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Improving Your Presentation Skills – What to Do about Your Presentation Weaknesses – Part 3


“And, And, And!  You’re saying it wrong.  It’s and not And!  Stop saying And!”

The director at a local community theater was trying to coach an 11-year boy to say the word “and” with an English accent.  But what I noticed was she said the Americanized “And” more times than she said what she wanted, the British sounding “and.” To me it seemed that the time would be more effectively spent saying and asking the boy to pronounce “and” rather than repeating the “And” she did not want.

Find a Substitute Behavior to Replace a Bad Habit

Often times we do what the director above did when it comes to presentation skills.  We emphasize what we don’t want rather than finding a substituting behavior that we do want.   I’ve heard Robert Bradford say something to the effect that it’s easier to move away from something we don’t want if we are moving toward something we do want.  If you are doing something you want to stop, ask yourself, what can I do instead?  What do I need to move toward?

Let’s look at some common presentation delivery problems that distract from a presentation and see what behaviors you can move toward to replace the behavior.

Instead of “Stop Wringing Your Hands” Move Toward … Natural Gestures and Leaving Your Arms at Your Side

If you struggle with figuring out what to do with your hands when you present and you know that you tend to clutch them in front of you or wring them together, then consider trying this.

The next time you are talking to a colleague and telling them a story, watch what you’re doing with your hands.  How are you moving your hands in that natural setting?  That’s what you want to do with your hands when you’re in presentation mode as well.

Or there may be times in your presentation that you don’t want to gesture.  Maybe you’re making an important point and you want your audience focused solely on your words.  In those times, try leaving your arms relaxed at your side.

Instead of “Stop Saying ‘Um’ and ‘Ah’” Move Toward … Silence and Pauses

It’s a fairly natural phenomenon, to add a sound like “um” and “ah” when speaking in every day conversation.  But when done to much in a presentation, it can be hugely distracting to the audience.

When you hear yourself starting to say “um” or “ah,” replace that sound with the sound of silence.  Pause.  Think about what you want to say next.  When you have the next sentence in your head, say it.

For those of us who have this “um” and “ah” crutch, it’s difficult to overcome.  But luckily we have ample opportunity to practice the technique in every day conversation.  As you go through your day today, replace the “um” noise with silent reflection before you say your next words.

Instead of “Improve Your Eye Contact” Move Toward … Look at One Person and Complete a Sentence or a Phrase.

Somewhere along the line, some people were told that if they are nervous speaking in public, they can just look over the heads of the audience and the audience will think they’re making eye contact.  Poppycock!  The audience knows you are not looking at them.  Looking individual audience members in the eye is a really important way in which to connect with an audience.  If you have a large audience, you may not be able to look everyone in the eye.  But if you do make genuine eye contact with several people within your audience, your audience as a whole will feel more connected to you.

I once heard a speaker say that to establish good quality eye contact, you should hold each person’s gaze for 3 to 5 seconds.  Personally, I can’t speak and count “One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, Three Mississippi,” in my head at the same time.  I learned the tip from Patricia Fripp to instead, maintain eye contact with one person while you complete a sentence or a phrase, then move to a new person for the next sentence or phrase.  This I can do at the same time as I speak.  I’m not always perfect.  But thinking about this while I’m speaking does help me maintain better eye contact.

OK, Now It’s Your Turn.

What are examples of ways you’ve helped yourself or others replace undesirable presentation habits with good helpful habits?  Do tell in the comments below.

One area where I’ve struggled to help clients more is in the area of being monotone.  What have you come up with for this problem area?  Here’s my stab at it…

Instead of “You’re too Monotone” Move Toward … Saying Important Words and Phrases More Loudly and Slowly.

Here’s how I’ve handled being monotone in a coaching situation.  I ask the person I’m coaching to pick out some key words or phrases in their presentation that they feel are especially important to their message.  I ask why the word or phrase is important.  Then we pick one sentence and I have them say the sentence.  When they get to that key word or phrase, I’ll ask them to say it more loudly and more slowly.  It usually takes a few tries to get the person to adapt to saying the words or phrase more loudly and slowly.  Then I ask them to say the sentence again but within the context of that section of the presentation.  That process normally has to be repeated again as well.  Then we add more words and phrases to that section.  I’ve found it takes a lot of patience and a lot of repetition because the monotone habit is hard to break.

What have you tried that has worked?  What’s the thing that has replaced the monotone habit?

What other presentation skills bad habits have you found a great replacement for?  Please share in the comments!