People employ several means through which they can eliminate their verbal tics. One of these is having someone sit at the back of the room and ring a bell every time you say ums, or ah, or er. This is just awful.
I love the people down at Toastmasters, it is a great organization and I highly recommend them. But there is one thing I really do not like and do not think is effective. It is that in many chapters, they will either ring a bell or hit a glass with a knife to make a ringing sound so that they can count every single little um that comes out of your mouth.
To me, this is counterproductive. It gets someone to focus on the ums they are letting out and not on the actual information that they are delivering. When you are speaking, you want to focus on your ideas coming alive, being interesting and engaging to the people you are talking to. You do not want to be sitting back thinking, “Please, please don’t let the- oh I’ve done it again” as the bell resounds.
So I beg you: do not count your ums and ahs while you are speaking. If you want to record yourself and do it after you are done speaking, that is completely fine. But do not try to be aware of it as you speak because at that time, you just need to speak.
The Ultimate Tricky Body Language: Touching
The modern workplace environment in most places in the world, especially in the Western countries, is different today than what it was like just a few years back. Things have changed, I would argue, for the better. But it does mean that was acceptable or unacceptable back in the day may not be so in the modern workplace with respect to body language.
Touching someone in the way of giving them a neck or body massage is the recipe for a career disaster. You may think that this is quite obvious and does not need to be said but the truth is that some people still don’t get it. If you have done it before, don’t do it again. Any kind of touching can be misconstrued and it can cause someone in your workplace to be uncomfortable. So my rule of thumb for anyone in a workplace, especially a manager, is to not touch any of your employees. If someone’s family member has died and they come up to hug your for comfort, then it is okay to hug them back, but in general, wait for someone else to initiate it and be careful yourself by giving people a little more formal distance and space when it comes to actual touching.
People’s perception of what is threatening and non threatening body language has changed. Some people are just naturally very touchy and feely and so you have to pay special attention to not make anyone feel uncomfortable. The problem with trying to extract this information directly from employees is that if you call them over and out a hand around them to ask if you are making them uncomfortable, they may be too uncomfortable to be able to tell you that you are making them uncomfortable. So keep this in mind: the less touching, the better regardless of the norms of your workplace or what part of the world you belong to.
Unlock the Keys to Motivating Your Audience
So you have finally isolated in one sentence what it is that you want your audience to do. Now comes the next step: what is going to motivate them to actually do what you want them to? So you have to ask yourself after every fact, number, and message what would motivate them to do what you wish for them to do. I would suggest that you should either write it down in the form of points or bullets.
You can list down all of your messages and they may as well be in excess of hundred. But I want you to put them in order of priority, and narrow it down to just the top five. Throw the others in the trash can or back them up in a separate file so you can give it to anyone you are presenting to later if they want it as an email or a handout. But do not stand up and deliver a huge data dump as it is not effective at all.
So much of being a good speaker is not about looking and sounding professional or not saying ums and ahs. It is about good judgement and asking yourself what your audience really need to know because they don’t have to know everything you know. Good judgement is what distinguishes good speakers from bad speakers. You may think that you sound as professional as you possibly could, but if your audience gets up feeling bored, then you have not done a good job.
One of the easiest ways of getting over that hump of being a rank beginner is to narrow your ideas and audience motivators down to five major points. Why do I say that? For the past 30 years I have trained several high ranking personalities and have asked them who they think is the best speaker they have heard speaking in the last five or ten years and what they remember from their session or presentation when I am giving them in person training. I will go around the room taking answers from everyone and never have I ever had anyone recall more than five ideas that they remember hearing from the best speaker they had ever heard in their lives. Even five is a difficult number to get to!
The process is hard because you will have the temptation that since you’re a beginner, you do not want anyone to think that you are stupid so you will just quickly cover every single thing you know. But I am begging you to ignore this temptation. Instead, narrow your focus to your top five ideas.