Archives for January 2012

Eliminate Insidious Vocal Distractions in Your Speaking

By Tom Mucciolo and Leila Jahangiri

Whereas certain vocal inflections can be gratifying, there are also times where vocal distractions interrupt the rhythm of speech and may reduce the effectiveness of the content. How many times have you found yourself unable to say just the right thing at the right time? Have there ever been moments where you just hurried through content not really sure if you were clearly understood? Have you ever had something “at the tip” of your tongue, but couldn’t quite get to the word?

Unrehearsed speech is spontaneously created and therefore words are sometimes jumbled, garbled, or simply misused in the context of the given topic. While fluency promotes clarity, disfluency suspends the immediate connection to content, breaking up the listening pattern and possibly limiting comprehension.

Such vocal distractions include fillers, rapidity and parenthetical intrusions. Understanding and overcoming these distractions are critically important in optimizing clarity in speech. The focus of this discussion is on fillers, namely, the sounds we make in between the words we say.

Eliminating Fillers

One of the most distracting elements when speaking is the use of fillers and, unfortunately, most presenters are unaware of the frequency at which these occur. In conversation and other unrehearsed speech, this type of disfluency is a frequent vocal disruption that occurs at a rate of 6% of the words spoken.

At times, fillers can occur when a speaker is trying to retrieve higher level language or technical terms that are less often used in normal conversation. In some cases, the disruption occurs when describing pictures or scenes, where information is more vague or ambiguous.

Unfortunately, any verbal hesitancy in speech can be interpreted as an uncertainty or lack of familiarity with content, which is why silence is the better filler when one is at a loss for words.

Some fillers are just added sounds such as, “um”, “uh”, “er”, or parenthetical inserts such as, “you know, like, again, okay, right”, or emotional interjections such as “aha, ah, oops, ugh, wow.” Fillers do not necessarily indicate a lack of knowledge, but are usually vocal pauses inserted while retrieving knowledge.

When speakers try to retrieve less familiar information, fillers such as uh and um are more likely to occur, and in some cases these verbal utterances are normal patterns in speech for the purpose of delay in order to keep from being interrupted or in order to find the best way of expressing information.

However, the length of the delay following the filler, that is, the actual time it takes to retrieve information, can affect a listener’s perception as to how familiar the speaker is with the content retrieved. For example, there is a difference between the uh and um fillers.

The “uh” filler is typically a shorter, more temporary interruption, with a brief delay following the “uh”, suggesting that the speaker is familiar with the upcoming content, but is hesitant in forming the correct expression. The “um” filler tends to have a longer delay, suggesting that the speaker may be unsure and searching for possibly unfamiliar content.

This hesitancy can happen when the upcoming content is highly technical or highly descriptive in nature where the speaker can’t seem to find the right word or phrase; or if the speaker is signaling a desire to not be interrupted during the pause.

Coincidentally, in situations of suspicion or doubt, where skepticism exists for example, the longer delay following the “um” filler may suggest that upcoming content may be conjecture, guess-work, or possibly not the truth. In any case, whether uh or um is accidental or purposeful, the longer the delay or pause following the filler, as with “um”, the more challenging for the learner in processing the continuity of content.

In reality, fillers are vocal evidence that you are thinking out loud. You’re letting the audience hear your distraction as you search for the next word, or the ideal phrase. To counter this problem, consider using silence as a filler. A silent pause will give you time to find the right word or phrase and allow your learners to concentrate on your intended content more easily.

Yet, if you find yourself using fillers frequently, you may be able to reduce the unconscious habit by using audible feedback to raise your awareness.  Just as the eyes can observe a body language distraction, the ears can detect a vocal disruption.

To help overcome a filler challenge, practice a presentation in front of a colleague. Have the person clap his or her hands, or snap their fingers, whenever you use a filler in your speech. Each time you hear the hands clapping or the fingers snapping, you will be conscious of the filler.

Hearing an external sound associated with a verbal filler raises your awareness of the issue to help you minimize or possibly eliminate the distraction. Overall, the goal is to reduce or eliminate vocal distractions so that your content and message can be more clearly communicated.

