Stopping bad public speaking habits, part 1

You know bad speaking mannerisms when you see and hear them. They’re the fillers in your speaking when you’re on stage, when you’re selling to a room, when you’re pitching to a journalist or influencer. Sometimes they flow as part of the conversation, but many times they stick out like a sore thumb:

  • Fillers like “um” and “uh”
  • Bridgers like “like” and “you know”
  • Starting each new thought with the same word, such as “Basically”

These typically occur most when you, as a speaker, either lack confidence or don’t know your material well enough. Fixing the “not knowing your material well enough” is easy enough to do: study and rehearse more.

Another useful tip is to replace words on your slides as much as possible with icon-like images, if you’re using slides. There are two reasons for this.


First, putting images on slides means that the audience can pay full attention to you. Our right brains process non-verbal images (as well as sounds and other non-verbal sensory input) in parallel, which means we can look at more than one thing at a time. Our left brains process verbal inputs, but do so in a linear fashion, which means we can only process one source of language at a time. That’s why it’s incredibly difficult to listen to two people talking at the same time. When you put images on your slides instead of words, the audience’s left brain remains focused on processing the words coming out of your mouth while their right brains handle the slide pictures. If you put words on your slides, they try to read and listen at the same time and do neither well.


The second reason for putting icons on your slides is that it provokes stronger reminders in your own mind about what you’re trying to remember to say, and it does so by leveraging your right brain, which means your left brain remains free to put together the words coming out of your mouth and you end up breaking up your speech with mannerisms much less frequently.

In the next post in this series, we’ll look at a human trick to convert these bad mannerisms into public speaking gold.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology


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