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11 Paradoxes of Being a Better Public Speaker

11 Paradoxes of Being a Better Public Speaker

    We’ve all heard how frightened nearly everyone is of public speaking. Maybe that’s understandable, but it creates the potential for lots of misinformed conventional wisdom spread by people who have to make presentations but haven’t had the opportunity to learn what really works.

    To help correct some misperceptions about what creates better presenters and presentations, here are eleven public speaking paradoxes for reluctant presenters to accept, embrace, and follow:

    1. Minimize your public speaking nerves by looking for as big an audience as possible.

    My theory on nerves and speaking? We all have a certain amount of nerves getting up in front of a crowd: the more people in the audience, the smaller the amount of your nervousness each audience member has to absorb. The theory may sound silly, but with more people in the audience, there’s a greater likelihood of spotting individuals who get your message and show it in their eyes – always a comforting sign for a speaker. The more people, the more likely someone will find your jokes funny and start laughing or be moved by your remarks and start applauding (and trust me, it takes somebody being the first to applaud). These nerve-settlers all benefit from having a bigger crowd.

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    2. If you’re concerned about forgetting what you’ll say, take all the words off your slides.

    The typical crutch to avoid forgetting your presentation is to put every word on your slides so you can turn around and read them aloud – which always makes for a deadly presentation. Putting everything on-screen also allows the audience to stop paying attention to you since they can more efficiently read your slides themselves. With only images (or at least very few words) displayed, however, if you forget your remarks or cover something different from what was originally written, nobody knows because the audience has no visual reference to spot the variation. You enjoy all kinds of freedom to change up what you say and how you say it, making it much easier to cover your forgetful moments.

    3. To compare more favorably to the great motivational speaker on the agenda, ask to speak right after them.

    Unsure speakers try valiantly to stay as far away as possible on the agenda from exciting speakers because they think they’ll seem worse by immediately following a keynoter. That’s simply a bad strategy. There’s invariably a buzz among the audience after an exciting, engaging speaker, and it’s wonderful to bask in it as the agenda’s next presenter. Not only do you get a free pass to lunch off the audience love the previous speaker created, you can always refer back to a point your predecessor made to refresh the audience’s glow while you’re onstage.

    4. To satisfy audience requests for presentation materials, refuse to provide slide print outs.

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    Handing out your slides before the presentation creates a distraction as audience members are tempted to look at them and ignore you. Plus if you’ve taken the advice to primarily use graphics on your slides, having them won’t be of much learning value anyway. Instead, write an article with your presentation’s key points and invite the audience to visit your blog to review it. If you don’t have a blog, write your presentation summary to share with the event organizer for its blog or website. You’ll expand your reach, providing both your in-person audience and others interested in your topic the opportunity to learn from what you have to say.

    5. When you want the whole presenting experience to just be over as quickly as possible, show up way early and make a day of it.

    One of the best things you can do as a nervous presenter is to arrive early since it provides several advantages. You can see where you’ll be speaking, determine where to stand, and figure out solutions to challenges the equipment or conference venue create. You’ll also be able to arrange the setup so your computer will be in front of you – serving as a monitor – eliminating the tendency to turn away from the audience to see what’s on the screen. Being there early allows you to meet and interact with audience members, learning what interests them. Finally, you can watch other presenters so you can amplify or avoid points they’ve made, as appropriate. All these benefits will help make your presenting time seem to pass much more quickly.

    6. If answering questions makes you nervous, encourage lots of them.

    Questions are a giant opportunity to customize your content to what’s most relevant to the audience. They also provide a chance to catch your breath and drink some water as you turn the attention over to the audience momentarily. To get questions started, plant a few with people you’ve met before the talk so you begin with ones you are ready to address.  Plus always remember: if you’re stumped for an answer, ask other audience members to share their perspectives on the challenging question.

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    7. If you have a really loud voice, demand a microphone.

    So many people, especially self-conscious men, try to avoid using microphones because they talk loud. Use the microphone. With a microphone, you can speak at your normal volume while also raising and lowering your voice as you’d like to create continued interest in what you’re saying and how you’re delivering the message.

    8. Stand up while you present on a conference call or webinar because no one can see you.

    Suppose you’re doing a webinar or other phone-based presentation. The natural tendency is to sit at your desk since the audience isn’t watching. True, but the wrong move nonetheless. Standing up and “presenting” your comments gives your voice more energy, which translates to a better phone-based talk. Bonus tip: don’t speak in the same volume you normally would for a phone conversation. Instead, over-emote since the phone dampens your delivery style. Delivering your message in this manner creates a much more engaging audience experience.

    9. Since presentation mistakes are embarrassing when they’re noticed, point them out and have fun with them.

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    Some speaking mistakes are small and go unnoticed. Others (the computer or projector fails, a video doesn’t play) are apparent to the audience. Rather than dreading them, here are two things to do. First, anticipate what might go wrong and have a funny (ideally self-deprecating) comment to share for each one. Secondly, have a backup plan for each of the potential disasters. When you handle presentation adversity with a laugh and a quick recovery, you’ll win an audience over even faster than by delivering a seamless speech.

    10. If you don’t like the sound of your voice, record it and listen to it over and over.

    The single best investment I’ve made as a speaker has been a digital audio recorder to capture every presentation I do. While it can be tough to listen to yourself if you’re uncomfortable speaking, the gaffes you’ll hear quickly pinpoint areas to improve your skills. Another advantage? Next time you’re speaking on the same topic, you can review your previous presentation while rehearsing to remind yourself of what parts worked best and effective ad-libs that weren’t planned in your original remarks.

    11. Deal with your anxieties about audience reactions by rewarding them for immediately sharing opinions.

    While most conferences survey attendees, it’s often weeks later, and speakers frequently never receive results. That’s why the second best investment you can make in becoming a better presenter is creating your own simple evaluation form. Offer audience members a chance to win a book or give-away relevant to your presentation for sharing one thing they liked, didn’t like, found interesting, and would recommend about your talk. These four points from each presentation provide incredible feedback and reactions you never could have anticipated. The total cost of the books I’ve given away has paled in comparison to the improvement opportunities this strategy has yielded – especially from things people didn’t like.

    There you have it. If you don’t enjoy speaking, these eleven paradoxes may seem very unnatural, but using them to your advantage will allow you to make dramatic improvements in your abilities as a public communicator!

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    Last Updated on October 22, 2020

    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

    Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

    When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

    Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

    What Makes People Poor Listeners?

    Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

    1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

    Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

    Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

    It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

    2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

    This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

    Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

    3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

    It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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    I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

    If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

    4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

    While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

    To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

    My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

    Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

    Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

    How To Be a Better Listener

    For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

    1. Pay Attention

    A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

    According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

    As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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    I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

    2. Use Positive Body Language

    You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

    A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

    People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

    But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

    According to Alan Gurney,[2]

    “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

    Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

    3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

    I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

    Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

    Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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    Be polite and wait your turn!

    4. Ask Questions

    Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

    5. Just Listen

    This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

    I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

    I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

    6. Remember and Follow Up

    Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

    For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

    According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

    It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

    7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

    If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

    Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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    Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

    Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

    NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

    1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
    2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

    8. Maintain Eye Contact

    When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

    Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

    By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

    Final Thoughts

    Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

    You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

    And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

    More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
    [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
    [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
    [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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