Show me your hands

Sandra offers some helpful hints as well as a few cardinal sins of public speaking
Sandra offers some helpful hints as well as a few cardinal sins of public speaking

My last column about public speaking focused mainly on what to say. Now let’s talk about how to say it. This latest foray into public speaking was also inspired by a lunch and learn where I was delighted and horrified by what was on display.  At the “do not repeat” end of the scale, one guy recited each bullet of his densely worded slides in a rapid fire stutter without breaking eye contact with his piece of paper once. There were no pictures to ease the pain.

On the felicitous end of the scale, the last speaker broke free from the podium, went rogue and proceeded to wake up the dozing audience with an engaging presentation complete with eye contact, hand gestures, a couple of self-deprecating jokes and clear enunciation. As is typically the case with great presenters, I learned a great deal.

The lesson here is that proper form, intonation, posture and delivery during public speaking can only enhance the substance of a presentation.  Conversely, standing around looking and sounding like dead fish with your hands jammed into your pockets can seriously undermine your message.

Here are some helpful hints as well as a few cardinal sins of public speaking:

  • Make eye contact and refer to your speaking notes only on an exceptional basis. What this implies is that you know your topic well enough that you need not be slavishly bound to a script, especially if you have slides!  You add no value by reading your notes, plus you risk losing your audience
  • Make a joke or put some funny slides up to lighten things up. A happy audience builds confidence
  • Smile.  For some reason, a frozen rictus of panic does not help warm up an audience
  • Establish credibility from the get-go by looking sharp and professional. It’s distracting for an audience when the speaker looks like a slob
  • You want to connect with your audience? Eliminate the barriers.  Get out from behind the podium unless you are announcing that the country is at war. It’s a crutch, a security blanket and it distances you from the audience
  • Don’t cross your arms (signals fear or hostility), join your hands in prayer or fidget with objects (uncomfortable for everyone). Keep your arms at your side and slightly bent. Use your arms and hands for expressiveness or to emphasize a point. Think of the Jack Layton chop
  • Move your feet and walk around a little turning to face different sides of the room so that everyone feels included
  • Speak clearly and take your time. Speed talking does not make you look smarter
  • I can’t believe I need to say this, but don’t chew gum when you are talking in front of an audience
  • We all have speech defects:  “uh”, “like”, “so”, “ok”, “you know”, “in any event” to name a few. Words that crop up like mushrooms when we’re nervous. Find out what your speech defects are by getting someone to listen for them and report back to you, then delete them
  • Alas, I must call this one out again: sticking your hands in your pockets. Why, guys, why? How can massaging your package in front of an audience possibly help? I don’t get it
  • Pause periodically to catch your breath and give your audience the chance to react or ask questions

Though I will concede that some people are naturally gifted public speakers, these are easy tools and techniques for public speaking that can make even the deadest fish come to life.