No speaker intends to alienate an audience. No speaker plans 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 and his or her credibility. Alienation is never the speaker's purpose—but sometimes it is the result.

How does that happen? A few Speak Previews® ago, we asked what speakers do that you find irritating. Three practices stood out: speaking without energy, using fillers, and reading from slides or notes. (You did mention others—we'll address those in a later Speak Previews®.)


More than 20 percent of those surveyed said that listening to a speaker talk in a monotone is—well, monotonous. While at times fear may constrict the voice and thus the presentation, at other times speaking in a monotone is habit or simply something a speaker hasn't noticed. Most of us limit our vocal range to only four or five of the sixteen notes that the average human voice is capable of reaching. We also tend to use the same pitch pattern – raising our pitch at the end of a sentence, or, conversely, starting high and going lower as the sentence ends.

Expand. As you rehearse, practice using your voice to provide points of emphasis—change its volume and pace, vary its rhythm and tone. Pause. Deepen your voice. Soften it. Use it to strengthen messages rather than obscure them.


Equally annoying to our respondents was the use of fillers or repetitions that serve no meaningful purpose. A few mentioned that tacking the word "right" to the ends of sentences is especially irritating; others emphasized that fillers such as "like" or "um" damage the speaker's credibility as well as the audience's attention span. An emerging filler appears to be "actually," a word used far too often for our listeners' taste, one that, like the others, interrupts the sense and reason of sentences. Others cited "I think" and "I believe" as phrases that made them wince. As one person mischievously commented, "I think that if a speaker is telling us what she thinks she doesn't need to tell us she thinks it, don't you think?"


About 23 percent of our respondents said that the most annoying or distracting thing they've seen a speaker do is read from slides or notes. An audience can read slides silently faster than a speaker can aloud, so the audience reaches the end 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 or idea and then to emphasize it with supporting information on a slide. The speaker may refer to the slide, but reading it breaks momentum and attention.

And notes? Make them, use them—just don't read them. Practice enough to become so familiar with your content that a written word or two reminds you of what you planned to say.

The problem caused by reading slides and notes is that doing so interferes with eye focus, severing one of the primary connections you can establish with your listeners.

Most of the time, audiences are more than willing to listen, to engage. But know the triggers that are likely to prompt alienation and smooth them out of your delivery. Identify your challenges as a speaker, whether they are occasional or perpetual, and focus on meeting them, one by one, to keep your listeners with you. It's where they want to be.