Every speaker is different. In fact, one of the most important things any speaker can learn is that what makes them unique is also what makes them interesting. Grabbing an audience is about showing them a bit of who you are as an individual.
That said, there are also some golden rules that are so general as to be helpful to almost everyone. I write about many of them on this blog: make eye contact, smile more, tell a story. There are also, though, lessons to be learned from negatives: there are “don’ts” as well as “dos”. I try to focus on the positive, but sometimes you have to look at common mistakes and how to avoid them.
Mistake One: Errrr …
In the business, we have a phrase: “filler words.” This refers to vocalisations that are often not even words but sounds: “erm”, “umm”, “aah”. In casual conversation, they are actually pretty useful – they signal to the person to whom you’re speaking that you haven’t finished, that you are just trying to find the right word and will keep going in a moment.
In a more formal setting, however, they act to damage the audience’s confidence in you: too many filler words can leave you sounding uncertain and even as if you are making things up as you go. Clever use of pauses can actually improve your speaking; but over-relying on the “erm” can be seriously distracting. Work on understanding your presentation better, and not being afraid of silence: that way you will stumble less and be less keen on filling pauses with sounds.
Mistake Two: Self-deprecation
In many ways, self-deprecation is a fantastic tool: if you make an error, turning it into a joke can really win your audience over. Likewise, arrogance is a big turn-off, so humility is an absolute must: don’t walk onto stage like you’re the best thing since sliced bread! A little bit of self-deprecation can go a long way to charming an audience.
But I do mean “a little bit”. Your audience needs to have faith in you, so avoid subtle and constant deprecations like “I sort of think” or “perhaps you should.” Have confidence in what you’re saying – don’t soft-sell your words or yourself. Don’t “hope” your audience will find your speech useful; assure them that they will!
Mistake Three: pleaseslowdownyou’retalkingtoofast!
This one’s so easy I’ll keep it simple: slow down. So many speakers just go too fast, and that ruins the audience’s ability to digest what they’re saying. Don’t rush; enjoy it.
In many ways, these “mistakes” are habits we can easily unlearn. If you think really carefully about, and focus on, your public speaking, you will go a long way to doing so.