The first thing we do when listening to a speaker, be it in one on one conversation or in a formal presentation setting, is determine how much we’re going to trust what’s coming out of the speaker’s mouth. If we deem the speaker to be authentic, the real deal, we listen. If we get the feeling the speaker is a fake, his mouth is saying one thing while his body, face, eyes, etc., say another, or his words say one thing when we know another to be true – we cross our arms over our chests, listen with a super skeptical ear and give him or her the hairy eye-ball.
Unfortunately, completely sincere, authentic cross-their-heart-and-hope-to-die speakers can do things that scream PHONY. Here are some of the most common.
1: Reading your own bio: How believable is a speaker’s background if he has to read it off of a sheet of paper or a PowerPoint slide? The audience watches; thought bubble over their head; “You don’t know your own position? History? Maybe you need to read it because you’ve made it up.”
Sadly, the speaker is reading his or her own bio due to nerves and lack of confidence, not a falsified background. The notes or PowerPoint slide is a security blanket. It gives him or her something to look at and refer to other than the audience. But what feels like a harmless crutch to the speaker is badly undermining his or her credibility.
2: The distracted- unsmiling-no-eye-contact- “Thank you”: “Thank you” is one of those phrases we can’t get enough of; particularly when it’s heartfelt. I almost always begin my presentations by thanking whoever introduced me and, when applicable, whoever invited me there to speak. I smile. I make eye contact. I mean it.
Thank you’s that are delivered as “Whatever…” or said while the speaker is looking at his or her opening slide, or down at his or her notes, or reading from his or her notes shouts “not really”. Are you grateful for being there? Make eye contact, smile and tell them.
3: ANY hand or body movement that is not your own: I am often asked, “What should I do with my hands when I’m presenting?” My answer is; whatever you normally do with your hands when you’re in animated conversation with a friend. If you’re someone who speaks with your hands, by all means use your hands when presenting. If however, you’re someone who is more still, DO NOT allow anyone to suggest movements for you that are not your own. You may think it will make you more “animated”. It will only make you look awkward, inauthentic, and – you guessed it – phony.
4: Delivering a memorized script: Unless you’re Meryl Streep or Robert Di Niro you’re not going to be able to deliver a message that you’ve scripted and memorized in a fresh, extemporaneous way. More bad news: you’re not David Mamet either; your script won’t sound like talking, it will sound like reading. You’ll use words and sentences we don’t normally use in everyday speech. Plus, you’ll be talking in all full sentences, another thing we don’t do in real life. You may think it will make you sound “polished”. Maybe like a polished marble statue.
5: Telling tales: If it didn’t happen; don’t say it did. If you didn’t do it; don’t say you did. If you didn’t invent it, think it up, create it; don’t say you did. Trust built up in 45 minutes or 45 years can be lost in the time it takes to be found out. Stories are just as powerful for the audience when credit is given to someone other than the speaker. Telling tales is big time PHONY; don’t do it.
One of my biggest, most important “bespeakisms” is BE YOU. Not only because it feels good but also because audiences don’t listen to those they don’t see as authentic. Don’t run the risk of coming across as phony! Be you, be sincere and you’ll be heard.