You spent hours polishing your presentation, making sure it was clear, well organized and easy to follow. It even included an inspiring call to action. After delivering it, you thought it was a home run — only your audience didn’t hear much of what you said. In fact, it was as if your audience wasn’t even in the same room.

How could that be? What distracted them?

The question isn't so much “what” as it is “who” distracted them. And the answer just might be “you.”

Recently when working with executives preparing for an important industry summit with over 60 analysts, I witnessed this phenomenon. Seasoned professionals with focused messages and strong presentation skills managed to completely derail their audience.

Whenever you do something that disconnects you from your audience, you distract them, giving them a reason NOT to listen to you. I find that most common distracters are the “dancer” and the “filler.”

The box step or the two-step? Neither, please.

The “dancer” is the speaker who is constantly in motion. At the summit I mentioned above, many of the analysts paced back and forth across the stage, like someone pondering a great mystery. I found myself distracted by their movement rather than listening to their message. Sidetracked and now daydreaming, I stopped paying attention.

Don’t misunderstand — movement is good when it’s purposeful and supports what you’re saying. But when it’s aimless, it turns into unnecessary static, inviting your audience NOT to listen or act on what you’re saying. To avoid this, be aware of your movement. Want your listeners to pay attention to a slide, or to stop and consider what you’re saying? Then stop yourself…stand still.

One, two, three…seven…ten…

The “filler” is the presenter who’s constantly inserting phrases such as “ah, you know, um, and like” to fill in the gaps in the presentation. Distracted by these ahs, likes and you knows, listeners end up counting the number of times the filler phrase is used rather than focusing on the message.

To stop using irritating fillers, you must recognize the extent of the problem. Ask a colleague if you’re guilty of using them. Or record your next presentation and listen for them.

If you discover you’re a “filler,” don’t lose hope. Train yourself to pause instead of inserting your filler of choice. After all, fillers are pauses in your thought pattern. Real pauses can punctuate your message, add weight and gravity to what you say and give your listeners the necessary time to digest what’s being said.

Practice, learn and listen.

Confident, credible presenters learn through trial and error and peer feedback. They observe other presenters, noting what works and what doesn't With the right presentation tools in our speaker toolbox, we can all be great presenters. We just need to dance less and pause more.

Author's Bio: 

A strategic communication advisor, Stephanie Scotti specializes in helping high stake presenters become more effective leaders and stronger communicators. Drawing on her 25 years of coaching experience and 8 years of teaching presentation skills for Duke University, Stephanie understands what it takes to transform information into knowledge and knowledge into action.

Highly regarded for her effective and insightful style of speech coaching, Stephanie enhances a client's natural abilities to engage, involve and inspire listeners by building on each individual's strengths and personal style. Applying her proprietary C.O.D.E. process, she provides practical tools and personalized feedback that result in immediate, noticeable improvement.

Stephanie has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, the highest levels of government officials, and international business executives.

An active member of National Speakers Association and an award-winning leadership professional, Stephanie also volunteers as a speaker or communications coach for non-profits such as the Red Cross and the Governing Institute of New Jersey. Stephanie holds a Bachelor’s in Speech Communications & Education and a Master’s in Organizational Communications & Business.

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