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10 Public Speaking Habits that Disengage Your Audience

Here are 10 bad public speaking habits that annoy your audience and detract from what might otherwise be an excellent public speech or presentation.

Habit 1: Not tailoring your presentation for your audience

“Talk to a man about himself and he will listen for hours.” – Benjamin Disraeli

I’ve noticed recently the number of speakers who miss the mark where their audience is concerned. This is largely because they haven’t made themselves aware of their target audience. I recall many times, when I worked in corporate life, briefing a speaker about what I’d like them to cover in their presentation, only to be disappointed when the speaker simply pulled out one their generic off-the-shelf presentation. So disappointing!

Your audience knows you haven’t done their homework, and their response ranges from disappointment and frustration and disengagement. Research your audience and be sure to focus on “what’s in it for them”: learn about their knowledge-base and be very clear about the purpose of your speech. As a subject-matter expert, your job is to tailor the presentation so that it is relevant, useful and engaging.

Tip 1 – Know your audience

Habit 2: Poor eye contact

Many presenters fail to maintain meaningful, sustained eye contact with their listeners. Their eyes scurry from one person to person to the next, never actually pausing to fix on any individual. The result is that no one in the audience actually feels “included”. Worse again: poor eye contact can create the impression that the speaker is insincere, disinterested, detached or even arrogant.

To visually connect, focus on one person in the audience for at least two to three seconds – long enough to complete a full phrase or sentence.

Tip 2 – Establish eye contact for good communication

Habit 3: Distracting mannerisms and word patterns

These are those annoying habits like clenching or wringing hands, pacing back and forth, keeping your hands in pockets, jingling change or keys, twisting your ring, gripping the lectern, licking your lips, adjusting your hair or clothing, fidgeting with a pen, bobbing your head, placing your arms behind your back. They also include: vocal mannerisms such as the continual use of word fillers such as: “um”, “uh”, “and so on”.

Tip 3 – Video yourself speaking and watch the playback

Habit 4: Poor rehearsal

Yes you might know your topic but don’t imagine, even for a second, that the words will come tripping off the tongue if you’re not fully prepared and rehearsed. Research your audience; design your slide deck; practice working with your notes. Keep in mind it takes only seconds for your audience to form an impression of you and of your subject expertise and credibility around your topic.

Tip 4 – Prepare first and then rehearse out loud several times

Habit 5: Lethargy

If you’ve talked about the same subject over and over, its easy to become complacent. Your enthusiasm and passion for your subject (or lack of it) soon becomes apparent. Think about the actors you know who perform their roles on stage night after night without showing even a glimpse of lethargy. Their success relies on their ability and capacity to deliver their performance with the same energy level night after night.

Tip 5 – Speak with enthusiasm, vary your facial expression, move naturally , and inject some energy

Habit 6: Data dumping

If you’re a subject-matter expert it can often be easy to roll out what Aristotle called Logos, or what I call data dump. This is that very local approach often involving citing statistics and presenting graph after graph – a very logical and left brain reasoned approach focusing on critical thinking and numbers. Of course there’s nothing wrong with this in itself, although data dumping is not in itself audience focused. It loses most of the right-brained audience almost immediately and undermines your innate ability to inspire, connect, and persuade.

Tip 6 – Balance your presentation by appealing to the emotion  (see Habit 7)

Habit 7: Lack of passion and enthusiasm

Humans typically make decisions based on our emotions first. Next they look for the facts and figures and logic to justify them. An engaging, memorable, and persuasive presentation is balanced with both information and inspiration. “It speaks to the head and the heart, leveraging both facts and feelings.
Cater for right-brain thinking by engages the audience through emotion, images, stories, examples, empathy, humour, imagination, colour, sounds, touch, and rapport.

Tip 7 – Appeal to the emotions first and then deliver the data to justify the emotion

Habit 8: Too few pauses

Anxiety, adrenalin, or time constraints can often create a sense of urgency for the presenter causing them to rush along appearing never to take breath. Listeners need time to collect and consolidate their thoughts so remember to pause often. Pause before and after you say something you want your audience to remember; pause before and after you transition from one key point to the next; pause between your opening, main body and closing. Effective use of pause creates mood, displays confidence and makes the message impactful.

Tip 8 – Remember the power of silence

Habit 9: Not crafting a powerful opening

A strong opening commands attention from the outset. Don’t waste the opening by rambling pointless remarks about how nice it is to be there, or even worse, apologizing needlessly.

Rehearse a strong attention grabbing opening. For example, you might tell an engaging or relevant story; state a startling statistic; or ask a thought-provoking question.

Tip 9 – Make an impact with your opening statements

Habit 10: Coming to an abrupt ending or not transitioning into Q&A

Never end your presentation with ‘That’s it. Any questions?”. Your final words should be carefully considered. Use your conclusion to reinforce your key points and leave a memorable message with a call to action. You can use lead in phrases such as “Let me leave you with….”, or “What I want you to remember most about this…..”

Tip 10 – Lead to question time through a clearly articulated summary of the significant points raised and with a call to action

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