What are the most annoying things speakers do?

In our blog on Wednesday, we posed that very question. We’ve been covering what I believe to be 3 of the worst: using confusing or irrelevant material, going over time, and being self-serving/not engaging with the audience. We covered the problem with confusing or irrelevant material Wednesday and offered a 3-step process for developing better content. Then, on Friday we talked about how frustrating it is when speakers go over their allotted time. Today, we’ll end our series with the last of the three most annoying things speakers do: being self-serving and not engaging with the audience.

This category has a two different elements, but both of them make the audience feel invisible. It happens when the speaker seems to forget that anyone else is in the room. We don’t ever want our audience members to feel like they don’t matter. As speakers, we can do better.

Self-serving Speaking

Have you attended presentations where the speaker seemed to be there only for herself? Have you heard speakers who seemed to overestimate their abilities or ideas? This is known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. “The concept is based on a 1999 paper by Cornell University psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger. The pair tested participants on their logic, grammar, and sense of humor, and found that those who performed in the bottom quartile rated their skills far above average. For example, those in the 12th percentile self-rated their expertise to be, on average, in the 62nd percentile.”

Here’s the problem. The speaker works hard to promote and grow his own image. He puffs up his ego. He uses fancy words and an overly formal style. The speaker does everything he can to show how important he is. But as he does, the audience starts shrinking. They feel unimportant. And they are no longer motivated to listen or to learn. There’s not room for much else but the speaker’s ego. To keep from letting your ego get in the way, Dunning suggests becoming your own devil’s advocate and challenging yourself to see how you might be wrong. In addition, you can escape the Dunning-Kruger Effect by asking others to help you see your blind spots and giving you honest feedback.

Not Engaging with the Audience

While this is different from self-serving speaking, it is another way a speaker can make his audience feel invisible. You know those presentations where the speaker reads off his notes the entire time and rarely, if ever, looks up? Yeah. It’s hard to stay engaged when you feel like everyone could leave the room without the speaker even noticing.

In order to avoid making this mistake, use the following tips to be more engaging:

  • Look up from your notes often. Forbes says that research has proven that “Eye contact produces a powerful, subconscious sense of connection.” The University of Minnesota recommends making eye contact at least 75% of the time you are presenting.
  • Make eye contact with as many people in the audience as you can during the presentation. When you make brief eye contact with your audience members, you are essentially telling them, “You matter. I’m glad you are here. This is for you.”
  • Use facial expressions and hand gestures. One study found that TED talk speakers who go viral use twice the hand gestures other speakers use. Another study found that speakers who talk with their hands come off as more “warm, agreeable and energetic, while those who are less animated are seen as logical, cold and analytical.”
  • Be conversational. Communication strategist Barbara Seymour Giordano practices the art of conversational presentations to engage the audience, creating a free-flowing talk that’s not overly structured or rote.

One of the most important jobs you have as a speaker is to make sure that your audience knows how much they matter. Don’t annoy your audience by being self-serving. Connect and engage with them.

Let’s Wrap It Up

We’ve tackled three of the most annoying things speakers do: using confusing or irrelevant material, going over time, and being self-serving/not engaging with the audience. All of us who present need these reminders from time to time. It’s how we continue to grow and be better speakers, for ourselves, for our ideas, and most importantly, for our audience members.

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