Are you a dreadful public speaker?
Unfortunately far too many people in business really don’t cut the mustard when it comes to public speaking. And yet, being able to present your business in a clear and engaging way is essential if you are to succeed.
So ask yourself, “Do I commit any of the dreadful public speaking sins listed below?” If the answer is yes, then take steps to improve. Your business, and your audience, will thank you!
1. You become the invisible man or woman
Your information may be new. Your questions may be insightful. But if you stand in front of your audience reading the content of densely packed slides you will become invisible. Your audience will put its collective attention on understanding what you’ve written and will hardly notice you’re there. In the worst case you may become the annoying voice in the background making it hard to focus on the visual aids!
Key lesson: Use simple visual aids to support your points and make yourself visible.
2. The audience is bothering you
This week I watched as a speaker walked to the stage, looked at his audience and let out a huge sigh. The look in his eye, the droopy body language made the audience members feel they had caused him a big problem by turning up. Now he had to go through the trial of talking to us.
Key lesson: Remind yourself why your audience needs to hear from you and stride up looking confident.
3. You like to fly by the seat of your pants
It’s a solid fact that powerful public speakers prepare and practice. If you’ve convinced yourself that you want to be ‘in the moment’ or you think you know your subject so you can ‘wing it’ there is a good chance that your audience will be unimpressed. Being adaptable is positive. There are times when you need to change your presentation in response to what your audience needs on the day. However, lack of preparation means you’re most likely to ramble and confuse your listeners.
Key lesson: give yourself time to prepare and practice
4. You want to share 100 fascinating facts
You want to pack in too much. If you bombard people with everything you know, 100 facts in 10 minutes, they will feel overwhelmed and bored. Your audience simply won’t be able to take it all in. Part of your problem is that you want to share what you find interesting without making it clear why we, the audience need to know.
Key lesson: adopt a ‘less is more’ approach. Focus on a few relevant facts and make them memorable.
5. Your love standing in front of an audience
Perhaps you love speaking in public too much. I have a colleague who can easily speak to an audience of any size for an hour, or two, or more….You may be extrovert and charming but if you overrun your allotted speaking time no one will thank you. It’s also highly likely that the important points you want your audience to go away with will get lost in the jungle of words.
Key lesson: Show your love by considering your audience’s needs and stick to time.
6. Your utterances are mutterances
You mutter and mumble as if you’re talking to yourself or having a conversation with one person who’s six centimetres away from you. The way we speak is often the result of habits we’ve developed over the years. If you run your words together, trail off at the end of sentences, speak too quietly, or are monotonous you are one of the speakers audiences dread. It’s time to start articulating clearly, bringing energy into your voice, and remember that everyone in the room needs to hear you.
Key lesson: Listen to recordings of your speeches, notice the patterns and take corrective action. If it’s really bad consider having some voice coaching.
7. You shout at your audience
You can be too loud. Some people are blessed with voices that naturally carry across vast spaces. In a small room this can make the audience feel as if they’re being shouted at or even pushed towards the back wall by the pressure of the sound. You can also come across as bullying or hectoring. Loud people often speak at the same volume all the time which is tiring to listen to, or makes our ears bleed!
Key lesson: Adapt and vary your volume to fit the size of the space and for the sake of your audience’s ears.
8. You’re talking to the wrong audience
You’ve forgotten to check who will be in the audience. What’s the demographic? You can talk about leadership to teens but should you use the examples and stories that you used at the Rotary Club or a Finance Directors conference? If you have technical information to convey don’t talk to a group of middle managers as if they all have Phds in an obscure detail of derivatives trading, or thin film technology.
Key lesson: do your homework and focus on your audience.
9. You haven’t done your research
Perhaps you haven’t checked where you are placed in the order of speakers. Do you know what the previous speaker’s subject is and what he has said? Words that an audience fear include “As Sara has already said…” “I was going to tell you about…. but er.., um… you’ve heard it from John so…I’ll just skip the next 10 slides.” Of course you may stride up confidently, deliver your presentation, wonder why people don’t seem engaged, then find out afterwards they’d heard your brilliant ideas from previous speakers.
Key lesson: Co-ordinate with other speakers.
10. You forget you’re in front of an audience
We’ve all seen people drawn towards the light projected on the screen. You talk to the slides forgetting the people behind you. Other aspects of forgetfulness can be more embarrassing: nervously clawing at your neck as if no-one will notice, absent-mindedly scratching [I’ll leave where to your imagination], starting to talk to someone in the front row and turning your presentation into a private conversation. You’ve forgotten that public speaking is a performance.
Key lesson: Watch yourself on video to notice how you perform and wean yourself off unhelpful habits.
Public speaking is a key business skill, so take steps to overcome the reasons that get in the way of good public speaking – and you’ll quickly go from dreadful to distinguished.
About the Author
Dorothea Stuart is from Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Headquartered in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, the organization’s membership exceeds 352,000 in more than 16,400 clubs in 141 countries. Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience. There are over 300 clubs in the UK and Ireland with over 7000 members. To find your local club: www.toastmasters.org Follow @Toastmasters on Twitter.