16Everyone has their own unique style of communication, but sometimes, certain habits can hinder our ability to effectively convey our thoughts.
You might look back on your past presentations and meetings and feel uneasy about your performance, or wonder if your speaking skills are up to par with others.
How do you know if your communication habits are helping you thrive or holding you back?
I have compiled a list of 7 habits that could be sabotaging your speaking prowess.
If you identify with any of these, it might be time to say goodbye to them to become a better speaker.
1. Over-reliance on Filler Words
We’ve all been there: that moment when you’re trying to articulate a thought, and you find yourself peppering your sentences with “um,” “like,” “so,” or “you know”.
These words are known as filler words, and while they might seem harmless, they can significantly dilute the impact of your message.
Filler words typically creep in when we’re nervous or unsure about what we’re saying.
They act as a verbal crutch, giving us time to gather our thoughts.
However, overuse of these words can make you appear less confident and may distract your audience from the core message.
If you find yourself resorting to filler words more often than not, it might be a sign that you need to work on structuring your thoughts more clearly before speaking.
Practice makes perfect, and with time, you can train yourself to communicate your ideas more fluently without leaning on these verbal crutches.
Practical Tip: Record yourself speaking on a topic for a few minutes. Play it back and count the number of filler words you use. This awareness can help you consciously reduce their usage over time. Additionally, try pausing when you’re unsure of what to say next instead of using a filler word.
2. Ignoring Non-Verbal Communication
The power of non-verbal communication is often underestimated.
The way you stand, your facial expressions, and even your hand gestures can communicate volumes more than words.
In fact, a significant portion of our communication is non-verbal.
If you’re neglecting this aspect of communication, you might be sending unintended messages to your audience.
For instance, crossed arms might convey defensiveness, lack of eye contact might suggest disinterest, and slouched posture could indicate a lack of confidence.
Becoming more aware of your body language can greatly enhance your speaking skills.
It’s not just about what you say, but also about how you present yourself while saying it.
Try to maintain an open posture, make regular eye contact with your audience, and use gestures that reinforce your message.
Practical Tip: Practice speaking in front of a mirror. Observe your facial expressions, gestures, and posture. This will help you become more aware of your non-verbal cues and make necessary adjustments.
3. Speaking Too Fast
I remember one of the first presentations I gave at a conference. I was excited and nervous, eager to share my ideas with the crowd.
However, when I stepped onto the stage and started speaking, my nerves got the better of me. I found myself racing through my speech, words tumbling out faster than I intended.
Looking back, I realize that this rapid-fire delivery didn’t serve my message well.
The audience had a hard time keeping up with my pace and understanding the key points of my presentation.
My quick delivery could have been interpreted as nervousness or even lack of preparation.
Speaking too fast is a common habit, especially when we are anxious or excited.
But it’s important to remember that communication isn’t a race. Slowing down gives your audience time to absorb what you’re saying and allows you to emphasize important points.
Practical Tip: Use a metronome or a pacing app to practice speaking at a controlled pace. Another method is to consciously insert short pauses after every few sentences, allowing both you and your audience a moment to process the information.
4. Neglecting the Power of Pauses
In the world of music, silence is just as important as sound.
The spaces between the notes, known as rests, contribute significantly to the rhythm and melody of a piece.
The same principle applies to speaking.
Pauses in speech can serve multiple purposes: they can help emphasize points, give listeners time to process information, and even build suspense.
However, many speakers fear silence, viewing it as a sign of forgetfulness or lack of preparation.
On the contrary, strategic use of pauses can actually enhance your communication.
It can give your words more weight and impact, creating a rhythm that holds your audience’s attention.
After all, it’s not just about what you say, but also about when you choose not to say anything at all.
Practical Tip: When practicing your speech, mark places in your notes or script where a pause would be impactful. This can help you remember to take a moment during those sections when you’re actually presenting.
5. Failing to Connect with the Audience
Early in my speaking career, I was asked to give a presentation to a group of seasoned professionals in my field.
I spent weeks preparing, pouring over data, and refining my points.
When the day came, I delivered what I believed was a well-crafted, fact-filled presentation.
However, as I looked out over the crowd, I saw blank faces and disinterested expressions.
I soon realized my mistake: in my eagerness to impress with data and information, I had failed to make a connection with my audience.
I hadn’t considered their perspective, their context, or even their language.
No matter how well-researched or articulate your speech is, if it doesn’t resonate with your audience, it won’t have the desired impact.
It’s crucial to understand and empathize with your audience’s needs and perspectives.
Saying goodbye to the habit of failing to connect with your audience can be a transforming step in your speaking journey.
Ever since that eye-opening experience, I’ve made it a point to tailor my speeches to the audience, and the difference has been night and day.
Practical Tip: Before any presentation, research your audience. Understand their background, interests, and challenges. Start your speech with a relatable story or anecdote to immediately establish a connection. Regularly engage with them by asking questions or seeking feedback during your talk.
6. Using Complex Language Unnecessarily
In my earlier public speaking endeavors, I used to believe that using big words and complex sentences would make me sound more intelligent and credible.
However, I soon realized that this habit was creating a barrier between me and my audience.
Communication is about clarity, not complexity.
Using jargon or excessively complicated language can confuse your audience and make your message harder to understand.
You don’t want your listeners to feel like they’re decoding a puzzle when listening to you speak.
Saying goodbye to the habit of using complex language unnecessarily, and embracing simplicity and clarity in your speech, can make you a more effective speaker.
After all, the goal is to convey your message in a way that it can be easily understood, not to show off your extensive vocabulary.
Practical Tip: After drafting your speech, review it and highlight any jargon or complex terms. Replace them with simpler alternatives. If a complex term is necessary, ensure you provide a brief explanation or analogy to make it understandable.
7. Neglecting to Practice
I once attended a workshop where the speaker admitted he had prepared his speech on the train ride to the event.
The result was an unfocused presentation that lacked cohesion and impact.
This experience served as a stark reminder of the importance of practice in public speaking.
No matter how experienced you are, or how well you know your topic, practicing your speech is essential.
Preparation helps you fine-tune your message, work on your delivery, and anticipate potential questions from the audience. It also helps build confidence and reduce anxiety.
Saying goodbye to the habit of neglecting to practice can make a significant difference in your speaking skills. A well-prepared speaker is not only more confident but also more impactful.
Practical Tip: Break your speech into sections and practice each section individually. Once you’re comfortable with each part, practice the entire speech. It’s also beneficial to practice in front of a small audience, like family or friends, to get feedback and build confidence.
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