Whenever you open your mouth, whether your audience is one person or a thousand, you usually want to get a specific message across. Maybe you want your opinions heard at meetings, or you're giving a formal talk. Or perhaps you're in a position to advise your sales team or CEO on an important presentation. Anyone who sets out to present, persuade, and propel with the spoken word faces 10 major pitfalls.
1. UNCLEAR THINKING. 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 won't understand either.
2. NO CLEAR STRUCTURE. Make it easy for people to follow what you are saying. They'll remember it better--and you will too as you present your information and ideas. If you waffle, ramble, or never get to the point, you lose your listeners.
3. NO MEMORABLE STORIES. 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 them "make the movie" in their heads by using memorable characters, exciting situations, dialogue, suspense, and humor.
4. NO EMOTIONAL CONNECTION. The most powerful communication combines both intellectual and emotional connections. Intellectual means appealing to educated self-interest with data and reasoned arguments. Emotion comes from engaging the listeners' imaginations, involving them in your illustrative stories by frequent use of the word "you" and from answering their unspoken question, "What's in this for me?"
5. WRONG LEVEL OF ABSTRACTION. Are you providing the big picture and generalities 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 wave length with your listeners.
6. NO PAUSES. Good music and good communication both contain changes of pace, pauses, and full rests. This is when listeners think about important points you've just made. 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.
7. IRRITATING NON-WORDS. 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. Tape record yourself to check for similar bad verbal habits.
8. STEPPING ON THE PUNCH-WORD. The most important word in a sentence is the punch-word. Usually, this is the final word: "Take my wife--PLEASE." But if you drop your voice or add, "Right?" or "See?" or "You know?" or "Okay?" you've killed the impact of your message.
9. NOT HAVING A STRONG OPENING AND CLOSING. Engage your audience immediately with a powerful, relevant opening that includes the word "you." Don't close with questions. Ask for them, if appropriate, then deliver a dynamic closing. Last words linger.
10. MISUSING TECHNOLOGY. Timid speakers who simply narrate flip chart images, slides, videos, overheads, or view-graphs can rarely be passionate and effective. Make technology a support to your message, not a crutch. Keep the focus on you!Avoiding these 10 common traps is the first step to changing dull-and-boring speaking into dynamic, powerful, and persuasive communication.
Patricia Fripp CSP, CPAE is a San Francisco-based professional speaker on Change, Teamwork, Customer Service, Promoting Business, and Communication Skills. To learn more about Patricia, as well as save 20% when you order her audio/video programs Million Dollar Words: Speaking for Results, Preparing and Presenting Powerful Programs and/or Confessions of an Unashamed, Relentless Self-Promoter, go to YourSuccessStore.com.