8 Bad Public Speaking Habits to Break Now

Imagine you’ve just finished a big speech and you can’t wait to get on Twitter to see what the audience is saying about your performance.

The hashtags say it all: “#worstspeechever,” “#justkillmenow,” and “#epicfail.”

The worst part? Those are the kindest tweets. The others involve words your mother told you to never use.

If you’ve received such reviews, you’re not alone. Some of the brightest, most intelligent professionals are also the kind of public speakers that make others want to run for the exits the minute they spot them behind the podium or loading a PowerPoint.

Giving a great speech is not that difficult if you avoid the common presentation traps that ensnare many professionals.  If you want a public talk to enhance your career and not kill it, then you should:

1. Stop channeling your high school debate team.
Those oration lessons you learned from the speech teacher? Forget them. You want to focus on having a conversation with your audience. Study how talk show hosts like Oprah Winfrey or Katie Couric lay out a problem and include their audience by telling stories about a problem and then outlining solutions. At the same time, they’re always willing to share a bit about themselves so that the audience feels like they have a relationship with them. Remember that audiences these days expect to be entertained while also being informed.

2. Stop depending on technology.
Could you give your speech if your PowerPoint crashed? If you cannot, then you’re not prepared to give a speech. You should be able to convey a compelling message without technical aids, so ensure you’re familiar enough with the subject you can talk without such prompts and still make it interesting.

3. Quit being robotic.
President Barack Obama has been criticized for being an unemotional speaker, while First Lady Michelle Obama gets high marks for her energy, emotion and eye contact. This should reinforce the lesson that no one can expect an audience’s attention if they don’t earn it.

4. Avoid just sticking to the facts.
Just because you’re talking about widgets doesn’t mean you can’t connect with the subject. Think about why those widgets are important to your audience. Will the new widgets make factories more productive, and perhaps save hundreds of jobs? Let the audience see that you understand why it’s important to them.

5. Ditch the shoes that pinch.
If you’re in a pair of shoes that are killing your feet, it shows. Any personal distraction – hair that falls in your face, jewelry that clangs about and a too-tight shirt convey uncomfortable body language. Always try on the clothes and shoes the night before a big speech, even if you’re worn it before (you could have put on a few pounds since last time). You need to feel so comfortable that it feels natural to move around and gesture without fearing you’re going to pop a button or develop a foot cramp. Your relaxed body language is critical if you want your audience to feel comfortable with you.

6. Forget the stale rhetoric.
If you’ve used an anecdote or saying in one speech, you need to choose something else the next time. You never know when an audience member has heard you before. At the same time, avoid picking up anecdotes from the Internet or public speaking books, as the audience is likely to have heard it before.

7. Embrace silence.
You’ve been asked to speak, so speak you must. But that doesn’t mean you should try to pack as much information as possible into your allotted time. Don’t be worried about taking a pause, especially after a significant piece of information. Let the audience digest it, then move onto your next point. If you lose your place for a moment, don’t try to fill it with “ums” or “ahs” or “so.” A pause also can be effective in delivering a humorous message – just watch a few videos of stand-up comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and you’ll get the idea.

8. Keep your iPhone out of reach.
Walk away from that smartphone before any speech. Turn it off, hide it under your chair or bury it in a coat pocket. Instead of holding onto it like a security blanket or using it to check last-minute emails, take the time before a speech to mingle with audience members. A smile, handshake and “so happy you could make it” will help you establish rapport with audience members and get them more engaged from the first words of your speech. It’s especially important to reach out to those sitting near the front, since you want to make eye contact with them.

Many professionals believe they can give a speech because they have a deep knowledge of their subject. The problem is that they’re not prepared to share that insight in a way that’s entertaining and informative. The result is that they alienate the audience and lose a golden opportunity to ramp up their professional standing.

That’s why it’s worth investing in a public speaking class. Even a weekend seminar can be worthwhile in helping you hone your presentation skills so that Twitter is abuzz over your abilities – not your goofs.

What are some suggestions you have for public speakers?


