Ralph Waldo Emmerson said, “your body speaks so loudly; I cannot hear what you are saying.”
A noisy speaker is someone who unintentionally creates or exhibits behaviour that may distract or catch their audience’s attention, thus reducing their spoken message and their ability to have an impact and be influential.
Noise can be in the form of a sound or filler word, that is used repetitively, and it distracts from what the speaker is saying. Noise may be visual distractions that catch our eye and take us away from your message. Noise may be activities or exercises that do not relate to your message. Noise can be distracting nonverbal’s and gestures, once again catching our eye and taking us away from your message.
Let me share with you 11 examples of noise that I have observed in the last few weeks.
1. Using uhm and ahh and other filler words.
A few filler words are OK and I understand that that most people have a few uhm’s and ah’s, but when your uhm’s and ah’s and likes and you-knows and so’s become so frequent that I start counting them on a page, then you have lost me.
2. Tapping on the desk or lectern
A speaker who constantly taps on a desk or a lectern or even worse, the incessant clicking of a pen, drives me crazy.
3. Striding like a cat on a hot tin roof
The presenter who strides from side to side like a cat on a hot tin roof, unable to settle, will leave people wondering what all the pacing is about.
4. Using complicated PowerPoint slides
The trainer who has complicated PowerPoint slides and says, “you are not meant to be able to read that, but the point I am making is…”. If I can’t read it, please don’t show it.
Other noise on PowerPoint slides includes slide numbers, website links on each slide and corporate logos on each slide. None of this information helps me get your message and is therefore just noise.
5. Bouncing hands
The speaker who bounces their hands up and down in time with the words they are saying, as if they are conducting an orchestra.
6. Throwing your hands out
The politician who throws their hands out and then closes them back in and out and in and out, consistently, and repetitive for their entire presentation. This is so distracting that I cannot hear the message.
7. Having “noddies”
The politicians who surround themselves with supporters and as they talk the supporters in the background nod their heads up and down like sideshow clowns. I call these people “noddies” and they are distracting.
8. Using the same word over and over again
The speaker who uses the same sophisticated word over and over again, thinking they sound intelligent, when in fact they are losing their message in the noise of their words. I once heard a university lecture use the word “actually” 30 times in a 20-minute lecture (yes, I totted them up). “Obviously” is another over used word that can be distracting and doesn’t add anything to the message.
9. Putting up a light show
The speaker who has glasses or sunglasses sitting on their head (in their hair line) when they speak. And on occasions the light reflects of the glasses creating a mesmerizing kaleidoscope of colour, quite beautiful and intriguing. Sorry I just missed your key point, but I enjoyed the light show.
10. Dancing waltz
The speaker who does a little waltz or square dances on the stage. It goes a little like this. One step forward, one step to the left, one step back and then one step to the right. And repeat constantly during your presentation.
11. Playing human bingo
The icebreaker activity at the beginning of a workshop that turns out to have no relationship or connection to the content or message of the presentation. Human bingo is one such activity that I hate.
The good news is that if you do exhibit any of these noisy behaviours, they are easy to fix and correct. And these simple corrections result in a large improvement in your public speaking in the eyes of your audience. Just by remaining still, eliminating filler words and using appropriate and rich gestures (instead of repetitive gestures), you will look more confident and credible. More importantly, people will be able to listen and focus on what you are saying. Don’t let the noise distract your audience when you are public speaking.