The awkwardness in the room was palpable. The presenter had a terrible habit and it was driving me crazy. In an attempt to add comedic relief, the presenter would fire a barrage of self-deprecation every three sentences. The effect was far from comedic; I questioned not only the confidence of the presenter, but also the material he was presenting. Bad public speaking habits can be destructive to presentations, and in turn, to careers. For that reason, I share with you seven deadly habits of public speaking:
1) Read Presentation Word-For-Word
Presenters who read their presentation slip in-and-out of an emotionless voice. Don’t believe me? Watch this video. Notice the stark difference in Patricia Arquette’s emotion when she is reading from her crumpled piece of paper. Unless you’re Jimmy Fallon, you’re not an expert at reading scripts, so don’t do it. Instead, write an outline containing key points and statistics. Practice until you can comfortable give your presentation without frequently looking at your outline.
2) Tell the Audience You’re Nervous, Scared, or Terrible at Public Speaking
The goal of the first 30 seconds of any presentation should be to establish a relationship of trust with the audience. Relating your inadequacies does the opposite. Plan an interesting introduction that will flow naturally into the meat of your presentation. Rehearse your introduction until you’re confident in your ability to gain the trust of the audience.
3) Start Presentation with a Planned Joke
Planned jokes often fall flat on their face. You may remember the awkward and embarrassing joke told by Stacy Dash during the 2016 Oscars. Here's the video:
Her failed joke proved to be the destruction of her 30 second speech. The audience immediately lost all confidence in her, and the remainder of the presentation was quickly forgotten. Don’t allow a misfired joke to destroy the audience’s confidence in you. Jokes should flow naturally through the presentation. If comedy doesn’t come naturally to you, that’s okay! Your success is not dependent on the hilarity accompanying your presentation.
4) Lack of Silence
A lack of silence in a presentation is like driving down the highway at 70 MPH. Without slowing down to carefully navigate a sharp right turn, you’re likely to crash and burn. Likewise, your audience needs time to slow down and dissect the information you give them. Before moving to a new topic, pause to give the audience time to comfortably finish their thoughts and prepare to change gears.
Just as you can sense when a friend is disconnected from a conversation, you can sense when the audience is bored, distracted, or disinterested in a presentation. As you move through your content, look at the body language and facial expression of the audience. Be willing to modify your presentation based on the feedback the audience gives you. If you notice boredom, fatigue or confusion, be willing to ask a captivating question, take a break, or clarify.
6) Weak Eye Contact
The forehead stare, the back wall glare, and the oscillating fan are all weak forms of eye contact. While most presenters know the importance of eye contact, many presenters fail to have strong eye contact.
A presenter with strong eye contact looks a member of the audience in the eye for three to five seconds, and then randomly moves to a new audience member. While this may feel awkward at first, a little practice will quickly make strong eye contact second nature. Strong eye contact is the key to appearing confident and professional to your audience.
7) Close Presentation with a Question and Answer
Your conclusion should be powerful and sticky. Far too often, presenters weakly close their presentation with the line “And now I open it up for questions.” Let me be clear, having a Q&A session after your presentation is perfectly acceptable, but ending your presentation by inviting the audience to ask questions is not.
After your final presentation point, close your presentation with one or two powerful statements that will leave your audience with a distinct impression of the material you presented. Then, and only then, are you free to field questions.
From a casual team meeting to an interview with a potential employer, every professional interaction is a presentation. The cost of having one of the seven deadly habits of public speaking is too high to be ignored. The key to eliminating such a habit? Practice. It doesn’t matter if you practice on the phone, in the shower, or in front of friends, just practice correctly. After a few sessions of practice, you’ll be “wowing” the audience with your confidence and professionalism.