The Ten Traps to Avoid When You Speak: How to Turn Dull into Dynamic!

Published: Jan 24, 2019

Whenever you open your mouth, whether your audience is one person or a thousand, you want to get your message across.  Maybe you are giving a formal presentation. Perhaps you want your opinions heard. Possibly you hope to help your sales team improve its customer communication.

Anyone who sets out to present, persuade, and propel with the spoken word faces ten major pitfalls.

1. Unclear thinking. If you can't describe what you are talking about in a single sentence, then you may be guilty of either fuzzy thinking or trying to cover more than one idea in that sentence. Your listeners will probably be confused, too, and their attention will soon wander. Whether you are trying to improve your own skills or to help someone offer a clear presentation, your biggest—and most difficult—challenge may be beginning with a one-sentence premise or objective.

2. No clear structure. Having a clear structure will make it easier for people to follow what you are saying. They'll remember your remarks better—and so will you. If you waffle or ramble and therefore never get to the point, your listeners will tune out. Start with a strong opening related to your premise, then state your premise; list the rationales or points of wisdom that support your premise; support each point with examples; state your premise; list the rationales or "Points of Wisdom" that support your premise; and finally support each with examples, stories, statistics, metaphors, and case histories. Review what you've covered;  take questions if appropriate; finally use a strong closure. 

3. No memorable stories. People will rarely remember your exact words. Instead, they will remember the mental images that your words draw. Support key points with vivid, relevant stories. Help your listeners "create a movie” in their heads by using memorable characters, engaging situations, dialogue, suspense, drama, and humor. In fact, if you can open with a highly visual image, dramatic scene, or amusing remark that supports your premise, you will likely hook your audience. Then tie your closing remarks back to your opening scene. If you do it well, your audience won’t forget your presentation.

4. No emotional connection. The most powerful communication combines both intellectual and emotional aspects. The intellectual side appeals to educated self-interest with data and reasoned arguments. The emotional aspect comes from engaging listeners' imaginations, involving them in illustrative stories by frequently using the word "you" and answering their unspoken question "What's in this for me?" Thus, you offer a "high I/You ratio." So, you wouldn’t say, "I'm going to talk to you about telecommunications"; rather, you would say, "You're going to learn the latest trends in telecommunications."

5. Wrong level of abstraction. This occurs when you offer the big picture and provide generalities rather than give your audience what it wants: details, facts, and specific how-tos. Or you make the mistake of drowning the listener in data when they clearly want an overview. Your goal should be to get on the same wavelength with your listeners.

6. No pauses. Good music and good presentations both contain changes of pace, pauses, and full rests. These give listeners the opportunity to think about what they have heard. If you rush on at full speed to crowd in as much information as possible, chances are you will leave your listeners back at the start. It's okay to talk quickly, but pause whenever you say something profound or proactive or you ask a rhetorical question.

7. Irritating non-words.  Hmm--ah--er--you know what I mean--. One speaker I heard began each new thought with "Now!" as he scanned his notes to figure out what came next. This might be okay once in awhile, but it’s not a device to use every 30 seconds. Record yourself to check for similar bad verbal habits. Keep dtaping yourself to identify other audience-aggravating habits as well.

8. Stepping on your punch words. The most important word in a sentence is the punch word. Usually, it's the final word: "Take my wife—PLEASE." But if you drop your voice and then add, "Right?" or "See?", you've killed the impact of your message. (To discover if you do this, use a tape recorder to check your communication style.)
9. Misusing technology. Without a doubt, audio/visual adds impact to business and professional speakers' presentations. However, its availability doesn’t mean that you should use it. Any visual aid that takes the attention away from you should not be used. Even the best PowerPoint(r) images will not connect you emotionally. Use strong stories instead, if at all possible. Certainly, never repeat what is on the visuals. If you do, one of you is redundant. Technology should support your message, not act as a crutch.

10. Not having a strong opening and closure. Engage your audience immediately with a powerful, relevant opening that has a high I/You factor. It can be dramatic, thought provoking, or even amusing, but never, never open with a joke (unless you are a humorist with original materials). Get your listeners hooked immediately with a taste of what is to follow. And never close by asking for questions. Yes, take questions if appropriate, but then go on to deliver your dynamic closing, preferably one that ties back into your opening theme. Last words linger.

When you can avoid these 10 common pitfalls, you're free to focus on your message and your audience, making you a more dynamic, powerful, and persuasive communicator.