As a communication coach who works with top CEOs and entrepreneurs, I cover a lot of advanced communication concepts in my column, but sometimes it’s important to take a refresher course on the basics.
I was reminded of this when I joined my daughter for a golf lesson on the first day of the New Year. She is just starting to learn the game, even though I have been playing for years. So I got an instructor to work with my daughter on the fundamentals and help me with advanced skills like shaping plans.
“Sure, let’s see you hit a few,” the instructor said. After watching about five swings, the instructor stopped me and said, “You have to correct a few basic flaws before you get to an advanced level. After making a few simple adjustments, I hit the golf ball better than ever.
Golf is a skill that takes practice. Likewise, public speaking is a skill you can learn, and become really good at, once you apply the basics.
As a communications coach, I often start by watching videos of clients making presentations. In most cases, they have developed bad habits that need to be corrected before they can advance to more advanced levels. Here, a few points to keep in mind.
1. Make eye contact.
Our brains have evolved to assess whether or not a person can pose a “threat.” That’s why we form impressions in as little as seconds. Since the eyes are one of the first things we scan, we quickly lose confidence if the other person avoids eye contact.
The fix is simple. Make eye contact. One way to force yourself to engage with your audience is to minimize the text you write on PowerPoint slides. You’ll have less to read, and less text means more eye contact.
Eye contact is also essential for long distance presentations. Avoid placing your computer or device at an awkward angle that requires you to look at the webcam from above or below. Instead, place your webcam at eye level, internalize your content, and stream it with confidence.
2. Release the hands.
Again, our old brains have evolved to assess threats. We tend to trust people when they make eye contact and when you see their hands.
A tense body leads to faults in public speaking. Most people make the common mistake of looking too stiff. They keep their hands locked tightly to the side or in their pockets.
Free your hands. Use hand gestures to complete your words. A study published in the harvard business review have found that when it comes to successfully launching a new idea, actions count more than words.
In a distant setting, make sure your audience can see your hands by positioning your camera two or three feet away so that more of your upper body is visible.
3. Eliminate filler words.
We naturally use filler words like “um” and “ah” in conversation to fill the silence while we are thinking, but too many filler words get boring because they interrupt the rhythm of speech.
Like, “So, uh, if you look on this slide, you’ll see that it, uh, shows the company’s revenue for, uh, 2021, versus, uh, you know, our target. annual.”
By simply removing the filler words, we can make the sentence shorter and easier to follow: “This slide shows the company’s revenue for 2021 against our annual target.”
Filler words are boring and distracting. Get rid of most of them.
4. Smile to radiate confidence.
We all want to hear from people who are excited about the topic they are talking about. If you like the subject, put a smile on your face.
In a series of experiments, Swiss researchers found that a simple smile made people more “attractive” in both their facial expressions and their personality. When speakers are nervous or focused on what to say next, they frown or pursed their lips.
The easiest solution is to remind yourself to smile. When giving a speech or virtual presentation, I have spent so much time creating the content that I often forget to have fun. My solution: I draw a big smiley face on my notes to remind me to express my enthusiasm for the subject.
Great public speakers are made, not born. Public speaking is a skill that anyone can refine. Familiarize yourself with the basics and you’ll be improving in no time.