Um… Watch Yourself!

After appearing live on Providence’s leading local digital news and information network, I watched the video footage of myself with news editor Kate Nagle on, and I self-assessed my presentation skills. I managed to tell a good story… yet… um… oh, that um word… and just like a little kid, I was unable to finish one sentence or complete thought before diving into another… all of which I attribute to nervous energy… excited nervous energy… which hopefully serves a purpose, because I was super excited to appear with Kate and convey my passion for The Jester & Pharley Phund.

35 years ago, I took a class in Corporate Communications at the Tuck School of Business. There was one particular learning activity… in which each student took a turn to stand and give a speech… while observant classmates were assigned to provide feedback on one aspect of the presentation. Below are the aspects I recall:

Eye contact – Was I looking at my audience? On TV or video, this means looking into the lens of the camera and, occasionally, the eyes of the interviewer, as opposed to averting the gaze downward or off into nowhere… Eye contact is critical for engaging an audience.

Posture, Poise and Positioning – Was I standing up straight or was I slumped over? Was I swaying nervously back and forth? Good posture conveys confidence in oneself and in one’s topic. Purposeful pacing can be effective when space allows… walking among the audience to enhance engagement. When speaking before a still camera, however, its important stay positioned well within the frame of the lens.

Pacing of Voice – Was I speaking too fast or too slow? If one speaks too fast, people may be unable to process the information. If one speaks too slowwwly… people may get sleepy and inattentive.

Projection and Clarity of Voice – Was I speaking loudly and clearly enough? Because, if one speaks too softly, the audience is unable hear… and if one mumbles, the information is lost.

Facial Expression – Did my face express my excitement or my concern about my topic of choice… or did I appear bland and disinterested in my own topic? An expressive face helps to create an emotional connection with the audience.

Hand Gestures – Were my hands moving dramatically, like an Italian, or were they held rigidly in the fig leaf position? Gestures animate the storytelling.

Um – How many times did I utter um in the conversation? How does one overcome the um? Practice helps. Video-taping the practice for self-assessment is even better. When busyness allows little time for practice, one must simply try to be more conscious of the ubiquitous um and summon a pause instead of an um…. A pause of one or two seconds provides listeners with a moment to process the spoken words… and allows the speaker’s message to penetrate minds more deeply.

Um, which sounds like hum, is certainly better than uh, which sounds like duh. It is also better then er, which sounds like a mistake. Strong public speakers work hard to eliminate these annoying little words, so that listeners can focus more clearly on their message. Um, hum, hmmm… I seem to possess the nervous energy of a bee, however, I also possess an intense amount of passion… I speak from my heart… I speak my own truth… unvarnished and sometimes infused with a few ums… which I’ll continue to work on eliminating from my vocabulary.

For educational purposes only, read this blog again and imagine replacing every dot-dot-dot (pause) with an um, or… better yet… watch my GoLocalProv interview, and consider giving to The Jester & Pharley Phund.

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