It takes a lot of preparation to craft the kind of speech or presentation that is going to grab your listener’s attention. Once the speech is crafted, you need to spend a lot of time practising, so as to make sure you keep their attention.
Listeners don’t give their attention lightly and it doesn’t take much for it to wander. Here are seven bad speaking habits that will guarantee your listeners will be focusing on other things, instead of what you’re presenting.
- Rambling – if you don’t know where you’re going, the audience is not going to follow. If you do not have anything to say, sit down! No one has ever complained about a speech that ended early.
- Speaking in a monotone – not only are you at risk of losing their attention, you might even put them to sleep. Speaking in a monotonous voice is a real communication killer. When you don’t vary the pitch of your voice, it is difficult for the listener to maintain any interest in what you’re saying.
- Appearing to have limited topic knowledge – people come to listen because they expect you know what you’re talking about. You need to know your topic backwards and forwards. Research your topic thoroughly while preparing your speech.
- Poor eye contact – lack of eye contact creates a barrier between you and the audience. Make a connection to the listener; they want to know you’re speaking to them.
- Pacing, wandering or fidgeting – often a sign of nerves, it can be distracting to the audience. You may not eliminate the nerves, but preparation and practice can reduce the appearance of nerves.
- Lack of preparation – if you haven’t made the effort to prepare, why should the audience make the effort to listen?
- Poor storytelling skills – nothing communicates concepts better than stories. If you want to hold on to the listener’s attention, learn to tell stories well.
Traditionally, Canada does not place well in the Olympic Summer Games. (The winter games is a better story.) Canadian athletes competing often surpass “personal best” results or break Canadian records for their sport. However, that’s not always good enough on the world stage.
You’ve trained and prepared, you’re motivated and ready, but you end up fourth, fifth or even last. What do you do when your personal best is not good enough?
Here are some steps you can take when you find yourself in that position. This is not a all-or-nothing or sequential list. This is a list of options to consider, to help you decide what your next step will be.
This seems obvious. If you feel you have potential to improve, you need to keep working toward that objective. A surprising number of people quit the moment they hit their first setback. Those who want to push their personal best to new levels keep working to improve.
Know when to quit
I once knew a woman who had a desire to lead a music group, despite the fact that she was not much of a musician. She never did anything to improve her musical ability and she was so focused on this impractical goal that she missed opportunities to engage and develop her genuine skills.
Sometimes you have to acknowledge that your personal best is not going to lead to success in an endeavour. Take a hard and honest look at your skills inventory and determine if you should be pursuing a different passion.
Know when to switch gears
Similar to knowing when to quit, sometimes you need to know when to take your current skills and passion in a different direction. For example, your painting skills may never get you into the National Gallery, but you may have the ability to be the next Bob Ross. By paring up two skills, you might be able to create something bigger than either of them.
Evaluate your pond size
There’s an expression that speaks of being a big fish in a small pond. This refers to people who are important within their circle of influence. You need to know what kind of pond you’re swimming in to determine the outcome of your efforts.
You may be the best swimmer in Canada, but competing on the world stage, at the Olympic Summer Games, brings a different standard of success. If you are content with being a big fish in a small pond, continue to enjoy what you’re doing.
Reduce the unnecessary
You may feel you have a novel in you just waiting to burst out and become a bestseller. However, you spend three or four hours per day camped in front of the television. That novel is likely to sit and perhaps get written by someone else.
Whatever you’re trying to achieve in life, you’ve got to take action if you’re going to succeed. A fool waits for opportunity to knock; a wise man searches out opportunity and wrestles with it until it gives in.
Learn, learn, learn
Whatever your goals and ambitions, you need to develop a personal plan for continuous improvement. You may aspire to be the next Michael Phelps, the best corn farmer in Taber, or the best math teacher in California. Success comes when you pursue learning opportunities. This is not merely signing up for a course at your local college. This is evaluating your abilities, reading, watching, practicing and so on.
Enjoy yourself and the Journey
Not every success is measured in medals, money or fame. Success is the completion of anything intended. Just because you pull out your camera everyday to take pictures doesn’t mean you want to be the next Clive Arrowsmith or Joe McNally. You may be looking through the lens for personal enjoyment, preserving family history or any number of things. If you’re enjoying the journey, you are one large step towards success.
As much as you would like to avoid it, there’s no getting away from having to wait. You wait on hold on the telephone, wait for meetings and appointments, wait for hockey practice to end, a spouse to finish work, and wait and wait and wait. Waiting can eat up a fair portion of your time. Good time management puts waiting time to use.
Whether at the office, out and about, or at home, here are seven ways to make use of waiting time:
- Work your lists: Check your to-do lists, your shopping lists or other reminders; add, subtract or rearrange, as necessary.
- Work your calendar: If you’re not on the phone, set-up, confirm or reschedule items on your calendar.
- Sort mail: E-mail, paper mail —whether at work or at home— can be organized while on the phone or watching T.V.
- Personal/professional development: Read an industry journal or a school assignment. Carry a media player and listen to speakers, trainers or podcasts.
- Use the phone: If you’re not waiting on the phone, use the time to make or return calls.
- Work on hobbies: Carry needlework with you. If you draw, carry a sketch book. Carry a digital camera and snap off a few pictures.
- Structured relaxing: It doesn’t have to be all about efficiency; read a book, solve a crossword puzzle, or play a game on your smartphone.
Make it a practice to carry your “tools” with you and you’ll find you never have to sit twiddling your thumbs while you wait.
Several years ago, when new to a position, I had a conflict with another employee. By strict interpretation of our policies, I was right in my actions, but I managed it very poorly. Shortly after that, the other employee resigned. It was a lack of experience on my part. I was more interested in being right than resolving conflict.
One of the lessons you learn early in life, conflict happens. Not everyone will agree with you all the time, or even some of the time. To be successful in life, you need to know how to manage conflict.
I’m not so glib as to expect there is some magic “7–step” solution that will automatically eliminate all your conflict. There are areas of disagreement –say personal beliefs– that may never be resolved. Some past actions, that have deeply affected your life, could require a therapeutic approach to resolve.
However, much of the day-to-day conflict you face can be managed with deliberate and clear communication. If you find conflict is getting in the way of your accomplishing what needs doing, try these steps:
Explain the situation as you see it
Invariably, conflict is about perception and understanding. Start by telling the other party your understanding of the situation.
Describe how it is affecting performance
Tell them how this conflict affects what need to be accomplished.
Ask them to explain their point of view
This can be difficult, but let the other party explain their point of view.
You may find that these first three steps provide enough clarity to resolve the conflict. If not, move on the the next four steps.
Agree on the problem
Reach agreement on the problem. You need a common understanding to develop a workable solution.
Explore and discuss possible solutions
Work together to develop a solution to the conflict. Both parties will stick with a solution they have had a role in developing.
Agree on what each person will do to solve the problem
Make sure you walk away from the session with a clear understanding of which party is responsible for what action.
Set a date for follow-up
Don’t leave it hanging. Get together to make sure things are on track. If the conflict is of a complex nature, you may need several follow-up milestones.
In the case of individuals in conflict, this process can work one-on-one. In more complex conflicts, or where groups of people are involved, a third-party facilitator might be needed.