A Focus Group to Make You Better
Am I crazy? Is everyone looking at my beady eyes and making fun of me?
All of us are sometimes too close to ourselves to really have an accurate, dispassionate, and unbiased perception on how we are coming across. You may think that you have a huge problem with verbal tics but you may not actually have it. I’m not saying that it is all in your head. There may be some issues there but what I want you to do is to test.
What you shouldn’t do is speak in front of someone and go up to them to ask how awful you really were or how many uhs and ums you said. You don’t want to coach someone’s opinion. What you do want to do is give a speech or a presentation, go up to someone who listened to it, and ask them what they remember. Ask them what they liked, what they didn’t like, what stood out to them the most, and what they think you should try and change the next time yous peak to give presentation. If then they something along the lines of you not looking comfortable or relaxed, then you can probe and dig deeper to the root of the problem. If they don’t mention it at all, then you can ask them if they noticed a particular problem with your speaking. They may agree or they may end up saying that they never noticed it at all.
I trust you but in terms of assessing how you come across, I believe your audience is a much more credible source than you. Bottom line is that everyone needs unbiased external feedback. In fact, I need it as well and I am asking you to give me some in the form of comments. I want to know what you think so far. If you think there something I should change, then send me a message right away so I can change myself for the better because I believe no one is perfect and that there is always room for improvement.
You Are Not Alone
One of the first things you need to realize about having verbal tics is that everybody, once in a while, ends up saying um, ah, er, or you know. Saying something like this once in awhile or occasionally is not really a problem. It becomes a problem when you begin to say it too many times. It is like sending someone a cover letter with the first sentence having a coma after every word- it is unnecessary and it will stand out as clutter.
But I want you to put things in perspective. Quite often, in my day job, which is doing public speaking training and media training workshops with leaders all over the world, I will record someone speaking and will play it back, everyone will be thinking and saying what a fantastic job they did with their presentation, but the person who will have done the presentation will be behaving like they have just delivered the most awful and pathetic presentation in the word. I will look questioningly around the room and no on will even have noticed the sentiments that the speaker himself will be showing. We will play it back again and the person will have only said two ums in a period of 20 minutes which is not a problem at all.
Now you may have a problem- I am not trying to minimize it, but do not be too harsh on yourself. I know of people who never have any verbal tics when addressing an audience, but they are so boring with their presentation that no one ends up remembering what they said in their presentation. I also know of some very famous and well known speakers like David Letterman here in the United States and Martha Stewart, who say ah and um constantly, after every 20 second segment. Yet they have made hundreds and millions of dollars just by talking.
So let’s keep this in perspective an do not fetishize not saying um and ah. It is far more important to have something interesting to say than to not say um and ah. You can try to reduce them, but our goal is not to achieve perfection in this regard. Our goal is to achieve perfection in speaking to other people and effectively conveying your message to them.
Your Picture Will be Worth More Than a 1000 Words
As a beginner, you should know that you do not have to use Powerpoint. In fact, some of the greatest speakers in the world do not use PowerPoint at any stage of their careers. I am not anti Powerpoint. I use it quite frequently and some of my best presentations have been conducted using Powerpoint.
Here is the rule of thumb when it comes Powerpoint: if you are going to use it, it is not about maximum of three bullet points or a limit of ten words per slide- those are not the rules that you need to be worried about. The rule of thumb is: can your audience members look at the slide, instantly understand what the message you are trying to convey is, and then do they end up remembering it? That is the only thing you have to worry about.
This means that you have to narrow it down to one idea per slide and use images instead of text. I realize that in your organization or business, people may do things differently. You may see people use a whole bunch of bullet points with a lot of complex graphs. How is that working for you? How much of that do you really remember? So instead of taking the bad step of doing things how everyone else is doing them and making bad Powerpoint presentations, make your life easier and simpler: use one image and one idea per slide.
If you do that, you are going to seem like a great public speaker and not just a beginner.