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Phoenix Forward

Admitting you're scared ... and other presentation mistakes to avoid

Man speaking in front of an audience

There are five verbal and visual mistakes to avoid when giving a presentation, according to Bonnie Ellis, a public-speaking trainer who's taught more than 10,000 people. An instructor at the University of Phoenix Detroit Campus and campus college chair for the College of Humanities and Sciences, Ellis developed the "Awareness and Control Method" of public speaking. She says you can become a better presenter by being aware of and controlling these five presentation faux pas:

1. Telling the audience you're nervous

Ellis says, "It's the worst thing you could possibly say. Most presenters are afraid they're going to make a mistake and look bad. So why in the world would you ever set yourself up?" It doesn't get the speaker any sympathy. The confession just prepares the audience for blunders, she says. So, don't lower the expectations of the audience. Take a deep breath to help calm yourself down and do your best.

2. Chewing gum

"This is the one thing that absolutely drives me crazy," says Ellis. "It's gross." She believes most people just forget they have the gum in their mouths. "It distracts from the desired professional image. Anything non-verbal that is not enhancing your presentation is taking away from it." Ellis would advise that if you're a gum chewer, make a mental note to ensure there's nothing in your mouth before you walk in the room.

3. Using filler words

Besides being annoying, "ums, ahs, you knows, OKs" and other stall words hurt your credibility with the audience, says Ellis. "We are accustomed to maintaining control of a conversation. The 'ums and ahs' are attempts to hold our spot while we think of the next comment to make," she says. She advises video recording your presentation while practicing. It will help you spot the non-verbal signs of nervousness and hopefully eliminate them.

4. Rocking and pacing

Nervous movements detract from your presentation. The audience watches your movement and pays less attention to what is being said. Ellis says that rocking is often the result of standing incorrectly and putting more weight on one foot than the other, so you find yourself shifting back and forth. Fortunately, she says the cure is a simple one. "Be sure you're standing with your weight on both feet."

5. Wearing attention-grabbing garb

Jingling and jangling jewelry is the main culprit in this category. For example, multiple bracelets clink together and make too much noise when gesturing. Ellis says high heels may introduce a little unwanted drama into your presentation. "Someone is going to wonder if you're going to trip over something." You want all the attention on the subject of the presentation -- not on the possibility you're going to tumble. Wear shoes that are comfortable and don't draw unwanted attention.

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