Our audiences are quick to tune us out. If we’re boring or confusing, we’re doomed. That’s why a great public speaker knows it’s imperative to grab–and hold–attention. It’s the only way to get your message out there.

Gaining attention is difficult. After all, listeners are skeptical. It’s even difficult for public speakers at the top of their game. And, let’s face it, many of us are not at the top of our game. We’ve allowed one or two…or three or four…bad habits to poison our public speaking skills.

These bad habits can make you boring and confusing–not the impression you want to leave with your listeners. Locate your bad habits in the list below, and learn the best way to break or them.

Bad habit 1: Boring speakers make slides the star

Best way to break it:

Put yourself in the spotlight–people like interacting with people.

Make yourself the star of the show. Think of your slides as your backup singers. In show biz, backup singers get fired if they take attention away from the star.

Bad habit 2: Confusing speakers just wing it

Best way to break it:

Rehearse–even if it’s for a short time. But rehearse every time.

An audience doesn't want to see you struggling to say what's on your mind. They've come for a show, an organized presentation of thought. Know your lines: your opening line, headlines, story lines, bottom line. Being prepared will help you come across in a conversational way, too.

Bad habit 3: Boring speakers over explain things

Best way to break it:

Be confident about your simple message.

There is a lack of correlation between length of talk and impact. Have a good beginning, a strong ending, and put the two as close together as possible. Or as Mrs. Humphrey said to her husband, "Hubert, for a speech to be immortal, it need not be interminable."

Bad habit 4: Boring speakers wade slowly into the start of a talk

Best way to break it:

Dive right in!

With a splash! Any communication that you are willing to pay for begins effectively. Don’t start with “Hello. Today I’m going to tell you about…” TELL THEM! Newspaper articles begin with a headline. News broadcasts begin with a teaser. Your job at the beginning of a talk is to capture attention, and convince your audience to listen.

Bad habit 5: Confusing speakers go off on tangents

Best way to break it:

Help your listeners follow your thoughts by sticking to an organized structure.

Listeners cycle in and out of attentiveness--mostly out. Twenty percent of your audience is spaced out at any given time. So, organize your talk like a road map. Tell your listeners a main heading, move through the details of that section, and then repeat the main heading. Next, lead them to the next main heading, move through those details, etc. By reminding your audience where you are on the map, they’ll be able to follow your logic and your message–even if they fade out for a few minutes.

Bad habit 6: Boring and confusing speakers rely on words…lots of them

Best way to break it:

Use props and pictures to help your listeners make connections and realizations.

Research indicates that attention-getting messages are simple, unexpected, and concrete. I worked with a guy who brought 11 different bottles of ketchup to a meeting to make a point about competition for shelf space in supermarkets. It was a substantial and novel way to show his passion and expertise.

Bad habit 7: Boring speakers show little emotion

Best way to break it:

Put a pleasant expression on your face.

Your face is the most valuable real estate in any meeting room. An Irishman, William Butler Yeats, said: "I always think a great speaker convinces us not by force of reasoning, but because he is visibly enjoying the beliefs he wants us to accept."

The audience wants to hear, see, and sense your belief in your message. When they do, you and your ideas will be more convincing.

Want to get noticed? Don't be boring and don't be confusing.

Published on: Aug 26, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.