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Two words often strike fear in even the most self-assured entrepreneurs: public speaking. For some, it comes naturally. But for others, it’s something they must overcome. For everyone, public speaking is a skill that can be improved over time.
To become a more confident public speaker, there are a few common mistakes to avoid. From there, it’s about stepping outside your comfort zone and practicing enough to find your rhythm.
1. Being too scripted
While every public speaker wants a fleshed-out idea with a strong beginning, middle and end to their presentation, an overly scripted or rehearsed speech loses the emotion needed to capture the audience’s attention. It’s best to create an organized flow of how you want to present your material to set the tone and pacing and limit any inclination to improv, which can quickly make a presentation go off the rails.
Start with an outline of the main points, add facts and statistics as necessary, then leave space where you can interject emotion naturally throughout the talk. Having bullet points to reference allows one to maintain control of the narrative and keep it compelling simultaneously.
2. Relying on filler words
Every speech class teacher or consultant will fault you whenever a filler word is used. These include — um, so, like, you know — and other words that connect thoughts mindlessly. Adding these filler words in public speaking takes away the impact of the message and showcases nerves or inexperience. A brief pause to let one thought sink in before heading into the next isn’t always bad. It allows you to set a steady pace for your speech rather than rushing through to the end.
A helpful tip to help eliminate filler words from your speech is to pause every time one pops up. Record yourself practicing your presentation and mark how often you rely on filler words. On the next run-through, replace the fillers with a pause or consider if changes need to be made to that part of the speech. However, if a few fillers slip out here and there, avoid reacting or apologizing when speaking live. Just go with the flow.
3. Using question inflections
Confidence as a public speaker is demonstrated by telling rather than asking. You are in control of the narrative, so adding a question inflection to a statement makes you sound unsure of yourself. This can happen especially during pitches when rates are discussed or when there are less-than-comfortable moments.
In a pitch, a sure way to approach rate discussions is to say directly, “The rate for my X services is X dollars.” Say this sentence aloud as a statement and a question and see how the tone changes. If you’re unsure about the ask or the information being dispensed, it will make those on the receiving end feel doubtful about it too.
4. Swaying or standing too still
It’s hard for people to concentrate if you’re nervously swaying, a mannerism you’re likely unconsciously doing to avoid standing too still. Movement during a speech isn’t automatically a drawback, but make sure it doesn’t take away from the presentation itself. Hand gestures, for example, can emphasize points, and moving from one side of the room or stage to the other can make you look at ease.
Yet, constant pacing, playing with your hair or clothing and standing still with no movement is the type of body language that shows a lack of confidence and comfortability, two things you don’t want when standing up in front of others to speak.
5. Avoiding eye contact
Eye contact in today’s video conferencing age is significant. Some presentations may be done virtually, so you must capture the audience’s attention without being in the same room. But how do you have eye contact through a screen if several people are logged in simultaneously? Look at the camera and scan the faces every once in a while. Avoid looking directly at yourself and free any distractions from the room before you begin. Once you’ve broken eye contact with your virtual audience, they’ll also feel inclined to disengage.
6. Misusing visual aids
Visual aids are a great way to bring your speech or presentation to life. However, too often, people rely on visual aids to walk them through their talk verbatim. Avoid overloading your slides with text and design elements. Choose a slide template to make your presentation uniform and only highlight bullet points or statistics to help drive your point home. The audience will lose focus if there’s too much distraction in your visual aids.
7. Mismanaging time
Time your speech during preparation. Whether it’s a meeting, on-stage presentation or a virtual session, going over time is an avoidable mistake. Likewise, rushing through the speech and finishing well before the allotted time may make people think they received less value. If you’re going over time, which areas can you cut down? If you’re coming in under time, consider if you’re rushing through your speech or pacing it naturally. Also, there might be parts where you can beef it up with supporting information or an anecdote.
Being a convincing talker doesn’t automatically equate to being an excellent public speaker. It takes practice, commitment and authenticity to engage audiences. As with any skill, the more time and effort you dedicate, the more confident you’ll sound. Even if you’re a seasoned public speaker, it never hurts to revisit these common mistakes to ensure your speeches and presentations remain top-notch.