How to react to distractions as a public speaker? – The Art of Speaking

YouTube /Wade Paterson

It’s one of the worst case scenarios you can experience as a public speaker: you’re delivering a speech and then something unexpected happens that distracts the entire audience.

For new speakers, this experience has the potential to completely derail a speech, because no matter how much you practice, you can’t completely prepare for this type of situation.

This happened to me a few years ago at a Toastmasters meeting. The airwall between our Toastmasters meeting room and the adjoining room was not closing properly, and in the middle of my speech those in the adjacent room began engaging in a very loud icebreaker activity. As this was happening, my audience kept glancing toward the other room and whispering with each other as they tried to figure out what was going on. I could tell I had lost their attention, and knowing that led me to lose track of where I was in my speech.

Thankfully, one of my respected colleagues shared valuable wisdom during his evaluation of my speech later that meeting. He said, “As a speaker, you have two options when a noticeable distraction happens: ignore it, or acknowledge it.”

He explained that If the distraction isn’t something too significant (such as a side conversation or someone spills a glass of water) then the best option is likely to continue with your speech as if nothing happened at all. If this is the path you choose, you’ll want to ensure your vocal tone is loud enough to keep the audience’s attention. Distractions often cause side chatter, and if you’re going to continue with your speech, you’ll want to adjust your volume to maintain the crowd’s focus.

If the distraction is something more significant, he explained, then it would be odd not to acknowledge it. Polished speakers will use these incidents as an opportunity to call out the distraction in a humourous way.

For example, if the power cut out in the middle if your speech momentarily, it would be strange to carry on as if nothing at all had happened. Instead, you can use this as an opportunity to say something funny such as, “Wow… there are more subtle ways you could’ve let me know I should be wrapping up my speech than turning the lights out on me.”

Thankfully, mid-speech distractions are not a common occurrence and you may never have to deal with this type of situation. But, if you ever have this experience, always remember you have two options as a speaker: ignore it or acknowledge it.

If you’re interested in learning more about Impactful Communication, subscribe to my YouTube channel.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


YouTube /Wade Paterson

Have you been thinking you should produce more video content, but you hate watching recordings of yourself?

Whether the process feels uncomfortable, or you dislike the way you look or sound on camera, know that you are not alone. Many people dislike recording video content initially, but in this month’s column (and accompanying video) I aim to build your confidence and encourage you to produce more videos.

Let’s start off with why it’s a good idea to create videos. Whether your communication goals are personal- or business-related, video is one of the most effective mediums we have access to for getting a message across. What’s crazy is that many people have been talking about the importance of producing video content for decades; however, to this day, very few people produce significant amounts of video content.

In previous columns, I’ve talked about the percentage breakdown of how a message is communicated: 55% of communication revolves around body language, 38% comes from vocal tone/variety and only 7% of how a message is interpreted comes from the words that we say. While some have debated the specific numbers related to this formula, it’s undeniable that body language has a significant impact on our communication.

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With this in mind, e-mails, blog posts and even audio-only podcasts are missing a huge component of communication. Video content allows your audience to see your body language and, therefore, understand more of your message.

But for some reason, when we step in front of a camera, many of us tend to freeze up. Even though no one may physically be in the room, our brains understand that a number of people will end up watching the video we are creating, which makes us nervous.

Here are four tips to make video content creation easier:

1. Plan the structure in advance

It’s very difficult to turn on your camera and wing it without any preparation. For every YouTube video I create, I spend time in advance writing brief notes on what I want to talk about. Once I have the basic structure outlined, I practice my delivery a few times before turning on the camera and pressing record. By taking this step, you’ll make the recording process significantly easier than if you had tried to wing it.

One additional note is that I don’t suggest writing out your notes word-for-word, because the audience can often tell if you are reading off of a script.

2. Smile!

Some of the best advice I received when I began shooting video content was to purposefully smile more than I thought was necessary. My friend told me that it might seem odd at first, but it will be a positive experience for the audience.

Many people who start creating videos are so focused on communicating their message correctly, they forget to smile and end up coming across incredibly serious or maybe even upset. Smiling will lighten your mood, and create a deeper connection with your audience.

3. Place reminder bullet points behind camera

If you are struggling to remember what you’re going to talk about, try writing brief bullet points on a sticky note and placing it just behind your camera. It’s important to not stare at the sticky note (your audience will be able to tell if you’re reading off of something), but it will give you something to quickly glance at between sentences to keep yourself on track.

This tip is especially helpful for when you are creating live video content:

4. Create multiple videos in every session

When I create video content, it’s quite the process.I spend about 20 minutes setting up one of the rooms in my house with the appropriate lighting, camera, tripod, laptop, microphone, etc. For all of that effort, it would be silly to simply shoot one video. I’ve learned it’s much more efficient to create a batch of videos (usually I do four) at once, to be as efficient as possible.

Beyond the benefit of additional content, you will also find you hit your groove after the first or second video, so recording the third and fourth ends up being a breeze.

If you’re interested in learning more about Impactful Communication, subscribe to my YouTube channel.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

YouTube /Wade Paterson

It’s one of the worst feelings in the world: You step on stage in front of an audience… and you freeze.

Has this ever happened to you? Perhaps you’ve heard about other people freezing, and you’ve avoided public speaking because you don’t want to share their experience.In this month’s column, I will share tips to reduce the likelihood of experiencing stage fright the next time you speak in front of a group of people.