Photo Credit © The Center for Social Confidence

 

Anita Bruzzese

Anita Bruzzese is a syndicated columnist for Gannett/USA Today on workplace issues and the author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy.” She has been on the Today show, and quoted in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, Self.com and BusinessWeek.com. Her website, 45things.com, is listed on the Forbes top 100 websites for women.

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  • http://twitter.com/gareth824 Gareth Patterson

    Nice post… I’ve had a few things I’ve (half) jokingly told people who report to me that I would fire them for, if I ever saw them say in a presentation… (I’ve seen all of these… and it drives me crazy!)

    “These aren’t my slides, so please bear with me” – You are presenting them, and you I am giving my time to watch them. So, if these aren’t the slides that you should be presenting, why are you here?

    “I know you can’t read this, but…” – then WHY are they on the slide? Then why would you even build the slide? Why?

    “I’ve got to get through all these slides, so let’s go quickly” – WHY???? Why didn’t you get organized enough to select the right topic and focus for this speech.

    “Let me just read this slide to you” – WHY? I can read… tell me the story. Oh, why does your slide have your script on it?

    Finally, I’ve given the two following pieces of advice to everyone…
    - Speak more slowly than you are comfortable with, and then you are speaking at the right speed.
    - Go pee immediately before you start your presentation! ;)

    [Reply]

    Anita Bruzzese Reply:

    Great suggestions! All valid points….let’s hope everyone takes them to heart!

    [Reply]

  • Alan Lorden

    This is excellent! You touched on the simple magic it takes to embrace an audience. The main concept to take away is that any talk you give is about them, not you and should be handled the same way you would throw a party – you want the guests to feel comfortable and special. Also really great feedback from Gareth – I’ve heard all of these before and they are mainly the exports of a lack of confidence.

    [Reply]

    AnitaBruzzese Reply:

    Alan,
    I love that you liken it to throwing a party. So true!

    [Reply]

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  • Michael Gregory

    After many unproductive attempts to convince an audience of particular issues or management directions I finally gave up. There is nothing harder to do than trying to convince a group of people of something by giving them all the details. While details are important, connecting with the audience both personally and emotionally are even more so.
    Facts and details need to be joined with the group’s own goals and what is important to them. Giving a presentation through a story that connects them to your ideas will bring life to the facts and details supporting your goals for speaking to your audience. Giving a presentation that connects personally to the members of the audience greatly improves your communication effectiveness.
    Thank you for your article.

    [Reply]

    AnitaBruzzese Reply:

    Michael,
    Thanks for sharing this insight, because it’s true what looks good on paper (lots of facts, figures) doesn’t always translate well in a presentation.

    [Reply]

  • DCinSF

    One thing I like to do when giving a presentation, especially those that are sales in nature, is to have a slide toward the beginning that highlights the main takeaways I’d like the audience to walk away with. This permits me to set some expectations and seeds the audience for what to listen for. Also, if it’s a small enough group, if there is something else that they would like covered, having that opening slide allows me to change course if necessary early in the meeting.

    In essence, I have one hour (or however long my presentation is allotted for) to make an impression and out of respect to the audience members time, I want to convey the key messages I’m there to address. Storytelling is absolutely key, but the stories need to be on point and easy to follow. I’ve been witness to too many presentations where the speaker tries so hard to add descriptive “filler” details that by the time they get to the point of the tale, I have already tuned them out.

    My goal is to have the audience walk away having learned something, or confirmed their own notions they came in with. Ultimately, I want them to feel that they didn’t waste their time attending the presentation.

    [Reply]

    Anita Bruzzese Reply:

    DCinSF,
    So glad you stressed that storytelling is great, as long as the stories are relevant. It’s so annoying when speakers tell rambling stories that seem to have no conclusion or point!

    [Reply]

  • Lee Atherton

    Even more basic: look sharp (wear nice clothes) stand up straight, hands out of your pockets, and speak loudly! I don’t know if it’s just me, but people who do presentations in grubby jeans, slouch and never look up lose my interest and speaks of a lack of professionalism.

    [Reply]

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