your audience to listen, talk to them about themselves. Speakers frequently fall into the bad habit of giving generic off-the-shelf presentations that are not tailored to address the needs of this particular audience. Listeners know when a speaker has not done his or her homework, and their response ranges from disappointment and frustration to anger and disengaging.

 

Instead, tailor your message to address their specifics. Ask yourself, "Who is my audience? What are their burning issues and interests? When and where will they be able to apply my message? Why should they care?  How does my message help them? What will I ask them to do in response to my message?"  All the best practices in public speaking depend upon this first tenet: Know Your Audience.

 

#2: Eye dart. From beginners to veterans, the majority of speakers fail to maintain meaningful sustained eye contact with their listeners. Unconsciously, their eyes scurry from person to person, darting around the room, without ever pausing to actually see the recipients of their message. A lack of eye contact implies a list of offenses: insincerity, disinterest, detachment, insecurity, shiftiness, even arrogance.

 

To visually connect and convey confidence, maintain eye contact for at least two to three seconds per person, or long enough to complete a full phrase or sentence. Effective eye communication is the most important nonverbal skill in a speaker's toolbox.

 

#3: Distracting mannerisms. There are at least 20 tics to tackle, including: clenching or wringing your hands, pacing back and forth, keeping your hands in pockets, jingling change or keys, twisting your ring, holding a scowl, swaying to and fro, gripping the lectern, licking your lips, adjusting your hair or clothing, fidgeting with a pen, bobbing your head, placing your arms behind your back, cupping your hands across your zipper (aka 'fig-leaf' position), shifting your weight, reading from notes, staring at the screen, tapping your fingers, pointing your index finger at the audience, chewing gum, and touching your face. One or more of these habits can distract the audience from your message and jeopardize your credibility.

 

As a remedy, video-record yourself speaking and watch the playback. Practice often to increase your comfort level and reduce anxiety. Take a public speaking class, join Toastmasters, or enlist the help of a local coach to eliminate distracting mannerisms and habituate purposeful movement.

 

#4: Not rehearsing. Many proficient presenters prepare. That is, they know the topic, organize their content, design a slide deck, and study their notes. However, most presenters do not rehearse. According to a recent survey I conducted, less than 2% of over 5,000 business presenters in Fortune 100 companies actually conduct a dress rehearsal and practice their presentation aloud. This bad habit results in the audience seeing and hearing the unrefined run-through, versus the finessed final performance.

 

To optimize the audience's perception of you and get the outcome you want, perform the entire presentation aloud at least once, and the opening and closing at least three times each.  

 

#5: Low energy. As the Guinness World Record holder for the most performances in the same Broadway show, George Lee Andrews is famous for playing the role of Monsieur Andr� in The Phantom of the Opera. Surely, he must have felt tired during at least one or two of his 9,382 performances, but he didn't show it considering his contract was renewed 45 times over 23 years. Enthusiasm, defined as eager enjoyment and active interest, is an audience's most desired trait in a presenter. Conversely, a boring delivery--evidenced by a low monotone voice, dull facial expressions, and overall lethargy-is their most disliked trait.

To avoid losing your audience in a New York minute, crank up the energy level.  Speak expressively, smile sincerely, move naturally, and enjoy the moment.

#6. Data-dumping. It's understandable. After all, our credibility is on the line when we stand up and speak out. So, to be safe, we focus almost entirely on what Aristotle called Logos, which includes the left-brain functions of logic, language, analysis, reasoning, critical thinking, and numbers. When we rely too heavily on this type of content, we end up talking too long, reading too many over-crowded illegible slides, and turning our backs on the most important element of all--the audience.

Ditch the habit of data-dumping. It loses the audience and undermines your innate ability to inspire, connect and persuade.

#7. Failure to inspire. Even more vital to persuasion than Logos, says Aristotle, is Pathos, which includes the right-brain activities of emotions, images, stories, examples, empathy, humor, imagination, color, sounds, touch, and rapport. Tomes of studies show human beings typically make a decision based on emotions first (Pathos); then, we look for the facts and figures to justify it (Logos). Audience members do the same.

With your words, actions and visuals, seek first to inspire an emotion in them (joy, surprise, hope, excitement, love, empathy, vulnerability, sadness, fear, envy, guilt). Then, deliver the analysis to justify the emotion.  An engaging, memorable, and persuasive presentation is balanced with both information and inspiration. It speaks to the head and the heart, leveraging both facts and feelings.

If you would like to learn more about effective presentation skills, please read my book, Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results (available in hard cover and Kindle). 

http://www.amazon.com/Well-Said-Presentations-Conversations-Results/dp/0814417876

Or contact me directly at darlene.price@wellsaid.com to schedule a training session for you and your team. I would be honored to support your speaking success!

 

 
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