Yet there are “bad habits” that can impede your performance. I like to think of bad habits as anything that might distract your audience or get in the way of you being at your absolute best.
Giving a speech is so much more than what you say. In addition to your voice, body language is an integral part of your delivery. When you fidget, or move around aimlessly, it is distracting and that takes away attention from your message. The trick is to work on removing distractions from your delivery style with practise over time.
In normal conversation we use a lot of these – “um, so, you know…” There is nothing wrong with this however, when there are too many of them in a speech it can be distracting. Be mindful of how often you repeat words to fill a gap – a pause is much more effective.
This can range from you not feeling confidant to thinking that the audience is against you and not interested in what you are saying. Negative self-talk can really hinder you. Instead, shift your focus to creating a good experience for the audience. This will put you in a more positive frame of mind and have a knock-on effect on your energy.
I believe that as speakers, we have an unspoken contract with our audience – they agree to listen to me, and I agree to deliver the best speech I can. That means putting in sufficient preparation and having the right attitude. Don’t “wing it” – lack of preparation breaks that agreement to do your best. Remember your audience have given up valuable time to listen to you – respect that.
Nerves or an adrenalin rush can contribute to an increase in the pace of your speech and may also lead to breathlessness. This can be uncomfortable to listen to. Aim for speaking at a conversational pace which is more engaging, and don’t be afraid to pause in places to give the audience a chance to process what you have just shared.
Presenters running over time is one of my main bugbears. Typically, you will have a set amount of time in which to deliver your speech, whether that is at a conference, in a team meeting or in an interview situation. Be respectful of your time slot and aim to finish within the maximum time allowed. Otherwise, you run the risk of the audience becoming impatient or worse, being asked to stop before your big finish.
Slides are your visual aids – they should be there for the benefit of the audience to help them better understand your point. If you are going to read text from your slides, then you might as well give them a handout to read. Think about using images in place of text – the slides are your support act and should be used to enhance what you say. If you spend enough time becoming familiar with your content, you won’t need to rely on your slides to jog your memory.
Every single one of these “bad habits” can be easily ironed out or improved upon with preparation. Now, I know you are busy and there is precious little time to plan content and create slides as well as rehearse. However, rehearsal time is definitely time well spent. Walking through your presentation and saying it out loud a few times will help you become more familiar with your content, so you won’t have to use your slides as a teleprompter. If you rehearse in front of others or record yourself on video, then it will highlight the filler words you unconsciously use, the speed at which you speak as well as the fidgeting. The other huge benefit of rehearsal is of course being able to speak to time – how else can you know how long your speech will last?
I have worked with many professionals across different industry sectors and know that most people resist putting in some rehearsal time because they just have too much else to do or procrastinate because they aren’t looking forward to presenting. Actively setting aside time to rehearse will not only help you tackle bad habits but also boost your confidence and put you in the right mindset to perform at your absolute best.
The most useful piece of advice I can give you, wherever you might be in your career, is to always put in time to prepare well – the payoff is worth it!
Jay Surti is a business presentation coach, speaker, consultant and author of Ultimate Presentations (published by Kogan Page). She works with executives, teams and MBA candidates to help them transform their presentations to make sure they engage with their audience and get their message across. She has been a Judge at MassChallenge UK and served as an Executive Board member of Women in Banking and Finance and the University of Dundee.