The Ten Biggest
Traps to Avoid When You Speak: How to Turn Dull into Dynamic!
The executive gets up to speak. Everyone there needs to hear
what he has to say about the company but within ten minutes, they
are either hopelessly confused or falling asleep. What is he doing
Whenever you open your mouth, whether your audience is one
person or a thousand, you want to get a specific message across.
Maybe you want your opinions heard at meetings, or perhaps you are
giving a formal presentation, internally or externally. Possibly
your sales team needs to improve its customer communication, or
you're in a position to help your CEO design an important speech.
Anyone who sets out to present, persuade, and propel with the
spoken word faces 10 major pitfalls.
If you can't describe what you are talking about in one sentence,
you may be guilty of fuzzy focus or trying to cover too many topics.
Your listeners will probably be confused too, and their attention
will soon wander. Whether you are improving your own skills or
helping someone else to create a presentation, the biggest (and most
difficult) challenge is to start with a one-sentence premise or
2. No Clear
Make it easy for
people to follow what you are saying. They'll remember it
better--and you will too as you deliver your information and ideas.
If you waffle, ramble, or never get to the point, your listeners
will tune out. Start with a strong opening related to your premise;
state your premise; list the rationales or "Points of Wisdom" that
support your premise, supporting each with examples: stories,
statistics, metaphors, and case histories. Review what you've
covered, take questions if appropriate, and then use a strong close.
3. No Memorable
People rarely remember your exact words. Instead, they remember the
mental images that your words inspire. Support your key points with
vivid, relevant stories. Help your listeners "make the movie" in
their heads by using memorable characters, engaging situations,
dialogue, suspense, drama, and humor. In fact, if you can open with
a highly visual image, dramatic or amusing (but not a joke!), that
supports your premise, you've got them hooked. Then tie your closing
back to your opening scene. They'll never forget it.
4. No Emotional
The most powerful
communication combines both intellectual and emotional connections.
Intellectual means appealing to educated self-interest with data and
reasoned arguments. Emotional comes from engaging the listeners'
imaginations, involving them in your illustrative stories by
frequently using the word "you" and by answering their unspoken
question, "What's in this for me?" Use what I call a "high I/You
ratio." For example: Not "I'm going to talk to you about
telecommunications," but "You're going to learn the latest trends in
telecommunications." Not, "I want to tell you about Bobby Lewis,"
but "Come with me to Oklahoma City. Let me introduce you to my
friend, proud father Bobby Lewis." You've pulled the listener into
5. Wrong Level Of
Are you providing the big picture and generalities, a sort of pep
talk, when your listeners are hungry for details, facts, and
specific how-to's? Or are you drowning them in data when they need
to position themselves with an overview and find out why they should
care? Get on the same wavelength with your listeners. My friend Dr.
David Palmer, a Silicon Valley negotiations expert, refers to "fat"
and "skinny" words and phrases. Fat words describe the big picture,
goals, ideals, and outcomes. Skinny words are minute details and
specific who, what, when, and how. In general, senior management
needs fat words. Middle management requires medium words. Technical
staff and consumer hot line users are hungry for skinny words. Feed
them all according to their appetites.
6. No Pauses.
Good music and good communication both contain changes of pace,
pauses, and full rests. This is when listeners think about what has
just been said. If you rush on at full speed to crowd in as much
information as possible, chances are you've left your listeners back
at the station. It's okay to talk quickly, but pause whenever you
say something profound or proactive or you ask a rhetorical
question. This gives the audience a chance to think about what
you've said and to internalize it.
Hmm--ah--er--you know what I mean--. One speaker I heard began each
new thought with "Now!" as he scanned his notes to figure out what
came next. This might be okay occasionally, but not every 30
seconds. Record yourself to check for similar bad verbal habits.
Then keep taping yourself redelivering the same material until such
audience-aggravators have vanished.
8. Stepping On Your
The most important
word in a sentence is the punch-word. Usually, it's the final word:
"Take my wife--please." But if you drop your voice and then add,
"Right?" or "See?," you've killed the impact of your message. (To
discover if you do this, use the tape-recording test described
above.) Don't sabotage your best shots.
Without a doubt, audio/visual has added showbiz impact to business
and professional speakers' presentations. However, just because it
is available, doesn't mean we have to use it! Timid speakers who
simply narrate flip chart images, slides, videos, overheads, or
view-graphs can rarely be passionate and effective. Any visual aid
takes the attention away from you. Even the best PowerPoint(r)
images will not connect you emotionally. Use strong stories instead
if at all possible. Never repeat what is on the visuals. If you do,
one of you is redundant. Make technology a support to your message,
not a crutch. The trap is that information presented through
technology tends to be about the speaker and the speaker's
organization, while communication should be about the AUDIENCE. One
executive I was asked to coach had 60 PowerPoint slides--58 about
his company and 2 about the prospective client. We halved the number
and reversed the ratio!
10. Not Having A
Strong Opening And Closing. Engage your audience immediately with a powerful, relevant opening that
has a high I/You factor. It can be dramatic, thought provoking, or
even amusing, but never, never open with a joke (unless you are a
humorist with original materials). Get your listeners hooked
immediately with a taste of what is to follow. And never close by
asking for questions. Yes, take questions if appropriate, but then
go on to deliver your dynamic closing, preferably one that ties back
into your opening theme. Last words linger. As with a great musical,
you want your audience walking out afterwards humming the tunes.
When you can
avoid these 10 common pitfalls, you're free to focus on your message
and your audience, making you a more dynamic, powerful, and
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