A 2005 study published in the Journal of Employment Counseling revealed the results of a survey of top employers in the Silicon Valley, which asked what skills they wished more job candidates possessed. Their response? Public speaking skills.
Employers have functionally thrown down the gauntlet, asking those on the job hunt to not only face down what has been repeatedly categorized as the number one fear in America, but to master the trade. Public speaking, more and more, is becoming an inevitable part of life. As you journey forward in this brave new world, be careful to avoid the top five rookie mistakes of public speaking.
1) Relying Too Much on Data- When giving a presentation, it may be tempting to lean on data to make your points for you, eliminating the need to use your actual voice. There are a couple of problems with this strategy.
First, data in and of itself can be confusing. Rattling off a bunch of statistics without explaining how they interact and what they mean for your argument may leave your audience a little bamboozled. The thing is, if people want to, they can find data. The reason they're listening to you is to understand what that data means.
Second, especially in instances where you need to persuade someone, spewing a bunch of numbers says little about you, your message and your abilities. You're dead in the water if you can't sell your message, and data is not sales.
2) Relying Too Much on Charm- Ah, the flip side of the data addict. People uninterested in putting in the hours necessary to effectively research a topic will often rely on their wit, sparkle and charm to push them through a presentation. Sadly, this act is about as flimsy as a cardboard stand-in for a Wild West shootout. The act will get you into trouble.
Initially, the charm will be successful in getting people to pay attention. Unfortunately for you, as they begin to pay attention, they will find that you are not saying anything of substance. That's where you lose them.
Relying on charm can also cause problems when people aren't as impressed with your slick ways as you are. Brace yourself for this one: some people may find you abrasive. I know it's shocking, but it presents a major risk for you if you rely on your charm to get through a presentation. If, by chance, someone hates your personality, and you don't have data to present to them to persuade them that you are correct even if you are a fool, then you don't have a leg to stand on.
3) Becoming a Statue- Speaking in front of a crowd can be scary. However, doing your best impersonation of a man who has just locked eyes with Medusa is probably not a good bet. Maintaining a stiff or robotic posture damages your message in a couple of ways.
To begin with, it's distracting. People are used to seeing presentations where speakers move, gesture, and seem relaxed, so your statue routine looks weird in contrast. If people are paying more attention to how you look than what you're saying, you've got a problem.
Moreover, the statue routine makes you look nervous, damaging your credibility. If you're not making eye contact, for example, people are less likely to trust you. If you're stuttering, stumbling, or look like you might fall over if someone in the room sneezes, your authority on the subject you're addressing comes into question.
It's important to stay loose and relaxed. Look people in the eye. Smile. Stand up straight. It will do wonders for that Medusa thing.
4) Self-Deprecation- Who doesn't love to laugh? Humor is an excellent addition to any speech. If you have substance and style, you'll go a long way. That is, unless your style is making yourself look like a punk. Self-deprecating humor is a bad route to take. Sure, it'll get you laughs. Yes, your audience will be paying attention. No, they will not be taking you seriously.
As a speaker, you are trying to convince people, not only of the validity of your message, but that they should be willing to consider it coming from you. If you are portraying yourself as an idiot, a ditz or a mess, you may find yourself being perceived as one, which eliminates your credibility. Joke's on you.
5) This is the Speech that Never Ends- You may have a lot to say. You may have the most important information in the world. It doesn't matter. Keep it snappy. Long presentations are no good for two reasons.
First, after about ten minutes, a person's ability to remember information falls to pieces. If they aren't retaining the information presented, it doesn't matter if they understand it or not.
Second, after about thirty minutes, the damage goes from failure to remember to failure to listen. The average person's attention span simply cannot accommodate for longer presentations. Not only will they not remember your important information, but they won't hear it to begin with.
If you still have to present a large amount of information, consider punctuating it with questions for the audience, breaks or activities. Allowing people to get away from the lecture will help them to get the most out of what you have to say.