Presentation skills bad habits are easy to find. You don’t have to look very far.
Professionals looking to develop their communication skills have one major concern aside from anxiety.
It’s their bad presentation skills habits.
For many people those bad habits are of course very real and visible. For others, they are often imagined.
Here are the top 10 bad habits we are asked to help our clients with every day in no particular order:
Saying ‘Err’, ‘Umm’, ‘So’, ‘You know. Etc.
Talking too fast
Fidgeting… playing with my wedding ring, hair, pen, etc.
Not making eye contact
Moving around too much
Hands in pockets, behind back, clasped
Standing with legs crossed ( ladies)
Speaking too much
We even hear delegates say:
‘I repeatedly quote sound bites from my favour children’s films.’
‘When it comes to the Q&A I have no patience for people’s questions’
‘I very rarely spend enough time preparing and practicing’.
At Mindful Presenter we have a very clear definition of what constitutes a bad presentation skills habit:
‘Anything said or done, repeatedly to the point of distraction’
Why do we do it?
I’m not a behavioural psychologist or a ‘habit expert’ but as a professional public speaking and presentation skills coach I do have a perspective I’d like to share.
I believe that the reason we do so many of these things when we know we shouldn’t is simply because we are on ‘autopilot’.
Rather than being Mindful Presenters I believe we often become quite the opposite, mindless presenters.
One of my least favourite clichés is, ‘It’s easier said than done’
I haven’t yet come across anything that isn’t, ‘easier said than done’.
Eradicating bad presentation skills habits is without question, just like everything else in life, ‘easier said than done’.
Once you have acknowledged and accepted that you are doing something repeatedly, to the point of distraction, do this:
If you don’t spend enough time preparing and practicing your presentation recognise that you are doing your audience a huge disservice.
Put your audience first instead of yourself. Allow ample time to mindfully craft and deliver a memorable presentation. The very idea that you have no time to prepare for and practice your presentation is myth. What you really mean is that it’s not important enough to you and you don’t care enough about your audience.
If you have no patience for your audience’s questions recognise that you have no right presenting to them in the first place.
Change your attitude to one which is grateful for your audience listening well enough to ask questions.
If you find yourself quoting your favourite soundbites from your cherished films then make a decision to stop it right now. What makes you think that your audience will all have watched the film or be familiar with your quote?
If you believe, or are told that you repeatedly say, ‘Err’, ‘Umm’, ‘So’, or ‘You know’ too much then make a decision right now to monitor and stop it.
Have the mindfulness and courage to watch out for when you say ‘Err’ and make a conscious decision to pause and breathe instead.
Ask a trusted colleague to count the number of times you say ‘Err’, ‘Umm’, ‘So’ or ‘You know’. However many times they say you distracted your audience with these noises make a decision to do so less each time you speak. Askyour trusted colleague to count them again. Set yourself a goal to reduce the offending exchange each time you present.
If you speak too fast, make a mindful decision to slow down and pause regularly.
Don’t carry on speaking too fast when you know it’s an issue.
Take a few pages from one of your favourite books or if you don’t have one the newspaper will do. Read those pages out aloud in your normal reading voice. Practice slowing the pace right down. As you practice your presentation make the effort to record yourself speaking. Play it back and then record yourself again at a slower speed.
If you find yourself playing with your wedding ring then take it off.
If you have a habit of playing with a pen make sure there isn’t a pen in sight when you speak.
When you find yourself playing with your hair, make a point of tying it back out of reach.
If you have a habit of leaning on a chair in front of you, remove the chair.
Remove the distraction before you utter a word.
If you know you don’t make eye contact then remind yourself how painful it feels to be in a conversation with someone you really care about who doesn’t make eye contact with you.
Recognise that it’s one of the greatest personal gifts you can give your audience and practice giving it.
Always remember that it’s not about you, it’s about your audience. Each time you make eye contact with someone directly it not only connects you to them, it makes them feel important.
If you are one of those presenters who insist on reading your slides out to your audience then recognise two things.
1. You are insulting their intelligence by intimating that they can’t read.
2. Your audience can’t read and listen to you speak at the same time.
Your job is to know your content. That doesn’t mean you need to memorise it you simply need to practice delivering it.
If you feel that you move around too much or have been told you do so, capture the movement on camera. Ask yourself and others just how distracting it is.
Imagine you are standing in the middle of a large circle which has 3 X’s marked out on the floor within the circle. Practice stepping onto each of those markers from time to time. Move to them sparingly and wisely.
You definitely don’t want to stand still. You do need to ensure that your movement is meaningful and at the very least not mindless.
If you are talking about the past then take a step back into the past.
If you are speaking about the future be sure to step into the future.
If you find yourself with your hands in your pockets, behind your back, or clasped in front of you as you speak make a conscious effort to set them free.
