Avoid Killing Your Audience with Deadly Speaking Habits

Great speakers don’t kill their audiences. They build rapport, start strong, follow a clear path and finish with a pop. They don’t make lame jokes, read their slides verbatim or avoid looking their audience in the eye.

Great speakers don’t kill their audiences. They build rapport, start strong, follow a clear path and finish with a pop. They don’t make lame jokes, read their slides verbatim or avoid looking their audience in the eye.

You can spiff up your presentation skills. Start by taking the advice of an accounting intern. Seriously, take his advice.

Jeff Chappell, an accounting analyst intern at Dell, bases his recommendations for better presentations on experience. The experience of watching many awkward, emotionless and ineffective presentations. There is no better experience than that.

He identifies seven deadly presentation habits you need to shed to avoid putting your audience to sleep:

  • Treating a presentation as a teleprompter and reading each slide word for word, unless you're a pro script reader, like Jimmy Fallon.
  • Telling the audience you’re nervous or a bad public speaker.
  • Starting with a joke, which can often fall flat.
  • Zooming through the presentation like a race car driver seeing how fast he can finish.
  • Sticking with your script even when you see audience members squirming or checking their smartphones.
  • Maintaining weak or no eye contact with your audience.
  • Closing meekly.

None of these suggestions is revolutionary. Taken together, they represent pretty solid advice.

A boring presentation can leave you wishing you'd spent your time elsewhere. That's why it's critical to avoid bad presentation habits, which Jeff Chappell laid out this month on LinkedIn. 

A boring presentation can leave you wishing you'd spent your time elsewhere. That's why it's critical to avoid bad presentation habits, which Jeff Chappell laid out this month on LinkedIn. 

Think about dreadful presentations you have endured when speakers got off to a lame start, droned on and ended with a poof instead of a pop. What you remember was how bad the presentation was, not what the presentation was about. At best, you may have contemplated in your mind what the presentation could have been – informative, inspiring, interesting.

Chappell’s recommendations came in a blog he posted on LinkedIn. He attributed some of his suggestions to lessons he learned in a presentation skills class taught at Dell. Chappell said he wrote the blog because “the cost of having one of the seven deadly habits of public speaking is too high to be ignored.” And the price to correct these deadly habits is relatively inexpensive. “Practice,” he says, is the difference.

“It doesn’t matter if you practice on the phone, in the shower or in front of friends, just practice correctly,” Chappell advises. “After a few sessions of practice, you’ll be wowing the audience with your confidence and professionalism.” It takes more than that, but you would definitely be on the right track.

Great speakers start by establishing a rapport with their audience, then making a compelling introduction of their speech topic. They give the audience a map of where the speech will go, then walk them through key points. They build momentum and anticipation as they go along, then end with a powerful crescendo. They use body language to help tell the story.

Not all great speakers use presentations, but when they do, their presentations are graphically-based reminders of key points in the speech. The presentation reinforces the message rather than distracting the speaker or the audience.

You might call these the heavenly habits of great speakers, which will lift you up in the eyes of your audience and send them home with positive thoughts, clear impressions and indelible messages.