Avoiding Foot-in-Mouth

The 10 Biggest Traps to Watch Out for When You Speak.

Whenever you open your mouth, whether your audience is one person or a thousand, you usually want to get a message across. Avoiding these 10 common traps is the first step to changing dull and boring speaking into dynamic, powerful and persuasive communication.

1) UNCLEAR THINKING. If you can’t describe what you are talking about in one sentence, you may be guilty of fuzzy focus or trying to cover too many topics. So start your creative process by jotting down a one-sentence summary.

2) NO CLEAR STRUCTURE. Make it easy for people to follow what you are saying. If you waffle, ramble, or never get to the point, your listeners will tune out.

3) NO MEMORABLE STORIES. People remember the mental images that your words inspire. Support your key points with vivid, relevant stories using memorable characters, exciting situations, dialogue, suspense and humor.

4) NO EMOTIONAL CONNECTION. The most powerful communication combines both intellectual and emotional connections. Emotion comes from engaging the listeners’ imaginations, involving them in your illustrative stories by frequent use of the word “you,” and from answering their unspoken question, “What’s in this for me?”

5) WRONG LEVEL OF ABSTRACTION. Are you providing the big picture and generalities when your listeners are hungry for details, facts and specific how-to’s? Or are you drowning them in data when they need to position themselves with an overview and find out why they should care? Get on the same wave length as your listeners.

6) NO PAUSES. Good music and good communication both contain changes of pace, pauses, and full rests. If you rush on at full speed to crowd in as much information as possible, chances are you’ve left your listeners back at the station.

7) IRRITATING NON-WORDS. Hmm .. ah .. er — you know what I mean. Tape record yourself to check for bad verbal habits.

8) STEPPING ON THE PUNCH WORD. The most important word in a sentence is the punch word. Usually, it’s the final word: “Take my wife — please.” But if you drop your voice and then add, “Right?” or “See?,” you’ve killed your message.

9) NOT HAVING A STRONG OPENING AND CLOSING. Engage your audience immediately with a powerful, relevant opening that includes the word “you.” Don’t close with questions. Deliver a dynamic closing.

10) MISUSING TECHNOLOGY. Timid speakers who simply narrate flip chart images, slides, videos, overheads or view-graphs can rarely be passionate and effective. Don’t use technology as a crutch.

—Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE, is an award-winning speaker, author, sales presentation trainer and speech coach. She is the author of two books and is a Founding Faculty member of MentorU.com, a distance learning company of world-class business experts. Reach her at pfripp@ix.netcom.com. Her Website is www.fripp.com.

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