Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Four Types of Words to Avoid When Speaking

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

When you've giving a presentation, your words can affect your ability to communicate your message to your audience. If you want to be a more effective presenter, avoid these three types of words:

Filler words are words such as "um," "ah," "like," "so," and "ok," which are used as verbal bridges to the next word. Rather than being effective bridges, however, they are roadblocks, distracting the audience and interrupting the flow of your message. These filler words also make you look and sound nervous. Instead of using them, just pause and take a breath instead. Then continue on with your next sentence or word.

Your goal is to speak confidently to the audience and convey your knowledge and expertise. If you use weak words like "sort of" and "hopefully," they lessen the impact of your message. If you're uncertain about what you're saying or only providing an estimate, say so directly, but don't let weak words undermine an otherwise certain statement.

Also beware of using weak words when networking. Nothing projects your lack of confidence more than an introduction such as "Hi, I'm Leslie and I sorta have my own business and I kinda help people organize their offices."

Buzzwords are words or phrases which at one time may have been interesting or unique, but which through overuse, have now become tired and meaningless. Examples include "leveraging our assets," "touching base," "pick your brain," "24/7" and others that may be specific to your industry. Be careful not to overuse buzzwords; they fill the time but they don't convey a lot of meaning.

For example, in the phrase, "I personally think," the word "personally" is unnecessary because "I" already conveys who is doing the thinking. Another example is the phrase, "at this moment in time" which can simply be replaced with "now." The extra words don't add anything; instead, they just muddy your presentation.

Your word choice is critical to the success of your presentation. By avoiding these three types of words, your meaning becomes more clear and focused – and easier for your audience to understand.

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

5 Common Voice Mistakes

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

Your voice has the ability to convey an incredible range of meaning and emotion when you present. It's an important part of your non-verbal communications, or body language, and can help you can communicate your message clearly and effectively to your audience.

Avoid these five common mistakes in order to tap into the full power of your voice:

Voice Mistake #1 - Speaking Too Fast
How fast is too fast? It depends. You have to speak slowly enough so you can enunciate your words and the audience can understand you. Slow down even more if you're speaking in a language that is not native to the audience or if you're presenting new, complex information. Your rate tends to increase when you're nervous, so be aware of your nerves.

Voice Mistake #2 - Speaking Nonstop
Speaking nonstop means that you will run out of breath by the end of the sentence and your voice will sound strangled as it trails off. Instead, use pauses to catch your breath and give your audience a chance to catch up. You can also pause before an important word to clue the audience that they should pay attention; for example, "the results this year have been [pause]… excellent." Pausing to take a breath also means you're less likely to use pause words like "um" and "ah."

Voice Mistake #3 - Speaking Too Softly
How soft is too soft? If your audience has to struggle to hear you, you're speaking too softly. You also need to speak more loudly than usual if you're in a large room or any size room with poor acoustics. If you have the opportunity to use a microphone, use it. As long as it is working properly, a microphone can make it easier for the audience to hear you. As you increase your volume, it may feel like you're shouting. Chances are, you're not, but to be sure, you can record yourself or ask an audience member for an honest assessment of your volume.

Voice Mistake #4 - Speaking in a Monotone

A monotone robs your voice of inflection and doesn’t allow you to emphasize different words and emotions. Using inflection in your voice can convey your precise meaning to the audience. For example, your voice inflection can convey the difference between these two sentences - "I love Brussel sprouts! [bring me a big plate of them!]" and "I love Brussel sprouts? [are you kidding? I hate them!]"

Voice Mistake #5 – Speaking in a Tone that Does Not Match Your Words
As with other elements of non-verbal communications, your voice should match the words that you are saying. If you say "I know this is going to be a great conference," but your voice conveys boredom or sarcasm, the audience will believe your non-verbals rather than your words.

If you avoid these five common voice mistakes, you'll be able to harness the power of your voice to connect to your audience and communicate your meaning.