At Mindful Presenter we call it. ‘taking the handcuffs off’. Despite what you may believe, your hands are keen to express themselves too. You don’t need to think about how to use them or instruct them in anyway. All you need to do is to ensure they are not trapped.
Make sure they are always readily available to speak for themselves in front of you.
If you are one of those presenters who tend to stand with your legs crossed there is something you need to know.
It may feel safe or comfortable to you or it may even be a subconscious stance but rest assured you audience think you are about to fall over in any moment.
If that isn’t what is running through their minds then they will most certainly feel that you don’t look very confident. Practice standing with your feet slightly apart pressing your toes into the ground.
Your job is to stay and look centred and grounded.
If you have a tendency to waffle then you need an ‘M point’.
Your ‘M point’ is your ‘moment of truth’.
It’s the one place you really want your audience to be the moment you finish speaking. What you want them to think, feel and do.
Everything that you say which doesn’t support your ‘M point’ is just ‘noise’ so cut it out.
If you speak too much then we have the perfect solution for you.
You need to switch your entire focus to being ARMED.
Whether your presentation normally takes 20 minute or 2 hours to deliver, practice giving it in 90 seconds using this structure.
Make sure you grab you audience’s attention immediately.
Make sure that everything you say, show or do is personal and relevant to your audience.
If you can’t communicate your message in the form of a simple and powerful tweet then we don’t believe you have one. Make certain, it’s short, simple and compelling.
We all live and learn by examples. Don’t’ just share facts, data and insights with your audience; give them real life human examples to illustrate your point and ensure that they ‘get it’.
Whatever you do make sure that no one leaves the room without you making it abundantly clear what it is you want them to do next.
If you can learn how to present your message or idea in 90 seconds then when you have the gift of time to take much longer you will realise just how much of what you usually say is unnecessary
It’s outside of my control
There are of course a number of physiological responses which appear to be outside of our control.
Heart beat racing
These are just a few of the countless concerns we hear at our workshops each week
These are genuine, debilitating physiological responses to presenting and public speaking. They are all part of our ‘fight or flight’ response mechanism there is no quick fix although there is a great deal you can still do. Please don’t regard them as bad presention skills habits.
Sweaty palms, heart beat racing
You need to breathe!
Many people are anxious about public speaking and presenting because they believe that their body will let them down by making them feel very uncomfortable and out of control. It is not a physical response they consciously decided to have it’s something we inherited from our ancient ancestors when we feel under threat.
Whilst it’s not something you can simply tell people to stop feeling the good news is that there is still a great deal you can do about it rather than complain or accept it.
The Vagus Nerve
Is the longest of the cranial nerves which sends out fibres from our brainstem to your visceral organs. It communicates nerve impulses to every organ in our body which can help us to dramatically reduce the effects of the fight or flight response. It’s an amazing physiological gift we each have which we can use to help us to calm down.
It releases the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which tells our lungs to breathe and we can manually stimulate our vagus nerve by focusing on breathing. Try taking a few slow, rhythmic, abdominal breathes by breathing from your diaphragm and holding your breath for four to eight counts.
Can also be steadied by stimulating the vagus nerve through breathing properly. Another simple but powerful tool we teach our clients whose legs feel little shaking when presenting is to ground themselves. The way to do so is by simply standing tall when you are about to speak and squeeze your toes and feet into your shoes and the ground beneath you. Your audience won’t even see you doing it and as you do so your legs will become much steadier. If your legs are excessively shaky then just before you speak find somewhere that you know you won’t be disturbed and practice jumping high up into the air a few times. Each time you land feel how solid your legs and feet are on the ground.
Stimulate your vagus nerve by practicing some breathing techniques before you begin presenting.
Acknowledge the idea that blushing for some people is simply a physiological response and don’t dwell on it as a problem, acknowledge it and let it go.
Deliver your presentation a few times in front of a mirror before you speak and even though you probably won’t blush there because you have no audience just get to know your content inside and out and watch yourself speak.
As you speak, practice slowing down, breathing and pausing.
Try to get rid of some of that nervous energy before you speak. Head to your office or the rest room, push against a wall for a little bit or do some star jumps or something to burn a little energy. Once you’ve done so allow yourself time to calm down again and breath for a good few minutes to rebalance and settle yourself. Don’t head straight into speak.
Practice focusing exclusively on your audience and your message
Even the best presentations in terms of content and engaging delivery can quickly turn into a total disaster through a bad habit repeated to the point of distraction.
Our challenge is to identify them and then to mindfully do whatever it takes to get rid of them or significantly reduce their impact on our audience. As you can see there is enormous scope to help ourselves but that of course is the ultimate challenge; we have to help ourselves.
If you need help with bad presentation skills habits:
– Book yourself onto a powerful public speaking course.
– Invest in some really good one to one public speaking coaching.
– Get yourself some excellent presentation training
Image: Courtesy of istockphoto.com
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