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Last updated on 11/2/22

Eliminate verbal tics

Verbal language is about what you say as well as how you say it, which can completely change your audience’s perception of the content of your talk.

Minimize verbal tics

Apart from the linguistic register, which must be correct and suitable for the audience, the first thing people think of with regards to public speaking is linguistic tics.

These are the things one repeats endlessly, without even being aware of it.

👩🏻 (Laurène): For example, I always say “in fact”.  It’s difficult to get rid of, but with training, I am beginning to say it less often.

Generally, one uses these tics where there’d be punctuation (a comma or a full-stop), when, instead, there should be a pause or a breath.

If you don’t know whether you have linguistic tics, take this test: film yourself while speaking (don’t read a text, or it won’t work) on a subject of your choice that doesn't require preparation.

👨🏻 (Stéphane): Imagine that you are talking to some friends about your favorite film. Then watch the video, and you should see (or hear) it immediately.

To minimise your verbal tics, become aware of them enough to hear them every time they come out of your mouth.

  • If your tics are words, prepare synonyms in advance and make yourself use them in your talk.

  • If your tics are sounds, replace them with silent pauses and breathe.

Preparation helps to overcome stress, uncertainty and improvisation; so, it’s an excellent way of progressively eliminating bad habits.

Manage your speech rate

The speech rate is the speed at which you talk.

Talking at the right speed is very important to hook an audience.

Don’t talk too fast

If you talk too fast, you’ll swamp your audience; they’ll feel a bit overwhelmed, crushed and overloaded with information.

👩🏻 (Laurène): I tend to speak very fast – and, in general, the more energetically I want to present my talk, the faster I speak. That’s a mistake.  I shouldn’t confuse speed with energy.

Talking fast follows on from using sentences that are much too long. To slow the speech rate, prioritize the use of short sentences. That makes you mark the pauses, the silences between sentences.

Don’t talk too slowly

If you tend to talk too slowly, you risk boring your audience and sending them to sleep. In that case, shorten the pauses that you make between each sentence and eliminate those that shouldn’t be there. There shouldn’t be pointless and repeated pauses in the middle of sentences unless it’s to mark punctuation (breathing comma).

Talking too fast or too slowly can cause you to lose your audience. This may just be because you give the impression of not paying attention to them.

Emphasize important words

To hook your audience, you need to explicitly show them what you want them to retain. This is about marking and deliberately stressing words when they are important. These are like words in bold type that you highlight orally, say louder and with more drive. This has the advantage of punctuating the content and guiding the audience in understanding what’s being said.

How does one know which words are important?

That’s easy. It's keywords which are those words that, all by themselves, sum up a talk or a content. Thinking back on Ken Robinson's talk from the first section of the course, it’s easy to find his keywords: ”education”, “creativity”, “talent”, etc.

To help you, imagine that the sentences you say are like tweets that you from time to time give #s.

If you’ve drafted your text:

  • Highlight, underline or circle (whichever you prefer) all the important words.

  • Read your text out loud stressing the words that you’ve highlighted.

  • Start again and repeat until the exercise comes almost naturally.

  • Finally, train yourself without your notes, to deliver your content.

Once you’ve mastered the technique of words in bold, an extra boost is to support them with a hand gesture, one that’s different from the other gestures that you make more mechanically.

That way you'll give an extra nudge to the audience to help them follow you – you’ll guide them not just orally, but also visually.

Let’s recap!

  • Identify your verbal tics so you can minimize them. Preparing and rehearsing are also excellent ways to eliminate unhelpful reflexes.

  • To manage the pace and flow of your speech, use short sentences and emphasize punctuation and key words to keep your audience interested.

  • In the written text, highlight the important words in bold and read your text aloud until you can do it without your notes.

  • Accompany your keywords with a hand movement to give the audience an additional clue by guiding them through what you say with a visual cue.

And now, let's go straight to the final stage of your training: identifying your strengths and weaknesses!

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