I recently attended the Future Festival, one of the dominant gatherings on innovation and noticed that while many of the best speakers on innovation presented great information, their speech delivery was not up to par. It seemed that many of the experts were not quite polished when it came to their timing and anxiety issues.
One of the most egregious sins of public speaking is a lack of fluency in speech. Far too many public speakers pepper their talk with “and uhs”, “you knows” and other word whiskers and fillers. You will also hear the tired clichés and even rambling quasi-coherent statements.
Happily, if you are planning on giving a speech or public presentation, there are definite steps you can take to be fluent. But let’s first identify what a lack of fluency is. Here are examples of what not to do:
Pitfalls to Avoid
Word Whiskers – These are the “filler words or phrases” that many speakers insert when they are unsure of what to say. If we use such phrases as “you know” or “and uh” in our everyday speech, no doubt they will surface in our public speaking, too. So the point here is to eliminate rambling, disjointed speech, even in everyday conversation, as much as possible. Then it will be less likely to arise when we speak publicly.
Repetitive phrasing also shows a lack of fluency. “In this regard” is a good example. So is “So then”. Such terms and words are comfortable to the speaker, so he or she will sprinkle them in, usually even without knowing it.
There is an old saying that “silence is golden”. Remember that you do not need to fill every second with words. Gary Vee who is a motivational speaker for entrepreneurs is notorious for doing this quite often.
Usually, add on words come when we do not know what to say next. Maybe you have a point to make, but you just cannot find the word or words you need to express it. Your mind feels pressured, and it is saying, “Say something!” so you throw in the word whisker. Make a conscious effort to zip the lip as you search mentally for the right word or sentence. It is OK to say “I can’t think of the right term…” and continue.
Practice Is Key
As outlined in this book, during a public presentation, no one is going to help you out. The key? Once again, practice and familiarity with your material are vital to a fluent delivery. If you have practiced enough, the words will come to mind. And if you cannot find the right word, simply move on. Your audience can relate to such mental roadblocks. Everyone has them from time to time.
One way to avoid the brain freeze is to utilize an outline instead of a manuscript. Suffice it is to say, that with an outline, you are forced to recall your main points, not entire sentences. It is far easier to refer to a main thought or point in your talk, and then express it conversationally. By practicing with your outline over and over again, your mind will formulate the right words to convey the right thought or point.
Just speaking too rapidly, especially if you are overly nervous, is an enemy of fluency. Try and slow down, and your words and sentences will not run together. Watch your audience’s reaction as a gauge as to how fluent you are. If they are looking perplexed or confused, they do not understand you well enough.
How to Achieve Fluency
Practice, Practice, Practice – There is no substitute for practice. If you have a particular problem with fluency, have a friend or spouse sit and listen to your delivery. Ask them to tell you each and every time you insert a word whisker. It may surprise (or even anger) you. But it makes you aware of how you sound.
Slow Down – Speaking too rapidly can bring on a lack of fluency, too. You begin to run words or phrases together. Since you want your audience to listen, remember and act upon what you are saying to them, by all means make sure you are clear.
Build Your Vocabulary – If you often find yourself groping for the right word, consider building up your vocabulary. Read newspapers and other publications, and whenever you come across a word that is foreign to you, look it up in a dictionary. Think about when and how you could incorporate it into your everyday speech, and perhaps into a presentation. But never use a word or term that is out of character or simply because it makes you feel smarter. It has to be a word or term that is understood by the majority of the people you area speaking to. Otherwise you will appear pretentious.
Weed Out Tough Words or Phrases
Sometimes the phrasing we want to use is just difficult to speak aloud with fluency. Reading and even talking to oneself silently is much different than speaking aloud. If you have a “tongue twister” sentence or phrase, just rewrite it. Make it simple, easy to say and understand.
A fluent speaker is a good speaker. If you are fluent in your delivery, your listeners will listen and be motivated by what you have to say. And your own public speaking experience will be far more enjoyable.