When people talk about distractions during a speech, they’re mostly referring to ones made by the audience, technological issues, or something else beyond your control. However, you could be a distraction to your own speech. Here are 5 of the most distracting things you might be doing and how to stop doing them.
One of the biggest distractions to your speech is when your audience simply don’t understand what you’re talking about. Your presentation should be written with your audience in mind and structured so that it’s easy for your audience to digest.
Solution: Avoid using jargon and acronyms that isolate some members of the audience. If you’re at a work event and you’re confident that the audience use the same language as you, then you can use it too, but if more than 5-10% of people won’t understand what you’re saying then it’s best to use language that everyone will understand.
Your audience or environment will distract you in some way during your talk. Whether it’s a phone going off, someone arriving late, bright lighting or a group of people having a discussion in the middle of your speech - it’s somewhat inevitable. How you react to these distractions is a real test of your public speaking ability. It’s easy to draw attention to the culprits in the audience but you’ll actually end up distracting the rest of the audience even more.
Solution: Ignore distractions and divert the audience’s attention to the opposite side of the room. Raise your voice slightly and walk to the other side of the room and your audience’s attention should follow you. You can practice dealing with distractions in our virtual reality course.
Practice dealing with distractions in the VirtualSpeech app. Stage lighting distraction shown above.
A major public speaking tip is to move around the stage - whether that’s to calm your nerves, let a point settle, or to include different sections of the room. However, there is a limit to how much pacing is comfortable for your audience.
If you’re pacing constantly or every 30 seconds then you’re simply distracting the audience from your message because they’re too busy following you. You also risk sight-line issues and people craning their necks or leaning close to each other to see you.
Solution: Stop pacing! Move to one side of the room when you are making one significant point, while still looking at every area of the room, and then walk back to the other side when making a different point. There should be at least a few minutes on each side of the stage, depending on how long your speech is.
If you’re presenting with a presentation behind you, you might be using a pointer so that you can direct the audience to different areas of the screen. Be careful that when you are speaking that you aren’t mindlessly moving your hands around and using the pointer without realising.
It’s very distracting for the audience if they keep seeing a red dot floating around the screen in front of them and they’ll focus on that instead of your message. Similarly, don’t accidentally direct your pointer at members of your audience.
Solution: Turn your pointer off when you’re not using it. Depending on the event, most public speaking situations don’t require a pointer so think about whether you really need to use one at all.
Everyone gets nervous when they have to speak in public but you don’t want your audience to know that, as it will make them feel uncomfortable. Even if you don’t sound nervous, your body language can give you away - if you don’t make eye contact with anyone, if you cross your arms or legs, or don’t use hand gestures, and so on.
Solution: Film yourself speaking and identify any nervous habits you have. By being aware of your habits, you can learn to break them when public speaking.