I’m sure you’ve seen some public speakers who really inspired you with their confidence and their messages. I’m equally sure you’ve seen some cringeworthy performances. Often, it’s the speakers’ body language and the deliberate way they speak that make all the difference.
Bad speaker habit #1: Saying “um,” “ah” or “eh” when you’re at a loss for words
The problem with these utterances is that they can make you sound unprepared. If you practice your speech ahead of time, you’ll know what to say, cutting down on your reliance on these verbal crutches. If you’re asked a question that you don’t have an immediate answer for, then a brief silence instead of “Uhhhhh” makes you look like you’re thoughtfully pondering the question (which, hopefully, you are) before responding.
Bad speaker habit #2: Using filler words
“You know, the reason we’re here is to, you know, work on the schedule for next week.”
“This meeting will, like, help us to understand where our, like, strengths are.”
“I mean, if a client says this to you, how do you respond?”
I once listened to a speaker whose catchphrase was “you know.” I lost count at the 40th time she said it. Most of the time, speakers are blissfully unaware they’re talking this way. The best way to determine if you’re using filler words is to record yourself, then play it back. You could also enlist the aid of a friend or colleague to tell you if you’re using filler words. Knowing what your filler words are will help you to avoid them in the future.
Bad speaker habit #3: Unconscious movements
I’ve seen speakers who spend their stage time shifting their weight from one leg to the other, swaying back and forth. Then there are those who pace the stage like caged lions. Talk about distracting! The best public speakers practice looking relaxed and engaged with their audience in a way that looks natural and unforced. Take a video of yourself while you’re speaking to see if there are any habits like these you need to work on.
Bad speaker habit #4: Weird hand positions
Why is it so easy to gesture naturally with an individual and so difficult to do the same thing onstage? Here are some weird hand positions I’ve witnessed:
Knitting fingers together in front of the chest or stomach
Constantly making parallel chopping motions with both hands
Left arm hanging, right hand gripping left forearm
Clasped hands moving up and down for emphasis
Again, making a video of yourself will help to identify any distracting gestures you may be favoring, as will asking somebody else to review your performance. Practice speaking with your arms held loosely at your sides and making conscious gestures for emphasis.
Why this is important
These four speaker mistakes can be incredibly distracting to your audiences. Get rid of these verbal tics and movements and you’ll appear more poised and in control when you’re onstage!