Given that it’s mid-August, this very brief post is written for people who cannot find the time to practice, prepare for or perfect their upcoming presentation.  I get it.  Between last-chance vacation days, Usain Bolt and Gabby Douglas, presidential running mate announcements, and well, the hottest summer on record, trying to carve out the time to do a dry run is as challenging as trying to beat Michael Phelps in the 200 Butterfly.  So here’s a really quick way to improve: avoid the words “basically” and “actually.”

These filler words – second only to “um” and “ah” – are the main reason why your audience stops listening and starts thinking about your choice of neck tie or earrings, which then reminds them that they have to buy a birthday gift, and when was the last time they got their oil changed, and so on down the rabbit hole of distracted listening.

I was in the audience for a presentation the other day with 85 people stuffed into a hot and airless conference room. The first presenter was nervous and the second one was bored. They said the words “basically” and “actually” 23 times.  It could have been a higher number, but I stopped counting to wipe the sweat from the back of my neck and look around the room. I noticed that no one was paying attention.  The only time the audience re-connected with the speakers was when they said “Are there any questions?”  There were no questions.

With very little time and effort, anyone can increase the chances of speaking in front of a listening audience by making this one adjustment.  And look, you still have time to watch all those new shows that NBC pitched during the Olympics!

– Barbara