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Six Communication Barriers – How you can break through them!

The only reason anybody stands in front of an audience and delivers a speech is to communicate something important. Too often the message the speaker is trying to share fails to reach the audience because one (or more) of the communication barriers below impedes the speakers effectiveness.  Sadly, most presenters are not aware that these barriers even exist!

These barriers are easily overcome when you are aware of them.


Not knowing who you are speaking to

Many presenters fail to understand and appreciate who they will be delivering the speech to. When you do not understand who will be in your audience it is virtually impossible to be confident that you are preparing the right speech. What do I mean? You can deliver a speech with the same central message to two different audiences, but the content will be different depending upon the audience. In a project status presentation a CEO will be interested in key project milestones and overall budget, whilst a project team will want to know the individual tasks in a project are progressing.

How to break though:

  • Take the time to consider who your audience will be
  • Think about their interest in, and motivations, in relation to the topic of your presentation
  • Are they supportive or resistant to the topic you will be presenting?
  • Ensure that the material you prepare aligns to their interest/motivation


Lack of focus

The second communication barrier between a speaker and their audience is a lack of focus for the presentation. Too often a presenter will stand in front of an audience and be unsure of  what they are trying to say to an audience. Inevitably this frustrates the people who have taken the time to sit in the audience for the presentation.  So they stop listening!

How to break though:

  • Be clear in your own mind of the reason you are delivering the presentation
  • Ensure the speech has ONE single message and purpose
  • Only include key points and ideas that relate to the message of the presentation


Lack of enthusiasm

Some topics are more enjoyable to present than others. Regardless of the topic you need to ensure that you deliver it with enthusiasm. Unenthusiastic presenters deliver a presentation in slow and monotone voice – putting the audience to sleep while they talk. You need to avoid this as a sleepy audience will struggle to listen and comprehend the message you are sharing with them.

How to break though:

  • Practise your delivery to ensure that you vary your volume, speaking rate, and tone throughout your presentation
  • Smile as you deliver the presentation
  • If delivering your presentation after lunch ensure that you either delay your lunch ‘till after the presentation or have a light lunch to ensure you do not feel sleepy before you start!


Distracting Gestures

Distracting gestures come in all forms and all shapes. Common gestures that distract audiences include hands clasped in the groin area, playing/clicking pens ,waving  the hand or swaying from side to side… These gestures become a focal point for the audience’s attention as the speaker attempts to deliver their presentation. As a result the ability of the audience to absorb what the speaker is saying is impeded.

How to break though:

  • Video your practise presentations – often being aware of the gesture is enough to make you stop doing them
  • Get a friend or colleague to point them out in your practise presentations
  • Get more experience at public speaking, the distracting gestures reduce as your confidence increases.


Lack of eye contact

In our society we associate honesty and authenticity with someone when they look us in the eyes. As a public speaker if you do not establish and maintain eye contact with your audience they will be resistant to what you are saying to them.  Sadly there are many “experts” who suggest that you look just above your audience’s heads as they won’t know the difference. This is WRONG! Everybody knows when someone is genuinely looking him or her in the eye, and they know when eye contact is being avoided.

How to break though:

  • Don’t take the bad advice – look your audience in the eye
  • Share your eye contact around the room
  • Hold eye contact with an individual audience member for 2-3 seconds before moving to the next person.


Bad Visual Aids

Of all the communication barriers this is the one that is most prevalent in business presentations. A speaker stands in front of an audience and displays a slide full of text which they proceed to read in full. Or a slide is displayed with graphics moving wildly around, or graphs and charts that are too small or too detailed for the audience to easily see. This list of PowerPoint mistakes is almost endless…

Most of these are a result of the speaker preparing their speech in PowerPoint and then not asking him or herself the question “Does this slide help clarify what I am saying?”

The result is ineffective visual aids that distract your audience as you try to deliver your speech!

How to break though:

  • Prepare your speech FIRST, then prepare your PowerPoint or other visual aids second
  • Constantly assess each slide/visual aid to determine if it is helping to clarify what you are saying for your audience
  • Avoid animations on slides at all costs!


There are many barriers that will impede your ability to communicate with your audience. The good news is that you are aware of what the potential barriers are, and you have the tips and tricks to ensure that you avoid them. There is a lot of bad advice given to help newbie speakers to improve their skills – in the wrong way! The tips above will help you lift the standard and effectiveness of your presentations in the right way!

Mark Kyte
Mark Kyte is a public speaking mentor and founder of the Public Speaking Skills Academy. Mark loves helping clients achieve dynamic results that help them increase their influence and get more clients. Read more of his blog and if you like what you see check out the mentoring programs.