Could you imagine if Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address using today’s horrific usage?
“Soooo, ummmm, four score and ahhhhhhh, seven years ago, you know, our fathers, sort of brought forth on this continent a kind of new nation, I mean, aaahh, sort of conceived in, ahhhhhh like Liberty, and you know, ummmmm dedicated to, kind of the proposition that, ummmmmm, all men are sort of created, ahhhh, you know, ummmm, equal …”
Countless speakers do really annoying things that prevent effective communication. Some of these are a function of blindly following “conventional speaker wisdom”, which is unwise. Others are the result of simply not paying attention to how audiences perceive them. Speakers must pay very close attention to the words they use and how they communicate messages. Annoying speaking habits distract from your message and can alienate audiences. Below is a list of the top ten most annoying habits, and constructive replacements for each.
- Amm, you know, ahh, I mean, etc. – These filler words and sounds are maddening! If you cannot make a simple statement without using these, the audience thinks you are brain dead, stop paying attention or leave. Silence is ok and can be a powerful message enhancer by focusing more attention on key ideas and allowing the audience to think about them. Audiences will love it if you just allow silence to exist in-between your thoughts and sentences.
- Kind of, sort of – I recently heard people say, “I sort of sorted the mess” and “I kind of came to work”. AHHHHH! How can you sort of and kind of do such things? Either you did it or you didn’t. I refuse to believe someone who is so uncertain about making even the simplest statement. If you want to be perceived as a credible speaker, force yourself to stop using these useless phrases.
- Up speak – This is when one ends each sentence with a rising tone, so it sounds like a question. This makes it pretty hard to convince anyone that you know what you’re talking about, so the audience tunes out. Due to its repetitive nature, this habit makes everything you say sound the same because of the ending tone. If you are uncertain about saying something, don’t say it. Speak with conviction so you can influence the masses.
- Being fake – Fakeness is the exact opposite of being real, so why would anyone want that? You cannot communicate with someone if they’re not real. It’s like trying to have a real conversation with an actor in a play. You can talk, but you can’t really know the person because they’re acting like someone else. The audience wants the real you, not a carbon copy speaker. Your dress, language, content and demeanor should all reflect the real you, not what most other speakers do and certainly not what is politically correct.
- PowerPoint slides with tons of words – Some speakers insist of having their audience read during much of their presentations. If you want me to read, just email me the slides so I can read them from home. Why bother coming to hear you read them? Text on the screen means I pay attention to it rather than you, which makes no sense since you are speaking. If the slides don’t make you more convincing, eliminate them. There should be no paragraphs, sentences or more than a few words on any one slide. The words should focus the audience’s attention on what you are discussing.
- Raise hands – Yo Mista Katta (Mr. Kotter), we ain’t in grade school, so stop askin’ us ta raise ah hands so you can feel like we’s participatin’ or somtin. Asking the audience to scratch themselves is also participating, but I don’t ask them to do that either because it, like rising hands, provides no value and is silly. If you want participation, have audiences do an activity, debate, take notes, tweet answers to your questions which appear on a super-duper high tech. slide, etc., but stop with the raising hands game.
- Asking too many questions – I came to your speech to get answers, not to give them to you. Asking a few thought provoking questions is good practice, but some speakers make an endless list of questions the main focus of their presentation. Give me a break! Limit your questions to one per main point, which could lead to participation and/or a discussion.
- Endless thanking – Many speakers do this at the beginning and thank everyone imaginable; “I would like to thank my mom for giving birth to me.” This is no way to make people like you. Shut up and get on with your show! Your content is the only thing that will make them really like you.
- Stories, stories, stories – This is probably the best example of blindly following “conventional speaker wisdom”. Not everyone has good stories or is a good story teller. Not all topics lend themselves to stories. When the audience hears yet another senseless story, they think: Who cares? What’s the point? Wow, what a long trip for such a little crumb. You don’t HAVE to use stories, you can do other things. You can yell, dance, use video, pictures, art, or do a million other things to emphasize your point and make the presentation memorable. Don’t be a commodity, do something different to make yourself stand out.
- Trendy words and cute catch-phrases – If people just stopped to think about what they say, they would cease using these and sound a lot smarter. Here are some examples (find more listed on my blog).
- Absolutely (Did you get a job? Absolutely!) – Ding Dong, is anyone home? This is a simple yes or no answer. Think about it, if Partially ? No, then Absolutely ? Yes.
- Chime-in (Let me chime-in) – What are you, a clock? Why not say I’d like to add or contribute…?
- The good news is… – Now you think you’re a reporter? Instead of pretending to be a journalist, start saying fortunately, positive outcomes include, etc.
- Pluralizing a name (…the Enrons of the world) – There is only one of these Einstein! Just say, companies like Enron…
- Push back (We are getting a lot of push back on that idea) – This sounds like what happens when you have to #2, but can’t get to the toilet. Is the wordresistance too hard?
- I’m here to tell you… – It is a good thing you told me why you are here, I was starting to wonder. The audience already knows why you are there, so why state the obvious?
- Let me (Let me tell you something) – Do you need my permission to speak?
- Go ahead (Go ahead and call him) – First you ask for permission, now you are giving me permission?
We can all become better speakers if we critically evaluate what we say and do. The best way to do this is to video and critique yourself…hard! To get the most valuable perspective, have the audience, not other speakers, give you honest feedback. The harsher their critiques, the more you can improve. Keep in mind that other speakers and coaches are usually the strongest advocates of conventional speaker wisdom, so listen to their council with skepticism. Nonetheless, observing other speakers is a great way to learn from their good and bad habits. Think a lot about what you say and how you say it, so the audience can believe you are worth hearing. Don’t do what everyone else does, be different and real… Speak Outside the Box.