Few speakers intend to alienate an audience, to bore or irritate listeners so thoroughly that they cease listening, not only missing the speaker's message but lowering their opinion of the speaker's ability and credibility. Alienating the audience is seldom the speaker's intent—but sometimes it is the result.
How does that happen? Perhaps the speaker did not prepare or rehearse adequately or was not able to mediate nervousness or fear. Perhaps she was not aware of the elements of an effective delivery or was just having a very bad day.
Some speaker practices annoy listeners, pulling them away from a speaker's messages and meaning. Of these, three stand out as being especially offensive: speaking without energy, repetitively using fillers, and reading from slides or notes. Happily, you can learn to control each.
Almost all audiences find that listening to a speaker talk in a monotone is—well, monotonous. Uttering each word with identical volume, pace, rhythm, and tone lulls listeners, providing them no differentiation or emphasis with which to make meaning of messages.
While at times fear may constrict the voice, at other times speaking in a monotone is a habit or simply something a speaker hasn't noticed. The solution? Pay attention to your voice to gauge how its nuances may affect listeners. If you detect a monotone—or any possibility that your voice lacks sufficient variety—consciously work to enliven it. As you rehearse, use your voice to stress and highlight points that need emphasis. Speak more loudly, more softly, a little slower or faster. Vary your rhythm and tone. Pause. Deepen your voice. Soften it. Use it to strengthen messages rather than obscure them.
Also annoying to listeners is a speaker's use of fillers, words or phrases that serve no rhetorical purpose. Tacking the word "right" or "OK" onto sentences may be especially irritating to some audience members. To others, fillers such as "like" or "um" rank first in annoyance. Prefacing sentences with "I think" or "I believe" may aggravate some, as may the liberal use of "totally" or "basically" or "you know."
Used frequently, a filler can damage the speaker's credibility and reduce the audience's attention span. Their use makes the speaker seem less knowledgeable, less confident, less convincing, and certainly less articulate, all of which can diminish listeners' attention.
To track your use of fillers, learn which ones you use and where in a sentence you use them. Listen to yourself, record yourself, or ask a colleague for feedback. With that information, begin to eradicate the fillers, one by one. Tactics such as slowing your speech or focusing more closely on your words will help. So will becoming more comfortable with pauses, allowing silence rather than trying to fill it with "um."
READING FROM SLIDES OR NOTES
Many audience members become irritated when speakers read from slides. Because an audience can read much faster silently than a speaker can read aloud, the audience finishes first and becomes impatient, ready to move on.
No slide should be used as a script. A better technique is for the speaker to deliver a message and then present supporting information on a slide. The speaker may refer to the slide, but reading it breaks momentum and attention. Reading slides interferes with eye focus, severing one of the primary connections you can establish with your listeners.
And notes? Reading notes also hinders your ability to look at your audience, to use that contact to establish and strengthen your bond with its members. Make notes, use them—just don't read them. Practice enough to become so familiar with your content that a word or two written on a card reminds you of what you planned to say.
Identify your challenges as a speaker, whether occasional or perpetual. Focus on meeting them, one by one, to keep your audience with you and your effectiveness strong.