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Practice—My first tip seems obvious; however, I’m amazed by the number of people I meet who plan to “wing it” when they talk about the next speech they will be delivering. People romanticize the idea of speaking off the cuff, but the best public speakers practice often.

The more you practice a speech, the more comfortable you will be with your material and you’ll drastically reduce the likelihood of freezing. One of the best ways to practice speaking material is to join a local Toastmasters club. Alternatively, you can use your phone to record yourself giving a speech, or ask a friend or family member to watch and give you constructive feedback.

Have water nearby—Our bodies do weird things when we begin to speak in front of a crowd. An incredibly common body response is that our mouths get dry, mid-speech. When a new speaker notices his/her mouth is dry in the middle of a speech, it may cause that individual to panic or forget what he/she was planning on saying.

You can easily fix this problem by having water nearby. Audiences are used to speakers taking sips of water between sentences, so don’t hesitate to take a drink if you experience this dry mouth body response. An added benefit of sipping water is that it gives you a moment to think about what you were planning to say if you lose your place in the speech.

Beware of holding a single piece of paper—In the last tip, I mentioned our bodies do odd things when we’re in front of an audience. Another common body response is for our hands to shake. This becomes increasingly noticeable when someone is holding onto a single sheet of paper. Hand shaking causes the paper to flutter and make noise. When the speaker notices it, this often causes their hand to shake even more, which leads to the paper making even more noise.

If you’re using a piece of paper with notes on it during your speech, you have a couple of options to avoid this problem. If there is a podium, set your notes on it so that the paper is not shaking in your hand. If there isn’t a podium, bring along a binder or something sturdy you can hold onto behind your notes. The reason for this is that your hands won’t be able to visibly shake as much if you’re holding onto something that is a bit heavier.

Face the audience in advance—One of my favourite tricks to do when speaking in a new environment is to, at some point, find an opportunity to stand near the front of the room and face the crowd before I take the stage.

The scariest moment of public speaking usually comes when you first face the audience. The feeling of all the eyes in the room on you is a bit daunting, but you can minimize this effect by finding a time to face the audience in advance so that the vantage point doesn’t overwhelm you when you begin speaking.

Use humour (if needed)—If the worst-case scenario comes true and you absolutely freeze, don’t panic. The best thing you can do at this point is make some sort of joke.

A friend and co-worker of mine has a great line she uses: “Wow, this went over a lot better when I practiced this speech in front of my dogs this morning.” Whenever she says this, she causes the audience to laugh and it lightens the mood and takes the pressure off of the rest of the speech.

Remember that everyone understands how difficult public speaking is, and they’re rooting for you to do well.

If you’re interested in learning more about Impactful Communication, subscribe to my YouTube channel.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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Facebook /Wade Paterson

I have a confession.

I write a lot of columns and produce a lot of video content about Toastmasters and the importance of practising public speaking, however, from January to June 2022, I only attended three of our club’s weekly meetings.

It’s embarrassing to admit, but I tell you this is because I want to share my recent experience of finally going back to a Toastmasters meeting and realizing my skills had gotten rusty.

There is a section of every Toastmasters meeting called “Table Topics,” which consists of a Table Topics Master asking attendees random questions. These questions can be about anything: What is your greatest fear? What is your favourite summertime activity? If you could be any superhero, who would you be?

The goal of Table Topics is to force attendees to think quickly on their feet and speak for between one to two minutes.

After a span of several months without attending a Toastmasters meeting, I finally made it back to my club and I was asked a question during the Table Topics segment of the meeting. As I walked toward the front of the room to face the audience, my mind went blank.

For the next minute-and-a-half, I clumsily fumbled through an answer that lacked quality and conviction. The club gave me a courtesy round of applause, but I could see on their faces they were surprised by just how poor of a job I did.

So why did this happen?

What I’ve learned over the years is that public speaking is a lot like working out. I’ve met people who have said,

“I don’t need to go to Toastmasters because I attended meetings a few years ago.” In my mind, this is the equivalent of someone saying, “I don’t work out anymore because I used to exercise three years ago.”

Just as our bodies require a healthy routine of physical activity to stay in shape, our public speaking skills are strongest when exercised on a regular basis.

When you attend weekly Toastmasters meetings, the idea of standing in front of a crowd becomes less daunting because it becomes a regular part of your routine.

Even if Toastmasters isn’t a viable option for you, there are still ways you can practise public speaking. Try recording your speech on your phone and watching it back. You may notice your body is doing certain things that you didn’t even realize, such as leaning on a chair, swaying from side to side, etc.

Many of us also unknowingly add in crutch words such as “umm” or “ahh” to fill in the silence while speaking. Once we are aware of our own tendencies, we can take steps to eliminate unnecessary distractions from our speeches.

You can also practise your speech in front of a friend or family member. (Although, keep in mind, family members and friends may be hesitant to give constructive criticism to avoid the risk of hurting your feelings.)

A final piece of advice is to always have a speech on the go. Perhaps you are attending a wedding this summer or maybe you have an important upcoming office meeting. If you look hard enough, there is likely an opportunity for you to give a speech at some point in the future.

Start working on that speech now to give yourself material to practice with, and ensure that you will come across as a polished speaker when you finally get the chance to deliver your speech.

If you’re interested in learning more about Impactful Communication, subscribe to my YouTube channel.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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