April 7, 2022

When Young Speakers Want to be taken seriously

Public Speaking , Presentation Tips , Three Things

One of the most frequent concerns we hear from young professionals in our programs: I worry they won't take me seriously.

From our experience, young speakers have lots of strengths:

  • They bring energy and fresh references to presentations.

  • They are bright, tech savvy, and quick to learn new ways of doing things.

  • They've often had more experience with public speaking, because their education has put more emphasis on it than we see with speakers in their 40s and 50s.

When companies hire us to work with up-and-coming employees, they usually have a common goal for everyone. They want clear communication delivered in a way that inspires audience confidence, whoever that audience may be.

Here are three tips to keep strengths front and center by removing objections that seasoned colleagues and clients bring to us most:

1. Eliminate filler sounds and words.

Yes, we're referring to the habit of filling every break in the flow of words with an uh or um. Over-using uh and um isn't limited to twenty-something speakers. It's a bane for speakers of every age.

But maybe more important, get rid of like. Again, this is a habit you'll hear across generations. But for senior leaders, use of like is strongly associated with youth and lack of credibility. If you, like, tend to, like, use it as a, like, filler - like stop!

Less troubling but also an easy-to-fix habit is to stop beginning sentences with a drawn-out so. Again, it's not a speech pattern limited to young adults. But we often hear audiences associate it with youth and lack of confidence.

For speakers of every level of professional experience, the goal is to minimize identifiable patterns—and filler sounds and words are in that category. When a speaker falls into a mindless pattern, audiences tend to notice the pattern and are distracted by it.

2. Speak clearly and deliberately.

Does the middle-aged boss mumble, rush, or ramble around the point sometimes? Probably. Yet, when young professionals do these things, it tends to call attention to their youth.

While that may not be fair, it is an opportunity to heighten some key common public speaking skills.

Project your voice and practice enunciating your words. Put the ending consonants on words with gusto. Not only will this clean up your mumbly diction, it will help keep you from rushing—often interpreted as a sign of nerves. Of course, you don't want to sound like you're participating in an elocution exercise. But put a little extra effort toward giving words their due, and you'll be surprised at how it cleans up your articulation.

It's also never too early to learn to say more with fewer words—and to use simple words rather than utilize multi-syllable ones. (See what we did there?)

Speakers of every age tend to believe a big vocabulary is more impressive, that complex sentences make them sound more intelligent. Yet audiences prefer speakers who are direct and get to the point. Think about expressing your smart ideas in simple words and short sentences—not the constructions that sound like they come from an academic research paper you turned in a few months ago.

3. Don't "overeducate" your audience.

Strong speakers know it's important to meet the audience where they are—and deliver the message accordingly. One of the most common complaints we hear from CEOs and senior executives is that employees provide too much background. "Just tell me what I need to know now," they say.

We often work with young speakers who go overboard on the background. For example, we recently coached a twenty-something ad agency account manager. He had a meeting with a company CEO and was eager to land the business. The subject of his lengthy open? Why companies need advertising.

What was wrong with that? Well, it seemed too basic to us—almost Marketing 101. Clearly, the CEO valued advertising, or she wouldn't have agreed to the meeting. She wanted to know what his company could do and why she should do business with them.

We recommend every speaker learn as much about their audience as possible and tailor the message to audience interests and preferences. Some will need more background than others. Young professionals might even want to seek out guidance and practice delivering with more experienced colleagues, so that messages get off to the most powerful and confident start.

Learn more

Find a simple guide for how to project confidence (even when you're not feeling it) here.

For conquering your love of like, we offer this.

Find our founder's case for simplifying your language here.

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