Everyone has bad habits.
This is especially true in the area of communication, but people are often unaware of the issues that are holding them back. If you can overcome these habits you’ll release your full potential to connect with people, inspire them and make your ideas happen.
The main area I have noticed bad habits creeping in is around how you remember what to say in a presentation, speech or pitch. These habits can cause you to lose connection with the people around you, create stress and diminish your impact.
The good news is, there are some simple ways to break bad habits like these:
BAD HABIT #1: MEMORIZING EVERY WORD
Some people think they have to memorize every word of their presentation.
If you consider that the average speaker talks about 140 words per minute, and you need to give a 30-minute speech, then you’re potentially going to have memorize 4,000 words in sequence.
That’s simply not going to happen.
Even if you succeed, you’ll get stuck in your head during the sequencing process, and run the risk of losing your audience. More than that, you’ll be effectively giving a performance rather than connecting with people.
Think of it this way. Justin Timberlake performed the Super Bowl half-time show to nearly 300 million viewers. When asked if he was nervous about messing up, he said, “You can’t focus on being perfect. Perfection gets in the way of greatness. It doesn’t actually matter if you mess up. You’ve just got to be out there, passionately connected with people.”
So, I always say, “Don’t aim for ‘word perfect,’ because it’s more important you aim for connection.”
BAD HABIT #2: ENTIRELY WINGING IT
On the other hand, some people think they can improvise their speech with no plan or structure.
They may think to themselves, “There’s no point memorizing this because I will mess up, so I’m just going to go up there with no notes and hope for the best.” This can be an issue with self-sabotage (if someone criticises you when you haven’t prepared properly you can say “well, that wasn’t my best work”), but it’s a bad habit nonetheless — and one that can leave a lasting, negative impression with the audience.
For example, Ed Miliband was the leader of the Labour Party in the UK. At a conference in 2014, he stood up to speak without any notes. He intended to mention the economy — a pretty crucial point for a political party with a strong interest in workers’ rights — but he completely forgot. He walked offstage thinking he’d done a decent job, but afterward, he was blasted on social media for not covering a key issue that was important to many people across the country.
So winging it doesn’t work either.
BAD HABIT #3: RELYING ON SLIDES
People are constantly relying too heavily on slides.
Whenever I’m working with someone, I aim to pull them away from the idea that notes on slides are a necessity. Not only are bullet-points boring, but they can come off as patronizing. People don’t need you to tell them something they can easily read, and this type of “spoon feeding” can turn off even the most passionate audience.
More than that, putting all your information on a screen above you makes your speaking redundant. Why should anyone pay attention to you if everything you’re saying is in front of them already?
So, let’s talk about how to fix these bad habits:
GOOD HABIT #1: STRUCTURE YOUR TALK TO MATCH THE WAY PEOPLE THINK
Despite all these overwhelming bad habits, it’s still possible to be engaging and remember the specifics of whatever it is you’re speaking about.
The first step is to pick a structure that flows in the same way that people think. This means breaking things down into three elements: big picture, details, and actions.
- Big picture sets the context for your talk. Think about what people need to know about you, your company, or your project. As soon as you start speaking, people think, “Why should I listen to you?” Answering this immediately compels your listeners while being an easy first point to always remember.
- Details must come after the big picture. It’s a natural flow to go from big to small, so it will be easy for you to follow, especially if you whittle your details down to a maximum of three items. Your brain finds it easiest to remember three key areas or ideas — and so will your audience.
- Actions are what you want your audience to do when you’ve finished speaking. Make sure you’re bringing the talk to a close with a definitive ending rather than just running out of things to say. Choosing a final call to action brings you to a definitive point that moves things forward.
After putting together your points in this structure, you’ll have a formula your brain can always rely on that’s also simple for your audience to follow — no matter how long you’re speaking for.
GOOD HABIT #2: WRITE NOTES ON PAPER, NOT A LAPTOP
I encourage people to write themselves notes with an actual pen and paper — not a laptop.
Physically writing things down connects you with the information, cementing it in your memory. And don’t write it out word for word or in full sentences. Remember: these are notes. They’re just for you, so they only need to make sense to you.
And don’t focus on having perfect handwriting either. You can underline key ideas, highlight things, use arrows, etc. And if you’ve got a bit of time, you can then try rehearsing the talk out loud, based on those notes, writing changes, arrows and underlining where you need to.
Once you’ve got the page figured out, whenever you see it, you’ll think, “I know exactly what I’m doing for this talk.”
GOOD HABIT #3: USE ‘TRIGGER WORDS’, NOT A SCRIPT
Finally, trigger words are simple words or phrases your brain latches on to and thinks, “Oh, yes. That’s the big picture subject I wanted to talk about. Oh, yes. That’s the detail I wanted to talk about. Oh, yes. That’s the action I wanted to talk about.”
I’ve seen top speakers like Tony Robbins deliver compelling talks based on trigger words that are on large pieces of paper, taped to the floor in front of them. So while you could have them on the lectern with you, you could also place your trigger words anywhere in your line of sight during your speech. I just suggest you avoid holding them. Keep your hands free to speak more naturally with the audience. Pop your notes down somewhere and write the ‘trigger words’ big enough that you can easily see them from a short distance away.
Of course, for a shorter talk, you can memorise your keywords. As long as you capture each of the main thoughts as you speak, and keep going in the right direction, you’ll have a flow through what you’re saying. And your mind can leap from one key idea to the next all the way through to the end of your speech.
All of this will help you to achieve the only thing that really matters, which is that you connect with your audience in a human and engaging way.
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