MANNERISM: a person’s particular way of talking or moving. -Merriam Webster Learner’s Dictionary
When we talk about mannerisms in public speaking we generally mean any kind of body language or movement that distracts from the speaker’s message. Most people have one or more mannerisms when they speak. These often become more noticeable when you are nervous. Here are some examples:
- Putting your hands in your pockets
- Touching your hair
- Pushing up your sleeves
- Touching a watch or piece of jewellery
- Rocking back and forth
The fastest way to find out what your mannerisms are is to record yourself and watch the video. Friends, colleagues and coaches may also be able to tell you if you have any mannerisms and if they find them distracting or not.
How can you stop using an unwanted mannerism?
1. Be aware
The first step in fixing any problem is acknowledging that you have one. Be conscious of it all the time when you are speaking – even if it’s not a presentation. It will become easier with time to remember to think about this. Whenever you find yourself doing it, consciously remind yourself to stop.
Continue filming yourself, whenever possible, to see if you improve. This will also serve as a constant reminder that you are working on eliminating this mannerism.
2. Focus only on the mannerism
“To do two things at once is to do neither.” – Publilius Syrus
If you are trying to improve too many speaking skills at once, you may not have much success. Eliminating distracting mannerisms is difficult. If you are thinking about too many other things when you are speaking, it will take you even longer to get rid of it.
Try to set a aside a fixed period of time (e.g. 6 weeks or 5 presentations) to work on eliminating the mannerism. Afterwards, you can focus on another speaking skill, while continuing to be aware of the mannerism. After focusing on the mannerism for a long amount of time, you will form a habit of thinking about it.
3. Ask for help
You don’t need to do this alone. Enlist the help of friends, family, colleagues and especially coaches to remind you if they see the mannerism.
You can also incentivise yourself to eliminate the mannerism. Just like a child who uses bad language has to put money in a ‘swear jar’, you can pay a fine when you or someone else catches you using the mannerism. Then when you have managed to eliminate the mannerism, you can use the money to treat yourself to a nice reward!