When I was hired as a flight attendant for Northwest Airlines in 1992, I had to quickly learn how to be comfortable in front of a crowd. Keeping everyone engaged through a monotonous safety presentation, after all, is easier said than done.
If you’re new to public speaking, it can be intimidating – for some, it can be terrifying, to say the least. That’s why most people never bother to master public speaking.
After I became a certified speaking professional through the National Speakers Association, I learned the content of my speech was often less important than how I presented it. When we attend presentations by speakers who appear calm, confident and organized, we feel more interested and engaged.
Even if you’re nervous, it’s better to act confident rather than reveal your true feelings. The trick is to stay as calm as possible and avoid the most common rookie mistakes. Here are six phrases you should never say during a presentation.
1. “Hello? Can everyone hear me?”A lot of new speakers will tap the microphone and ask if the people in the back of the room can hear them. If you’re speaking at a large conference, there’s a good chance that someone in the audiovisual department already checked the audio. Nevertheless, it’s always a good idea to check it before you go on stage. Never assume that all your equipment will work correctly. Arrive early to check everything out so you will be better prepared.
2. “Are you out there? These lights are bright.” When you’re on stage, the lights can be nearly blinding. But no one needs to know you can’t see anyone in the audience. Simply speak into the dark and give the best presentation you can. Alternate where you direct your attention to give everyone in the audience the impression you’re looking right at them. But be careful. One time during a dress rehearsal, I miscalculated the length of the stage and fell off into the front row!
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3. “Well, I didn’t have much time to prepare.” Never start your presentation with an excuse like “They only invited me yesterday,” or “I’m just getting over the flu.” The people listening to your presentation are expecting you to do your best, regardless of how you feel or how much time you’ve had to prepare. If you don’t have a lot of time to practice, choose a topic that’s familiar to you. If you don’t feel well, keep calm and stay hydrated.
4. “In the future, I plan to…” If your new product is still in production, try not to tell anyone. Exciting news is worth the wait. Besides, your plans could change and anything could postpone your plans. Most new products and ideas will shift and evolve based on new information and feedback. Make a public announcement about your new designs, products and offers when they’re ready. Most people don’t want to hear about your hopes for the next five years. They only want to hear about what is available to them right now.
5. “Ummm…” Avoid filler words including “Um,” “uh,” “you know,” and “like.” Using these words too often takes away from the effectiveness and eloquence of your presentation. They are also distracting and make you sound unsure about what you’re going to say next. Try pausing if you have to think of the right word. Or tell a story. Filler words oftentimes vanish when you get involved telling a story. Besides, your audience will remember a good story long after they’ve heard you speak.
6. “Hmm, the font is small. Let me read this slide for you.” A visual presentation full of words is dull and boring. Captivating pictures, short phrases and bullet points are ideal. Try not to read your slides to the audience. That’s what handouts are for. Everyone came to see you speak, to share your ideas, not read aloud. Any visuals or props you choose to bring along should only serve to enhance your speech. Remember, you’re the main event, not your PowerPoint presentation.
Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach. She is also the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin’s Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin’s Press, 2005).
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