Public speaking is one of the many things that a great number of people look forward to not having to do as we take time out for the holiday season.
It’s no surprise really, as presenting is one of the most common business activities in organisations today. Wherever you work and whatever position you hold it’s highly unlikely that a week will pass where you are not called on to either attend of give a presentation.
It’s my belief that our presentation skills are critical to our success at work and yet a vast number of people live in dread of the idea of having to stand to deliver. It’s definitely a challenge worth facing up to as we approach the New Year though because the ability to present well can increase your self-confidence, enhance your reputation and career and open up some exciting opportunities.
It’s worth getting yourself some presentation skills coaching or booking yourself on a really good public speaking course to develop your skills. In the meantime, avoiding some of the bad habits on our naughty list will focus the mind and go a long way towards helping you.
The Mindful Presenter’s public speaking naughty list
You may not be familiar with the term but you will definitely have been on the receiving end of it at some point in the last year. It’s that extremely annoying habit of ending statements with an emphasis that makes them sound far more like questions.
The solution – Record yourself speaking
Make a recording of yourself presenting, having a chat with someone or even a telephone conversation and then play it back to yourself and listen carefully.
If it’s something you do then rest assured you will hear it.
Your challenge as you hear yourself ‘uptalk’ is to understand why it doesn’t work and can be so painful to listen to. Once you accept the challenge the next step is to have the mindfulness and courage to work on it.
Spend some time repeating each sentence where you noticed the upward inflection in your voice at the end of a statement reducing the upward pitch. Record yourself again once you’ve practiced a few times and notice the difference.
It was around this time last year that I published an article called, ‘Most presentations are far too long – Less really is more!’ In the article I wrote: ‘We need to cut out the superfluous noise.’
Sadly, even though another year has passed this one is still very high up on the naughty list. In our presentation and public speaking courses and coaching sessions we show people how to present even the longest and most complex presentation in just 90 seconds.
We don’t do so because we believe that is how long every presentation should be; we do it to demonstrate the power or focus and clarity.
The solution – Cut out the ‘noise’
As you craft your presentation ask yourself the following questions:
How much of this will be totally relevant to my audience?
How much of this do they already know?
How much of this is an unnecessary level of detail?
How much is repetition?
How much of this is promoting me rather than helping my audience?
How much of this will make a tangible difference to their lives?
When you are presenting your ideas the words you choose to use are of course critically important, although your hands reveal a great deal about you and your message as well.
In our presentation training and public speaking workshops, one of the most common habits we see on the naughty list is speakers:
- Clasping their hands in front of them or behind their back
- Keeping their hands in their pockets
- Holding onto their notes with both hands
If this is one on your naughty list then you are doing both your audience and yourself a huge disservice. When you gesture with your hands you instantly look more confident, you convey energy and enthusiasm and you become more fluent.
Movement offers visual energy and stimulation for your audience and your hands are a potent tool in breathing life into your words.
The solution – Take the ‘handcuffs’ off
Gesturing is such a natural part of speaking as you will notice the next time you are simply enjoying a conversation with someone completely informally.
Set your hands free by taking them out of your pockets, unclasping them or putting your notes down. They know exactly what to do and you don’t have to give them any instructions or personal attention other than to let them be free. You can start with your hands by you side or raised and as long as they are free they will join you as you speak and get into the flow of your presentation.
I’m just as uncomfortable writing it as you will be reading it but the one thing that has been on the naughty list for the last 3 decades and seems to be climbing rather than falling is bad visuals.
Bullet points, clipart, too much text, weird fonts, complex data, templates and totally unnecessary animation… should I go on?
These are just a few of the bad habits that are becoming even more prevalent in a time when they should all be now relics of the past. To add insult to injury not only are they still high up on the list the problem is greatly exacerbated by professionals reading their slides.
The solution – Think billboards
Use relevant, clear and compelling images
Use colour and contrast
Keep it simple
Use less words and bigger fonts
Ask yourself why you are using a slide in the first place and how it will help your audience to understand and connect with your message.
We all know what a robot is of course but I ‘Googled’ it today just to be certain it hadn’t changed from what I had been taught as a child.
‘Resembling or characteristic of a robot, especially in being stiff or unemotional.’
Everything I have put on my naughty list so far pales into insignificance compared to being ‘stiff or unemotional’ yet sadly the mind-set and delivery of the ‘corporate spokesperson’ is still very much alive.
The solution – Relax
Be prepared to be a little vulnerable
Tell them stories
Be your best self
Prepare and practice but don’t memorise
Use your voice and your body as well as your intellect
Put yourself in your audience’s shoes
The ‘bogeyman’ or ‘boogeyman’ as they call him in America is that mythical creature we created as parents to scare our children into behaving well.
It seems to me that many of us become adults and when asked to present or speak in public we conjure up our very own grown up ‘bogeyman’.
In the context of presenting and public speaking the ‘bogeyman’ is our self-created illusion of all of the bad things that will happen to us if we don’t deliver that perfect presentation. For the nervous presenter the ‘bogeyman’ is that voice in our heads:
‘I don’t know enough, they will see right through me’
‘I’m rubbish at presenting’
‘What if they know more than me?’
‘What if my mind goes blank?’
‘What if they ask me a question I can’t answer?’
The solution – It’s not about you
For many of us presenting is about satisfying and inflating our own egos rather than making a difference to the lives of our audience. Instead of focusing so heavily on your personal performance and how well you come across remind yourself your audience aren’t interested in how good you look up there, they only care about how you can help them. Instead of entertaining the ‘bogeyman’, try this instead.
- Focus entirely on how you can help your audience
- Acknowledge and accept the fact that everyone gets nervous when presenting
- Know your content inside out
- Challenge the voice of the ‘bogeyman’
- Create a conversation rather than a presentation
- Practice breathing exercises
Developing your presentation and public speaking skills adds enormous value to so many areas of your life and it’s not something any of us should reserve exclusively for the workplace. Sometimes the best place to start is by learning from the mistakes others have made before us.
Avoiding or overcoming the 6 habits on this naughty list will serve you and your audience extremely well.
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If this article has inspired you to learn a little more about how effective your presentation skills are you may want to take a look at our presentation training and presentation coaching pages to see how we may be able to help you. You will also find a great deal of really helpful ‘free’ information in our Learning Centre.
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