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Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The 5 Worst Habits in Public Speaking

Most seasoned speakers prepare themselves through practice and careful preparation whereas novice speakers believe their natural talent and ability is enough to get them through the presentation. NEVER wing your presentation. This is because no matter how good you are, your natural tendencies will get the best of you. So here's a list of the top 5 worst habits unprepared speakers make in their speech.

5. The "Uhm" Reflex

The average person says 5 to 10 "uhms" every minute when giving a speech. Even in a normal conversation a person may subconsciously say "uhm" 50 times without anyone noticing. But how can anyone go "uhm" 50 times without us hearing it? Our brain is programmed the same way emails filter out spam: any repetitive and useless information is disregarded automatically.

So what's the problem with saying "uhm" if our brains filter it out? The problem is once you start associating any part of a speech to be irrelevant, your brain starts to filter out syllables, words, phrases, and eventually sentences. Ever have someone nag at you for 4 hours only to find a minute later you don't remember anything the person said? This is because the repeated information has been categorized by your brain as spam, which as we all know, nobody bothers to remember. Other forms of "uhm" include coughs, clearing of the throat, and "ahh".

4. Fidgeting with your Hands

Fidgeting with your hands is a body language that says, "I need reassurance." When you feel tense, nervous, or uneasy your subconscious tells you to hold on to something like a glass, pen, or even a part of your body such as your hands. It's easy to tell if someone's anxious by the way they fidget with their fingers. Children do it all the time, even adults. Interestingly enough, the most common place you'll find an adult fidgeting is when he's talking in front of a crowd.

What's the solution to this tendency? Keep your hands still by clasping your hands together. If leaving your hands open is too difficult for you then hold each hand firmly to reassure yourself that you don't need to fidget and most definitely don't need a hug. In time when you're more comfortable speaking in front of a crowd, you'll find it natural to keep your hands open and use them for more relevant gestures like pointing at the next speaker. Other gestures for reassurance include folding your arms, touching your forearms, and placing your hands inside your pockets.

3. Talking to the Floor, Ceiling, or Wall

This includes talking to your notes, PowerPoint, and so on. Your listeners are seated in front of you. The moment you start asking questions to the wall is the moment your audience starts thinking you're not talking to them anymore. Still, you're nervous, you're tense, and imagining the audience naked just makes you want to look away even more. It's understandable but still a bad habit to avoid.

When a liar makes eye-contact he raises his credibility by 90%. The same goes for speaking to a group. They'll find your speech more believable if you look them in the eye as you tell your story. Of course, there's a difference between looking and staring. The general rule is to make eye contact with the people in front of you then transfer your attention to another area towards the back or sides. This way the audience will know you're talking to them whenever you ask a question.

2. Beating Around the Bush

The picture above reflects the contents of your speech whenever you beat around the bush. It's relevance to the topic? Nothing. Which is why I can't stress enough how important it is to keep your stories, anecdotes, and jokes relevant to your topic. Not just novice speakers, but even seasoned speakers end up sharing irrelevant stories about their glory days. As much as we all want to hear about them, we'd prefer it if you kept the speech short and concise.

Make an outline of your speech or have a set of relevant topics written down as you discuss your presentation in front of a group. Using the three-point rule is also very useful. Just remember this phrase: "there are three things..." and you'll be able to make your three points without getting side-tracked and, more importantly, help you finish your speech in time for dinner.

1. Talking to Yourself

"And then.. uhh, what's that word again?" or "Uhm, wait, no that's not right, ah!- Wait, uhm..." are phrases you'll commonly hear from a speaker that's forgotten his script halfway through a sentence. It's common, normal, but still completely wrong. Talking to yourself not only lowers your credibility but is also a quick way to lose the audience's attention. It's a combination of the "Uhm" reflex and talking-to-the-wall. This two-in-one mannerism is the worst thing you can do in the middle of a speech.

To avoid this, use proper fillers such as asking the audience for their opinion. This buys you time to collect your thoughts and recall what it is you're supposed to say. But avoid using fillers such as "basically," "actually," or "honestly." Because actually basically honestly indubitably seriously definitely you'd have understood this sentence more if I took out the fillers.

Those are the top 5 worst habits in public speaking. Look forward to the next article for the top 5 signs of confidence in body language.

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