Fluency refers to the flow of your speaking. To speak with fluency means that your speech flows well and that there are not many interruptions to that flow. There are two main disfluencies, or problems that affect the flow of a speech. Fluency hiccups are unintended pauses in a speech that usually result from forgetting what you were saying, being distracted, or losing your place in your speaking notes. Fluency hiccups are not the same as intended pauses, which are useful for adding emphasis or transitioning between parts of a speech. While speakers should try to minimize fluency hiccups, even experienced speakers need to take an unintended pause sometimes to get their bearings or to recover from an unexpected distraction. Fluency hiccups become a problem when they happen regularly enough to detract from the speaker’s message.
Verbal fillers are words that speakers use to fill in a gap between what they were saying and what they’re saying next. Common verbal fillers include um, uh, ah, er, you know, and like. The best way to minimize verbal fillers is to become a higher self-monitor and realize that you use them. Many students are surprised when they watch the video of their first speech and realize they said “um” thirty times in three minutes. Gaining that awareness is the first step in eliminating verbal fillers, and students make noticeable progress with this between their first and second speeches. If you do lose your train of thought, having a brief fluency hiccup is better than injecting a verbal filler, because the audience may not even notice the pause or may think it was intentional.
Common Causes of Fluency Hiccups
- Lack of preparation. Effective practice sessions are the best way to prevent fluency hiccups.
- Not writing for speaking. If you write your speech the way you’ve been taught to write papers, you will have fluency hiccups. You must translate the written words into something easier for you to present orally. To do this, read your speech aloud and edit as you write to make sure your speech is easy for you to speak.
- A poorly prepared speaking outline. Whether it is on paper or note cards, sloppy writing, unorganized bullet points, or incomplete/insufficient information on a speaking outline leads to fluency hiccups.
- Distractions. Audience members and the external environment are unpredictable. Hopefully audience members will be polite and will silence their phones, avoid talking while the speaker is presenting, and avoid moving excessively. There could also be external noise that comes through a door or window. A speaker can also be distracted by internal noise such as thinking about other things.
“Getting Plugged In”
Delivering Presentations Online
As many people and organizations are trying to do more with smaller budgets, and new software becomes available, online presentations are becoming more common. Whether using a Webinar format, a WebEx, Skype, FaceTime, Elluminate Live, or some other program, the live, face-to-face audience is now mediated through a computer screen. Despite this change in format, many of the same basic principles of public speaking apply when speaking to people virtually. Yet many business professionals seem to forget the best practices of public speaking when presenting online or don’t get that they apply in both settings. The website TheVirtualPresenter.com offers many tips for presenting online that we’ve covered in this book, including be audience focused, have engaging delivery, and use visual aids effectively.Roger Courville, “Delivery,” TheVirtualPresenter.com, accessed November 5, 2012, http://thevirtualpresenter.com/category/delivery. Yet speakers need to think about some of these things differently when presenting online. We have natural ways to engage an audience when presenting face-to-face, but since many online presentations are only one-way in terms of video, speakers have to rely on technology like audience polls, live chat, or options for audience members to virtually raise their hand when they have a question to get feedback while speaking. Also, in some formats, the audience can only see the presenter’s computer desktop or slide show, which pulls attention away from physical delivery and makes vocal delivery and visual aids more important. Extemporaneous delivery and vocal variety are still key when presenting online. Reading from your slides or having a monotone voice will likely not make a favorable impression on your audience. The lesson to take away is that presenting online requires the same skills as presenting in person, so don’t let the change in format lead you to make mistakes that will make you a less effective speaker.
- Have you ever presented online or been an audience member for an online presentation? If so, describe your experience and compare it to face-to-face speaking.
- What are some of the key differences between presenting online and presenting in person that a speaker should consider?
- How might online presentations play into your future career goals? What types of presentations do you think you would give? What could you do to ensure the presentations are effective?
- Speakers should use vocal variety, which is changes in rate, volume, and pitch, to make a speech more engaging.
- Speakers should use proper articulation and pronunciation to make their message clear.
- Interruptions to the fluency of a speech, including fluency hiccups and verbal fillers, detract from the speaker’s message and can lessen a speaker’s credibility.
- Record yourself practicing your speech. How does your speech sound in terms of vocal variety? Cite specific examples.
- Listen to your recorded speech again. How would you evaluate your articulation and pronunciation? Cite specific examples.
- Over the course of a day, take note of verbal fillers that you tend to use. List them here so you can be a higher self-monitor and begin to notice and lessen your use of them.