First things first—we all have tics when we talk. Those little things we do so unconsciously that we don't even realize we do them. Some are totally harmless, the flavor of your own presenting style. But others can be distracting and take your audience's attention away from what you're saying. Here are four super common presenting tics and tips on how to get rid of them.
1) Filler words
When you first start presenting, silence can be scary. It can feel awkward, or give us a chance to second guess ourselves and what we're saying. So we fill our silences with words like, "um," "so," "you know," and "like." Since filler words don’t add any meaning, you don’t need to think about using them. This leaves your brain free to think of other things—like the next word or point you’re trying to remember.
The problem is that too many filler words are not only distracting, but also make it sound like you don't know what you're talking about (when you totally do!). You'll also come to realize that a little silence not only helps your audience understand and digest what you're saying, but can also be used to emphasize a powerful point.
How to get rid of them: The first step is identification—you can't fix what you don't know is a problem. Next time you're practicing a presentation, record yourself (most phones have a built-in voice memo app). It's totally cringey, but it's the only way you'll hear what your audience hears. Identify which filler words you use (tallying the number of times you use it is a good wake up call), and then slow down enough while you're presenting to catch yourself before you say it. Replace filler words with an intentional pause—your audience will thank you for the breather. Note—a few "ums" are totally fine and make you sound natural in your presentation. Just don't let them get outta hand.
Qualifiers are a sub-category of filler words. Phrases like, "really," "literally," "basically," "right?" and "kind of" are fine when used sparingly, but lose their meaning when used excessively as filler words.
How to get rid of them: Use the same method described above. If you want to get someone else involved or have a particular word that's hard to let go of, invite a friend or coworker to watch you rehearse your presentation. For every filler word they catch, pay them a dollar (or other agreed upon amount). It's amazing how much you'll slow down when there's money involved.
3) Physical tics
Physical or motor tics include things like touching your hair or face, shuffling your feet, adjusting your glasses, and licking your lips. These repeated motions are a physical release of nerves and stress, and are so unconscious, we often don't realize we're doing them.
How to get rid of them: You'll need to video yourself (next level cringe!) or get a friend to watch you present to see which actions to watch out for. Wondering what to do with your hands instead? Try gesturing naturally to emphasize certain points you're making, or keeping them in steeple or loose prayer position in front of you when you don't need them. Just make sure you're not flinging your hands around too much—that's when they get distracting.
4) Vocal fry
You know that gravely way Kim Kardashian talks? It's called vocal fry, and it's a real condition people have naturally or affect artificially when they speak. Sometimes it's simply the result of us dropping the volume at the end of our sentences too much, leaving us with not enough breath to support and fully deliver our final words clearly. It's often pinned on women, but I've seen plenty of men present with vocal fry too.
How to get rid of it: It's really hard to identify vocal fry in yourself, so grab a coworker who will tell you honestly whether you have it. There are several techniques you can try to eliminate vocal fry (the goal isn't to speak like the dude in that video though—he's a good example of a presenter who sounds unnatural). My favorite is to make sure you're projecting through the end of your sentences, instead of trailing off.
While seemingly small, our speaking tics add up. When left unchecked, they can impact the strength of your presentation in your class, to your team or client. The sooner you can identify your personal tics, the more you'll be aware of them, and the easier it will be to work on controlling them. It's not an overnight process, but practice, as they say, makes perfect (but not too perfect—your speaking style should be authentically you).
You got this,