Too often people assume that they are pretty good at public speaking simply because they do it a lot. Some of my clients find the truth hard to hear, but as a coach it’s my job to deliver a reality check.
Here’s the truth: Just because you are getting more comfortable doesn’t mean you're improving your skills.
I once had a client, let’s call him Cal, who told me that giving presentations was pretty easy for him.
“I present all the time for work,” he told me.
When I watched him speak, I saw that Cal wasn’t terrible, but he wasn’t very good either.
Cal is young professional based out of Brooklyn: confident and stylish. While his energy was fun and kind of cool in casual conversation, it was a little off putting for his audience. My job with Cal was to point out the bad communication habits that were diminishing his effectiveness.
First of all, Cal’s favorite filler word was “basically,” which he somehow stuffed into almost every sentence. “Basically, we can all agree that…” or “It’s a matter of re-calibration, basically…” During the question and answer section of his talk, he answered every question with, “Basically, I think that….”
While there's nothing wrong with using that word once, using it too often becomes distracting and it undercuts authority. Cal was using the word "basically" to give him a chance to think. I worked with Cal to swap out "basically" for a pause.
Next, we discussed Cal’s habitual gestures. As he spoke, Cal’s thick black bangs kept falling in his face and he kept brushing them away with his hand. When he wasn’t tossing his hair back, he was smoothing his mustache. He kept laughing at his own jokes, usually involving a cultural reference that most of his audience didn’t understand.
Don’t get me wrong, Cal was genuinely talented, and a very nice guy. But let's be honest, the audience doesn't know that! I wanted to help avoid the common “hipster” alarm from coming between Cal and the audience in the room.
So how can Cal, or anyone with a similar situation, rise to the level of great public speaking?
A coach can give you objective feedback, and help you connect with any audience, get rid of filler words, and make your message influential and unforgettable.
Remember, just because you’re comfortable speaking up doesn’t mean you don’t have a lot to learn.