Thursday, October 25, 2012

The 10 Biggest Public Speaking Errors (and How to Avoid Them)

1. Lack of initial rapport with listeners. This is one of the two biggest errors tied to worshipping the false god of "information delivery" . Since many presenters spend all of their time putting together content, they remain inside the information bubble, forgetting that establishing lines of communication with listeners is all-important. They are perfectly comfortable with their notes or talking points, and often not comfortable at all speaking to people and trying to sway them. Rapport with your listeners isn't only nice; it's a make-or-break proposition concerning your influence with your audience.

2. Stiffness or woodenness in use of body. We might also use Earl Nightingale's phrase here, "divorce from your own body"—a strange and eerie proposition! Why is it that each of us is perfectly comfortable standing and chatting with friends, yet feels like we've suddenly been inhabited by an alien being when we present in front of others? Our natural supportive gestures disappear; and we seem to have grown odd limbs whose purpose is a mystery.

The body is an important tool of communication. And the cure for not knowing how to use it in front of audiences is easy: leave off gathering content earlier than you do now. Start rehearsing on your feet, using a mirror or video camera. Learn what looks natural, and then get that into your muscle memory. Discover the body language messages you may be broadcasting. And learn how to avoid the 5 body language mistakes that may destroy your own message.

3. Material is intellectually oriented and audience isn't involved emotionally. Recently, I coached the director of public housing for a municipal housing authority. We conducted a role-play of her discussing with a resident how this person was breaking the terms of her lease, and faced the possiblity of losing her subsidized housing. At first take, the talk was all about rules and consequences, and the message was stern.

It was a perfect example of "intellectually oriented" material. I discussed with my client what she was trying to achieve and what message she intended the resident to hear. She was trying to help this person, of course—to get her to understand how serious the situation was and the dangers she was facing. We tried the simulated discussion a second time with these emotional elements front and center. This time, the discussion was dramatically different: human and caring, with a greatly improved possiblity of the compliance my client was aiming for.

4. Speaker seems uncomfortable because of fear of failure. Fear announces itself in a speaker, so that the very outcome the person is most afraid of is more likely to occur. (Learn how to reduce your level of nervousness by downloading my cheat sheet, "How to Calm Your Nerves Before Speaking.") All of us want to be effective and influential when we speak, not perceived as unsure and therefore lacking in credibility. None of us want to fail. But fail at what, exactly? At not being judged a terrific speaker? So what if we aren't perceived that way?

Your job when you present is to give your listeners something of value, not morph into the Abraham Lincoln of the 21st century!

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