Common Speaking Misconceptions
In our programs, we hear a variety of misconceptions when it comes to speaking or presenting to a group. Let’s talk about the ‘Top 3’ we hear most often that we’d like to dispel.
Misconception #1: You should scan the room with your eyes so everyone feels engaged.
While the thought process here is understandable, the decision to scan is ill-advised. The issue with scanning is that while, yes, we are looking at everyone, we are looking past or through them and never truly engaging with an audience member. I like to compare scanning to taking a walk with a family member or friend. As the pace picks up, the quicker the conversation gets and the more out of breath you might find yourself. When presenting or speaking, the more rapidly you look around the room, the quicker your thoughts begin to form. This is where the problem starts. We can get too far ahead of ourselves and risk losing track of the intended message. Instead, we suggest looking at each person in the room, randomly, and giving them a full thought. You then briefly pause in silence between thoughts and move to a new person. Remember, it’s not a staring contest! That’s why we recommend just a thought or two before engaging with someone else.
Misconception #2: Pauses create awkward silence for your audience.
“It only takes five seconds.” A common retort we use to demonstrate how quick it is to do something. However, pausing and not speaking for five seconds during a speech or a presentation can feel like a lifetime! If you’ve paused for five seconds or longer without a technical issue or otherwise, then I would agree that pause could be start to get awkward. But what about the one to four second pauses? We should undoubtedly entertain these as often as in-between every thought. Pauses are good. The reason they are good is because they allow your audience an opportunity to reflect on what you’ve said and prepare for what you’re about to say next. It also gives you the chance to look at your content in order to stay focused and on message. In addition, it aids in eliminating ‘non-words’, the uhs and ums, we hear from speakers. We tend to drop these non-words because we’re uncomfortable with the silence. But these add no value to whatever it is we’re saying and can in fact be a distraction to the audience. Get comfortable with pausing in silence and you’ll be amazed how much smoother your message sounds.
Misconception #3: Clasp your hands so they aren’t a distraction.
If you’re out of breath and sweating while presenting, I concede that you’ve gone too far with the hands and they’re now a distraction! But using your hands can actually enhance your message and level of engagement. If you hold your hands together in front of your core, behind your back, or put them in your pockets, they add nothing to your presentation. They become stagnant. Moreover, if they stay there, your audience only sees your lips move. Visually this becomes very boring to watch. We’d all like our audience to stay engaged and awake during our presentations, so use your hands to emphasize points, explain a concept, or point out data on a slide. When you’ve finished using them, allow them to fall by your sides naturally. They’ll be more likely to continue gesturing and engaging with your audience rather than staying in one place the entire time.
The next time you practice a presentation, try these tips out and see how they work for you. Take your time, get comfortable with your material, and be yourself.