We've all been there, sitting in an audience listening to a speaker drone on and on, oblivious to the lack of engagement from the audience.  Are you guilty of these bad habits?

1. Reading your Slides

If you are just going to read your slides, why give a speech? Use your slides to provide additional information and interact with your audience instead.

2. Eye Darts

Every good speaker knows about the importance of making eye contact with the audience. There's a fine line between making eye contact and staring down an audience member. Conversely, if you are scanning the room like you're trying to spot the sniper, you'll lose your impact and convey nervousness or disinterest. A good rule of thumb is to maintain eye contact for two or three seconds, or long enough to say a full sentence.

3. Generic Presentations

Not taking the time to tailor your presentation to your audience is a sure-fire way to lose your audience. You run the risk of sounding like you are on auto-pilot, and it's disrespectful to people who have come to hear you speak. Making your presentation unique to your audience will help you deliver your information in a new way, and will keep your audience engaged.

4. Just the Facts

Picture any budget and quarterly meeting in any company anywhere in the world, with slide after slide of pie charts, graphs and statistics...and avoid it. The fastest way to lose an audience is to bury them in data. Numbers are important-their meaning is more important. Start with the significance, and then give the factual source.

5. Off the Cuff

Great speakers practice. They practice their pacing, their delivery, and when they click the slides. And they practice out loud, often in front of other people who then provide feedback. If you stumble over certain areas of your presentation, fix them. Record your practice and play it back to fix pacing issues and to get used to the sound of your voice amplified.

6. Fidgets, Twitches and Quirks

And while you are recording your practice sessions, videotape a couple of them to spot your quirks. Do you click your pen while you speak? Do you tug your sleeve, toss your hair, stand with your arms crossed-notice them and be aware of them. You don't want the audience tweeting a running tally of how many times you stab the air, toss your hair or say "let me be clear".

7. Pauses and Pacing

People need time to absorb what you are saying. People need time to read the information on your slides, and if you are not providing a copy of the presentation, people need time to make note of the information and tend to get annoyed when you click through your slides at warp speed. This also applies to the speed of your speech. If you tend to speak quickly, you will need to practice to slow your delivery.

Of course, leaving a slide up for 10 minutes and speaking at the approximate speed of glacial melt will turn-off your audience, too. It's all about the pacing. And you won't know that until you practice out loud.

Making eye contact with your audience will allow you to adjust your pacing to keep your audience engaged, without losing your place and stumbling.

8. I Know Something You Don't Know

Clearly, you have information to impart to your audience-you were asked to give a presentation, after all. The quickest way to lose your audience is to use jargon or pretentious language. Even if you are delivering a technical talk, use plain language. People are far more likely to stay engaged if they aren't wondering what you meant by an acronym or jargon.

9. Being Someone You're Not

There is nothing more awkward than a non-funny person trying to be funny. You can be engaging without cracking jokes. If you are comfortable telling stories and anecdotes, then do so. If you have a tendency to ramble, avoid the anecdotes. If you naturally move when you speak do so, but not if you're going to pace the stage like an animal in a zoo because someone told you to move around the stage.

10. Turning your Back

There is nothing wrong with turning to look at your slides to make sure they are centered, but repeatedly turning your back on the audience to read your slide from the screen is rude. Make sure you have a hard copy of your slides in front of you so you can face your audience at all times.

11. Starting with a Whimper

You have one chance to make a good first impression, and that happens when you open your mouth. If you start with an apology because you were late, or you start with a joke that lands like a deflated balloon on the ears of the audience, their impression of you is forever altered. Instead, lead with a question which ties to your main theme. Or start with an audience question or three. Get their attention at the outset and you'll have it for the duration.

12. And Not Ending with a Bang

Every presenter knows to leave time for a Q & A session. But when you put your Q & A at the very end of your presentation, you dilute your takeaway message. Instead, ask for questions ahead of time, or at the mid-way point of the discussion. If you absolutely must have the Q & A at the end, hold it before your closing statements so that your audience's final impression is your summary of your presentation.

And finally...

13. Dressing Down

Great communicators look the part. Casually confident is one thing, looking like you rolled out of bed and wandered onto the stage is something else entirely. Appearance matters and conveys respect and preparation to the audience. And never underestimate the power of the coffee stain to distract. Always make sure you have a backup outfit with you because stains happen, usually on the white shirt and always in the most conspicuous spot. Business casual, or even jeans is acceptable; stains, rips and wrinkles are not. 

Published on: Nov 12, 2015
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