Like it or not, if you own a company and you want to grow your brand, you have to act professionally. Write professionally. Speak in a professional, articulate way.
Think that last one doesn’t matter as much? Do you really think how you speak isn’t as important as what you have to say? Do yourself a favor and Google what people online are saying about how Beyoncé “can’t talk” or how the handsome David Beckham’s “squeaky voice” is a major turn off.
So I don’t care who you are. You could be a billionaire, a glamorous sex symbol, a superstar athlete. If you don’t speak well, people will notice it and harshly judge you for it. Not great news for a business owner who is trying to establish his or herself as an industry expert, is it?
Luckily, there are ways you can consciously, carefully clean up how you speak. Take a minute and review the following. Ask yourself if you are guilty of any of the following tics and bad habits.
1. Slow Down
Most people who are known for their clear, professional speaking voice are slow talkers. They take their time. They let each word sink in and resonate with the listener.
I’m not suggesting that you adopt an Eeyore-level pace but slowing your words down will often instantly make people tune in to what you’re saying.
It may initially feel fake, but smiling when you’re speaking puts an instant facelift to your voice and tone. This is especially important when you are speaking over the phone or on a Skype call.
You don’t need to grin like a maniac during the whole conversation but try to sprinkle in a few natural smiles throughout your sentences and see if it doesn’t make your listener start to smile too.
3. Like, Um, Ah…No
Using filler words like these makes you sound unsure, inarticulate, even unintelligent. Heck, if you Um and Ah your way through your speech, your listener may even peg you as shifty and dishonest.
Make a concerted effort to not say these words. Even if it means a few awkward pauses here and there. Which brings me to…
4. Don’t Fear the Pause
Pausing is not dead-airing. Letting a few seconds elapse when you normally would have jammed in an um or ah is not the end of the world. In fact, it can help your listener sit up and take notice.
It will make the words ‘around’ each pause sound that much more well thought out and weighty.
5. Segue with Class
There are times you are going to need to ‘pivot’ from one thought to another. You’re going to want to transition seamlessly from one topic onto the next. Choose those pivot points with care.
Using terms like “Let’s move on…” and “Another aspect we can explore…” are elegant ways to transition. “Anyhoo” and “So anyways” are not.
6. Size Matters
Before you go off on a multi-syllabic word fest, make sure that there aren’t just as accurate (but much less bloated) words available. For instance, I can’t think of one instance where “utilize” adds anything to a sentence, when “use” would work just as well.
Same with juxtapose/compare and betwixt/between. Using fancier words won’t make you sound smarter, they’ll just make you sound pretentious.
7. Bone Up
That said, it never hurts to familiarize yourself with a dictionary. Word of the day calendars are the simplest, most frictionless way to upgrade your vocabulary.
If you work in a particularly legal or technical industry, take time to study common terms and understand them well enough to use them in daily speech.
8. Be Sure
Be sure – dead sure – you know what a word means before you throw it out there. Entire reality shows have been built on malapropisms (misusing a word) and George W. Bush was relentlessly mocked for using words incorrectly.
I promise you, you really don’t have a “photogenic memory” and there are no “pigments of the imagination.” So if you aren’t 100% sure you know the meaning of a word or common phrase, don’t risk it. Don’t say it.
9. Sound Active
Put some punch into your sentences and you’ll never be accused of droning. Using the ‘active’ voice is important advice to follow when you are writing and the same holds true for speaking.
Instead of saying, “Today is the day that the inventory is getting done” say “Today’s the day we roll our sleeves up and count inventory.” You’ll better create a mind picture for your listener and thus, hold their attention better. And for much longer.
Ain’t no way no one’s going to take you seriously if you speak in sloppy, slangy speak. Even if you are trying to be folksy, ‘real’ or ironic, don’t do it. People may not understand that you are using a slang term ironically and they may judge you to be uneducated and inarticulate.
Play it safe by removing all the ain’ts and yo’s and hey-man’s when you are speaking professionally.
11. Keep it Clean
This one should go without saying but I’m afraid it’s more common than you’d think. Please don’t swear or use curse words when you are trying to sound professional. If you cuss a bit in real life, you’d be surprised how often a four letter word can slip into your professional speech.
Even things that don’t feel like out-and-out swear words to you could still offend people, like saying something is “B.S.” or “swearing to God.” Keep it uber-clean and play it safe.
Just a few more tips to help you speak like a pro!
Bueller….Bueller…Bueller? Can’t you just hear Ben Stein’s famous line from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? That’s because he made monotone famous. No one can stay alert (or even awake!) when someone is droning on and on in exactly the same tone.
Mix it up and keep their attention by putting a little oomph in your inflection. I’m not suggesting you go full Valley Girl and end every sentence on an upswing. But adding some differences in inflection and tone to your voice will capture, and keep, their attention.
You may not even realize you do this one. But I bet you do. Once we get speaking and chatting (or worse, lecturing!) we sometimes suddenly notice the sound of our own voice. And often, we don’t like it. So we try to improve how it sounds by clearing our throats.
Resist that urge! When we clear our throats we often sound unsure or even like we are trying to hide something. If your throat is sounding gravelly or hoarse and you absolutely must clear it, then go for it. But if you’re just clearing your throat as a nervous tic, knock it off!
And finally, one of the best and simplest ways to get your wits about you and help your projection is to take a few deep breaths before you begin. You don’t need to be weird about it and suck loud breaths in a way that everyone notices.
Just, before you pick up the phone to talk to that important client or before you walk up to the podium to deliver that speech, take 2-3 deep breaths. It will naturally calm your nerves and clear your head. You’ll begin your conversation with a more centered, relaxed frame of mind.
Who’s the best public speaker you know? How’s your own professional speech? Do you find it easier to be silver-tongued at the right moments or do you find yourself tripping the tongue when you have to speak professionally?
Any tips, tricks for the rest of our readers? Any embarrassing stories you’d love to share? (We all love to know we’re not alone!) Share your comments, please.
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