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Monday, September 28, 2009

Top 3 Tips for Making a Great Speech

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

Recently, someone asked me for my top 3 quick tips for making a great speech. It was difficult to narrow them down, but I've listed them here:

  1. Focus on the audience. You're not ready to speak in front of an audience unless you can answer the question "why should the audience care about what I'm going to say?"
  2. Practice, practice, practice. It's not enough to think about what you're going to say or flip through your notes while you're sitting at your desk. Practice means that you actually open your mouth and say the words out loud in as close to the real environment as possible.
  3. Don't use PowerPoint/KeyNote slides. If you are asked to use presentation software, resist. If you are required to use it, then be careful. Remember that you are the presentation and the slides should aid your presentation, not replace you. Avoid text-heavy slides and instead, use high-quality images to connect to your audience and tell your story.

Let me know what you think -- what are your top 3 tips?

Gilda's blog

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Gilda's Fall 2009 Classes

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

Public Speaking for Special Occasions
Do you have an upcoming opportunity to speak for a special occasion? Whether you're giving the toast at your best friend's wedding, saying a few words at a retirement party or accepting an award from your community organization, this class will help you plan and practice your remarks. We'll work on organizing your material, adding humor and interacting with the audience, so your words will be memorable-for all the right reasons!

Greenwich Adult Ed., Wednesday, October 14, 7-9 pm, $29

How to Schmooze
Hate networking events because you never know what to say? Do you get stuck talking to the one person in the room that you know? Whether you're looking for new clients or a new job, or just looking to broaden your professional horizons, networking is a key ingredient of your success. This interactive session will teach you the techniques of successful networking so you can schmooze with ease.

Greenwich Adult Ed., Tuesday, October 13, 7-9 pm, $39

Stamford Adult Ed., Thursday, October 15, 6-8 pm, $29

Gilda's blog

Friday, September 4, 2009

Public Speaking Practice, Practice, Practice

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

When I was in high school, I played clarinet in the school band. Every afternoon, I climbed up the hill from the bus stop carrying my clarinet case and every morning, I trudged back down the hill carrying my clarinet case, still unopened and untouched.

My performance on the clarinet failed to improve because merely carrying the clarinet was not enough to help improve my skill at playing it.

The same is true for presentations. When you're preparing to speak to a group, no matter how small or large, it's not enough to think about what you're going to say or flip through your slides while you're sitting at your desk. That doesn't count as practice.

Practice means that you actually open your mouth and say the words out loud in as close to the real environment as possible. So, for example, if you're going to stand while presenting, stand while practicing. If you're going to present while sitting around a conference table, then practice while sitting around a conference table. The purpose of practice is to become comfortable enough with your material and the mechanics of presenting it in the environment that you will be able to deliver your presentation naturally and effectively.

You should practice going through your presentation at least a few times. Memorizing it may make you more anxious since you'll be worried about forgetting the exact words you memorized. Instead, become familiar enough with your key ideas and message that you can use different words and phrases to express them each time you practice. If you choose to use notes, practice how to use them effectively without clinging to them or reading from them.

There are three major areas of content that you should focus on during your practice:

This is your opportunity to engage the audience and also to build your confidence. You should be so comfortable with your introduction that you can deliver it effortlessly, with full eye contact, a strong voice and few pause words (like "um" or "ah").

Presenters often get lost between points or slides. You want to practice how you will move smoothly and logically from one idea to the next. Having a well-organized presentation makes transitions easier because you can say something like, "the second reason we need a new process for handling customer complaints is…" or "the next phase of the project involves testing the software against the requirements…"

This is your last chance to remind the audience of your message. Don't just let your voice trail off with "well….. that's it, I guess…." You should end with a powerful conclusion such as a call to action or a strong reiteration of your message and its importance to the audience.

I learned the hard way – it's not enough to carry the clarinet around and think about practicing. To improve, you actually have to open the case and play it. So the next time you have to give a presentation, make the time to practice the right way by saying the words out loud in as close the real environment as possible. As a result, your actual delivery of it will be smooth and effective.