How to Eliminate Bad Speaking Habits. Umm… Like… You Know?

Crazy - AfterWhen I took my first public speaking class in college, I was excited. I wanted to be a preacher. Public speaking was going to be my thing. I thought, “This class will be cake! I get to work on my skills and get an easy A.”

When it came time for me to give my first talk, I stood up confidently and killed it! The best presentation ever. The class was speechless.

When I sat down, the professor said the worst thing anyone can say after a presentation, “Any feedback class?”

For the next 10 minutes listened in horror as each of my classmates ripped me for all of my bad habits. Apparently I said “um” every sentence. I looked at my notes almost the entire speech. And I gripped the podium on both sides like a man on a life raft aboard the Titanic.

The worst part was I had no idea that I was doing any of this. I thought they were all liars who were just jealous of my awesomeness. But then I watched myself back on video. They were right!

I had bad preaching habits and didn’t know it.

So my question for you is: do you have any bad habits? How do you know?

Discover your bad habits

Have you ever been driving in your car on a familiar route, when all of a sudden you get to your destination and realize you have no recollection of how you got there? Scary!

You were driving but your brain wasn’t processing what you were doing. Why? Because your brain was focused on thinking about something else and the driving route came naturally.

This is what often happens when we are preaching. We have something we do because it comes naturally to us and we don’t even realize we are doing it. We are so focused on what we are saying that our brain doesn’t focus on the familiar bad habits.

We need help discovering these bad habits.

There are two ways to do this: 1) Ask someone you trust to sit in the audience and look for bad habits, or 2) record yourself and look for them yourself.

Every Monday morning, the first thing I do when I sit down in the office is watch a recording of one of the services I preached on Sunday. I look for things I did well that I should keep doing. I look for things I can improve. And most importantly, I watch for any bad habits that I have or may have newly developed.

One of the absolute best ways to improve as a communicator is to just watch yourself. If you are not watching yourself preach every week, you are missing a huge opportunity for growth.

When you watch yourself, you will notice all the little things that you don’t notice while you are in the middle of thinking about what to say next. All of your flaws will come flying out to you. Don’t be discouraged though. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to fixing it.

3 Bad Habits to look for

1. Filler Words: Maybe you, um, say, like, a lot of, you know, filler words, and stuff. You could prepare the greatest sermon on the planet, but filler words and phrases make you sound like you have no idea what you are talking about. You lose credibility.

Just compare the following example:

Filler words: “Jesus is, um, like, the only way to Heaven. So, uh, repent.”

No filler words: “Jesus is the only way to Heaven. So repent.”

See the difference? Filler words hurt your credibility. They steal a preacher’s message of its power and conviction.

2. Distracting movements: Maybe you have a funny thing you do with your hands that is distracting or unnecessary. Repetitive movements and gestures that don’t connect with what you are saying show how nervous you are, but even worse, are highly distracting.

Growing up, I had a youth pastor who was a pacer. He took three steps left, then three steps to the right, and back again. He looked like a caged animal pacing back and fourth. To this day I can’t remember much of what he said, but I still remember his pacing.

3. Poor Eye Contact: Maybe your eyes are locked in on your notes and not on your people. Eye contact with your audience helps you build a connection with them. When a preacher has poor eye contact, the audience is more likely not to trust them.

Don’t believe me? Try an experiment: The next conversation you have try staring at the floor the whole time. Or dart your eyes all over the room. Just don’t look them in the eyes for more than one second at a time. See how the conversation goes.

Then, in your very next conversation, lock on to their eyes with yours. Even if it is a little uncomfortable, keep looking them in the eyes. Notice the difference.

How to eliminate bad habits

Since for the most part, we don’t realize the bad habits while we are doing them, the only way you will be able to eliminate bad habits is to make yourself aware of them.

You have to do something that will help your brain flag these activities. Being conscious of them will help you eliminate them.

Get a video camera. Any camera will do fine. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Set up the camera and record yourself while preaching.

Now, watch yourself with a piece of scratch paper and pen. Write down every time you see a bad habit.

If you are trying to eliminate filler words, keep a tally of how many times you say the words during your message. For example if you say “uh” a lot. Count your “uh’s”. You said it 35 times. OK. Next week the goal is to get that number down.

If you are trying to eliminate distracting movements. Just like with filler words, write down the number of times you do the movement. Try to get that number lower next week.

If you are working on eye contact, get a stopwatch. Record the total amount of time your eyes are looking at your notes. Each week, work to get your time down.

Recording your bad habits and working to get them down is a great way to eliminate your habits. Why? Because in the back of your mind every time you preach, you will know that you are going to be watching this back and recording your habits. Your brain will become very aware of what you are doing.

Another great way to do this is to ask someone you trust to sit in the audience and do the exact same thing that you would do if you were watching yourself. Have them give you the count after your message. You will definitely be more aware of your bad habits when you know someone in the audience is counting.

The key here is to force your brain to think about the bad habits.

If you want to be a better preacher, you have to work hard to get better. If you don’t focus on your bad habits, you will never eliminate them.

You can do this. You can become habit free. Trust me, your congregation will thank you.

What bad habits in other preachers distract you the most? If you have had success overcoming bad habits, what did you do? Please comment below.

Other Posts from the Best Year Yet Series

  1. Make This Year Your Best Year - Start Here
  2. 5 Characteristic of Goals that Work - Set Goals
  3. The Secret to Getting Ahead on Sermon Preparation - Get Ahead
  4. How to Eliminate Bad Speaking Habits. Umm… Like… You Know? - Speak Better
  5. Lose Wight; Preach Better - Healthy Body
  6. Why a Healthy Ministry Requires a Healthy Family - Healthy Family
  7. Out of the Overflow of the Heart the Preacher Speaks - Healthy Spiritual Life
  8. 41 Ways to Risky Preaching - Try Something New
  9. You Don’t Have Time Not to Read - Read More
  10. The Secret to Winning Time Management - Accomplish More of What Matters
  11. Do You Make This One Common Preaching Mistake? - Step Away From your Desk

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