About the Authors:

Content excerpted from the book, A Guide to Better Teaching by Leila Jahangiri & Tom Mucciolo, Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Dr. Leila Jahangiri ( is chair of the Department of Prosthodontics at New York University College of Dentistry. She is an active clinician, researcher, teacher, and global speaker. Tom Mucciolo ( is a presentation skills consultant, leadership advisor, and president of MediaNet. He is also an adjunct faculty member at New York University.

The authors’ collaboration is a culmination of a vast research study. They share a common goal of finding ways to help teachers teach better, leaders lead better, and in the process allow teachers to become leaders.

Move from Expert to Master in Your Presentations

By Sandra Zimmer

Last week I was coaching a new client who is an amazing expert on wireless technology at a Fortune 100 company and I heard myself say, “Maybe it is time to move from being an expert to being a master.”

What’s the difference? The difference is in how one asserts their information. It seems to me that an expert asserts his expertise fully, readily and frequently to all who will listen. A master is someone who reveals what he knows as needed in the moment. A master says the one right thing that a listener needs to know because the master can perceive what the listener needs for his next step. The master is tuned in to the listener.

Everyone will know who the expert is, because the expert will make sure everyone knows. But many people will not know who the master is, because the master will hold back anything that the listener is not ready to hear. The expert will draw lots of attention, the master will likely not.

Once you have become an expert at something, there is a natural evolution into mastery. Mastery happens when you stop asserting your expertise as something to get attention and begin to offer your skills in service to humanity. You essentially transcend your skills and become a humble servant, giving your expertise to help others gain the same level of ability.

You might think of Mr. Miagi in the movie The Karate Kid. Or the Dali Lama who when asked who he was said simply, “It’s just me.”

Once an expert stops trying to impress, he steps into the level of mastery. Making complex things simple is the realm of the presentations master. He simply is the master and what he does is simple.

My own mastery is guiding people to express themselves authentically in front of groups. My approach is simple. I help people relax into being who they are in front of other people and give them simple steps for putting ideas together to craft compelling messages. My students say they have trouble telling their friends and family what we do in class, because it is so simple. I simply make it safe for people to be authentic.

When people feel free to be who they are, they are naturally eloquent and what they say inspires listeners.

About the Author:

Sandra Zimmer has been guiding groups and individuals since 1976 at the Self-Expression Center and in business settings, teaching public speaking, voice training, communication skill training, acting classes and much more. She founded the center to help people develop confidence to express themselves more freely. For more information on her services, visit

There Are No Mistakes: How Jazz Can Help Presenters

By Nick Morgan

If you’re a public speaker you live some intense moments of your life in the limelight, on stage, in front of an audience – and you know what it is to make mistakes. We all react differently to them. For some of us, mistakes are so terrifying a prospect that it takes all the joy out of the moment. And we agonize about them for hours – weeks – years – afterwards. For others, mistakes are merely the cost of doing business. And for still others, mistakes are opportunities.

Stefon Harris, an accomplished jazz performer on the vibraphone, gives a spirited explanation of what mistakes mean to jazz performers in a recent talk. I highly recommend the talk both for some great music and a wonderful insight into the nature of error. Stefon says, “There are no mistakes,” in jazz, and I think those of us who live in the public speaking world should embrace his attitude. There are no mistakes.

I spent years as an actor, and doing Improv, and while actors believe in mistakes (fluffing lines, missing an entrance, botching a cue), Improv people don’t. Everything that happens in Improv is simply grist for the mill. As soon as you let go of the idea of right and wrong, you start loosening up and getting good at Improv. The attitude again is liberating for public speakers.

The audience doesn’t know what you haven’t said. So don’t obsess about getting every word or phrase exactly right according to some text, or to some idea of perfection. Just deliver your message as best you can, with passion, to the audience in front of you. In the end, it’s about the audience, not about you anyway.

Stefon’s other insights from the improvisational world of jazz:

1. It’s all about the present. Everyone tells us to be in the moment – our yoga teachers, our life coaches, even the Dalai Lama. Stefon says jazz musicians have to be in the moment because there’s so much going on, you can’t possibly worry about the past or stress about the future.

Speakers take note, and focus on the moment.

