The Seven Deadly Sins of Public Speaking (and how to avoid them) #3

Sin #3 Mumbler and the Speed Freaks
There are few things more likely to get the attention of an audience than presenting them with an unintelligible mix or mumbling and talking so quickly your tongue breaks the sound barrier. Sadly, it’s not the kind of attention that you really want.

While I have never really been a mumbler (I enjoy attention too much for that), I have, at times, been a speed freak. You know what it’s like: you get to the stage and an odd mix of excitement, passion and, yes, nervousness takes over. Before you know it, you finish a fifteen minute talk in five minutes and three of those were spent turning over your notes.

Whether you are a mumbler or a speed freak, you probably have the same issue. It all comes down to my own weakest area: stillness. The more still you are inside, the better you perform outside. This explains why so many speaking coaches do breath control exercises and advise people to do neck and arm exercises. If we can calm down, we can slow down. If we can stay still, inside as well as out, we can look people in the eye and break the power of the mumble.

But it’s hard to be still when you are aware of people’s eyes on you and you alone. There is always a temptation to let the nerves get the better of you. After all, what if you fail. What if it all goes horribly wrong?

Rehearsing should help. But in the end, what is needed is a change of focus. Thinking about everything that go wrong is always going to lead to disaster. Deliberately switching focus to the positive potential of your talk is a much better investment of your brain time. Thinking about things from that angle not only calms you down but gets you focussed on what your talk needs to look like and sound like.

So the way to beat speed freaks and the mumble is to attack them both at the root. Calm down, get still and then think more about what could go right than what could go wrong. You might also want to find someone you can trust and rehearse in front of them. Yep, it will feel strange and awkward at first but it will pay off in the long run. Better yet, why not video yourself and see for yourself where and why you tend to mumble or take off.


About Jonathan Downie

I am a conference interpreter, public speaking coach, preacher and researcher.
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