Do you have tics? No, I'm not talking about the bug that bites you and sucks your blood. I'm talking about those unconsciously repeated verbal and physical behavior traits that come out when you're speaking and distract your audience.
Technically speaking, a tic is an involuntary repeated and habitual movement or sound, but in this case, I'm not talking about a medical disorder. I'm talking about a habit that has developed as a self-soothing mannerism to combat nervousness or to fill time.
I recently heard a speaker who cleared his throat in place of pauses. I know a woman who coughs during silences. I know a man who jerks his chin back when he's making a point. Some people wink, blink, or smack their lips, or repeat words or phrases like "Right?" or "Of course" without realizing it. (See this post for more on crutch phrases.)
How do you find out if you're doing something like this? I guarantee that an audience member is not going to point out your tics to you. A close friend or colleague who watches you practice might not even say anything. Yet these little verbal and physical eccentricities can be very distracting to your audience, so it's a good idea to find out if you have one, and then reduce or eliminate it.
How do you stop repeating unconscious behaviors?
1. You must become aware of them. Asking for honest feedback might get you this information, but videotaping is a sure thing. Audio recording will help you discovers sounds you're making, but video will catch everything.
2. You must be mentally and physically present during your presentations and actually listen to yourself speaking.
3. When you feel the tic coming on, breathe and pause. Acknowledge the urge and allow it to pass. Then continue on with what you were saying. This will be difficult at first, but you will find it easier as you go along.
Tics are annoying little habits, but they can be controlled. Your audience will appreciate your effort.