2. Leading is about influence – and influence is about listening. Stefon demonstrates the difference between coming into a session and insisting on your musical ideas no matter what anyone else says, and listening. If you listen, then you’re inclined to pull ideas from the people around you, and they’re far more likely to follow your lead when the time comes. With enthusiasm. Audiences need the same treatment.

3. Good music comes from awareness and acceptance. You’ve got to be aware of your fellow musicians, and your audience, and accept what comes at you, so that you can turn it into music. The same attitude helps public speakers deal with the inevitable differences in the setting, the audience, and the moment.

4. No micromanaging. If you are rigid and uncompromising, your fellow musicians will get turned off. If you let everyone else have their say, you’ll be listened to more respectfully when your turn comes. In the same way, speakers need to work with each audience, and treat it with the respect that unique collection of individuals deserves.

Of course public speakers have a road map in their heads (and Power Point slides on their computers) about where they want their speeches to go. But if we can relax a little about the precise road we take, and allow the moment to dictate direction to us, then just like a jazz musician, we can find serendipity in each unique occasion.

About the Author:

Dr. Nick Morgan is one of America’s top communication theorists and coaches. In his blog he covers modern communications from a variety of angles, including the latest developments in communication research, the basic principles and rules of good communication, and the good and bad speakers of the day. His passion is to connect the latest brain research with timeless insights into persuasive speaking in order to further our understanding of how people connect with one another. For more information on his company, visit

Presenting with an iPad: How to Add Apple TV

By Geetesh Bajaj

If you are serious about iPad presenting, then you may have already realized that it makes no sense to attach your iPad to a TV or projector with a cable. For one this means that your iPad is physically tied to a location, and you cannot really move around and navigate your content at the same time. And also the fact that you miss out on portability, the iPad’s biggest advantage.

The direction you need to explore is quite obvious as far as Apple is concerned — they would like you to look at their Apple TV device. An Apple TV connects to TVs and projectors with the requisite cables. Thereafter it creates a wireless connection with your iPad using the built-in AirPlay technology — the rest of this post will explore both Apple TV and AirPlay.

So what is an Apple TV? Actually there are two types of Apple TVs:

1) 1st generation Apple TVs that included hard disk space, were larger in size, and cost 3 times as much as the new 2nd generation Apple TVs. These are useless for iPad users since they do not support AirPlay. Also they are too large to be carried around. These included a remote as shown in the picture below.

2) 2nd generation Apple TVs that have no hard disk space (they actually have 8GB of flash disk space, but that is undocumented). These are much smaller than 1st generation Apple TVs, and are AirPlay capable making them great to use with iPads. They also are small enough to fit within the palm of your hand and can be easily carried around along with your iPad. These also include a remote, although the remote is not shown in the picture below.

Once you connect your Apple TV to a TV or projector, you can then make the TV or projector display anything on your iPad (or an iPhone or an iPod Touch) as long as you have these prerequisites in place:

1.iOS 5 installed on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch — this update adds improved AirPlay capabilities to your iOS devices.

2.An iPad 2 or iPhone 4S will provide you with AirPlay mirroring — thus anything that shows up on your iOS device screen will show up on the TV or projector output. If you have an iPad 1 or an iPhone 4, AirPlay will still work — but just with the Photos app — and not much else.

That’s not as limited as you may believe — you can save most of your slides as successive pictures in an album — you can then have a cool presentation showing off your iPad 1 or iPhone 4. You will lose out on animations and multimedia — but many iPad and iPhone apps still do not support all PowerPoint bells and whistles — so that’s not such a bad solution!

On the other hand, what irks me is that even Apple’s own Keynote will not support AirPlay on iPad 1 and iPhone 4.

In the next article in this series, we will look more at AirPlay, and what more you can do using this technology.

About the Author:

Geetesh Bajaj has been designing and training with PowerPoint for 15 years and is a Microsoft PowerPoint MVP (Most Valuable Professional.) He heads Indezine (  a presentation design studio and content development organization based in Hyderabad, India. The site attracts more than a million page views each month and has thousands of free PowerPoint templates and other goodies for visitors to download. He also runs another PowerPoint- related site ( that provides designer PowerPoint templates.

Geetesh also is the author of the best-selling book Cutting Edge PowerPoint for Dummies and three subsequent books on PowerPoint 2007 for Windows and one on PowerPoint 2008 for Mac.

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