Three speakers bombed yesterday: one via webinar, one via teleconference, and the other live on stage in front of 300 audience members. None of them seemed aware of their small habits, gestures, or practices that threatened to sabotage their success. All seemed like smart business people. But they focused on their content to the exclusion of how they communicated it to their listeners.
Big mistake. How could I tell? Audience reactions.
Watching the other participants in the ZOOM webinar, I saw many slouched in their chairs, head in their hands. Some dozed off. Others walked away from their PC. Several were obviously working on other tasks.
Listening to the teleconference, others listening in the room with me whispered exasperation about the presenter who droned on and on laboriously with word fillers (uh, and, uh, so, hmm, uh) to fill the thinking gaps while he considered his next point.
The “live” speaker received only courteous smiles rather than roaring laughter at his attempts at humor.
Of course, no speaker intends to irritate or offend their audience. But the goal is to become aware of those unconscious habits and practices that mark you as a beginner at best and make you ineffective at worst.
“I got a call late yesterday that Ted wasn’t going to be able to be here. So I’m filling in and don’t really know what he intended to cover with you.” Or: “I haven’t really had a lot of time to prepare because of the big X project. But I’ll tell you what I can and attempt to answer questions.” Such comments are meant to lower expectations. But instead, they set people up to be disappointed.
Jokes sound canned, inauthentic, and impersonal. Chances are great that some in your audience have heard them already so your talk seems stale. Telling personal stories, on the other hand, makes your presentation unique.
Word fillers soon sound like a leaky faucet. With frequency, they seem to grow louder. Listeners began to focus on them: Another one. Another one. Another one. ANOTHER ONE. PLEASE SHUT THEM OFF.
When speakers add too much text to their slides, they’re tempted to turn their head and gaze at their slides rather than the audience. They lose eye contact and thus connection. Audience members feel free to look away as well. Time to check email or text messages.
Listening to a monotone puts audiences to sleep. The speaker comes across as if someone has popped their balloon, with energy escaping fast.
Watching you stand in a rigid position makes the audience tired—and uncomfortable. Release the tension so they can.
While some audience members will be inspired by your successes, most people will find it easier to identify with your failures and what you learned from them. Telling stories about how you accomplished great feats, traveled to exotic places, or won high honors sounds arrogant. They turn most people off rather than create a strong connection so you can persuade them.
Carrying on a dialogue with one person about an “inside” story in front of the group makes the rest of the audience feel like outsiders. Don’t do it.
Using planned props to make points works well. But absentmindedly juggling keys, pens, markers, tablets, smartphones, pointers, or hats while you talk reveals nervousness and distracts your audience.
No one intends to let some quirk irk an audience. Sometimes, the key to public speaking success means overcoming bad habits.
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