Your Words, Your Voice, Your (Lack of) Credibility

Tony Compton, Managing Director
GettingPresence

#Content isn’t the most important part of your next presentation. It’s how you look, and it’s how you sound. Not how your slides look. Not how your handouts look. Not how your pre-recorded demo sounds. And it’s certainly not the furniture selection for your next six-person sleep-inducing panel discussion.

Yes, content is important. But it’s how you look and sound as a presenter that makes the difference.

It’s the how you sound portion that’s the focus of attention in this post.

When I hear a somebody in a presentation, video, podcast, or interview who employs poor speech habits and a substandard vocabulary, bad impressions are made. Impressions of not being prepared, of not being well versed in content, of being evasive, uncertain, and uncaring. Uncaring to give an audience the best possible effort in being ready for a business appearance.

Say these, and risk your #business credibility:

1. Filler Words

You’ve read about filler words. You’ve also heard them, and about them, for as long as you can remember. The global epidemic of their usage continues, so here’s more ammunition for the professional bombardment asking, begging, and telling people to stop, breathe, and think before uttering another filler word.

Filler words are the “umms, uhhs, I mean, I think, well, look, and you knows” which permeate the vast majority of the spoken part of presentations, webinars, demos, corporate videos, sales pitches, panel discussions, speeches, meetings, interviews, conference calls, and regular old business conversations each of us experiences every day. Filler words are worthless.

How to get rid of them? Before you say anything, breathe deeply and think. Think about what you’re going to say. Then crank up the volume of your voice. Speak with volume, emphasis, and conviction. (I’m not taking about yelling.) When you do these things, your filler words will disappear. Try it. Bob and Eileen Parkinson taught me this years ago. Still works today. It’ll always work – no matter the venue, format, or environment of your next presentation, speech, conference call, or meeting. Practicing this vocal technique will serve you well.

Want to have some fun with this one? Here’s what I do… Count the number of times a presenter uses filler words during a presentation. Silently count on your fingers and toes. Chances are good you’ll run out of appendages within four or five minutes. It may take longer, but I’ve seen and heard filler words accumulate much, much faster.

Even more fun would be to take any recorded business presentation and edit out the legitimate corporate content. Leave the filler words and run them together in one long voice track. Over the course of a 60 minute presentation the net result may be several minutes of filler language that did nothing for the audience. Look at it as several minutes that could’ve been better spent delivering value to an audience.

2. Go and Like

The word is said. Not go – or went.

As in “…and then I go, You should be more careful when you cross the street…”

Or “… and then I went, You should be more careful…”

Or “…then he goes, We should get a bigger boat…”

You didn’t go anywhere. He didn’t go anywhere. You said something.

Same for the word “like” in conversation.

As in “…I was like, You really needed a bigger boat.”

Nobody was like anything. Somebody said something.

You may have to verbalize those lines in your head in your favorite ‘daydreamer’ accent, but you’ll get the drift. Eliminate the annoying misuses of the words go, like, and their derivates.

If you said something, say that you said something.

Or it’ll be, like, whatever

3. Amazing

The award for the most annoying overused word in the English language goes to the word amazing. Dinner was amazing. The performance was amazing. The interior of that refurbished house is amazing. We had an amazing time. It all turned out to be amazing. The word has been overused to the extent that it’s lost all meaning. Pull up your thesaurus and find an alternate.

4. Going Forward

This short phrase is gaining traction, and that’s not a good thing. Remember the next time you are treated to something along the lines of, “Going forward, our new CEO will seek to grow the business.” Or, “Going forward, the new coach will take the team in a new and exciting direction.”

Going forward? As opposed to what? Going backward? Or sideways? Unless a time machine is hanging out in the office, you’re always going to be going forward.

5. Background, History, Review, Overview, Timeline…

Your company’s Founder may have been a nice, no-nonsense business person born in the late 1800’s. And I’m sure times were tough when your company’s first product was launched in 1901. But nobody is attending your presentation to see black and white pictures of your company history, a timeline of the last 100 years, pretty pictures of your corporate campus, or anything that has anything to do with sleep-inducing topics entitled background, review, history, and the rest… If you want to get an audience to tune out and drop out from the jump, include the words Summary and Review with those already listed and you’ll be on your way to nap time.

Here’s one tip for today: Record your next presentation, speech, or webinar, and hear what your audiences hear. Listen to yourself.

I once worked with a VP who was a bright, articulate, and experienced executive. But his continual usage of the phrase “you know” during his presentations severely undercut his credibility. I also worked with another senior executive who liberally used a variety of filler words during an interview. It didn’t help that the interviewer didn’t prepare his communication skills, either. If only these former colleagues could hear what the rest of the world could hear, maybe they would’ve prepared for their vocal skills for their future business presentations. Why they didn’t take their vocal skills seriously remains puzzling.

So record yourself, listen, and analyze. You’ll start to notice where you can improve your vocal skills, credibility, and overall communication abilities. Most people don’t do this. It’s either out of fear, arrogance, or pure laziness that they don’t. Enjoy knowing that when you record and improve your vocabulary and vocal skills, you’re strengthening a significant business advantage for yourself.

Here’s a bonus tip about what not to do, and what not to say. If you’re giving a presentation or speech in a setting where you’re wearing a wireless microphone, remember when you have that microphone on your person. In the aftermath of a presentation, a couple of speakers have forgotten that they’re still wearing a microphone. Some have been known to trash talk other presenters while still wearing a microphone. One story even recalls how a presenter took a live wireless microphone into the men’s bathroom after a presentation. I don’t know if any of that was recorded, but it might’ve been.

Always know where the microphones are, promptly remove any microphone from your person after a presentation, and always treat any microphone as if it’s turned on.

In public speaking, presentations, and event management, there’s no substitute for experience.

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