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Breaking Bad Habits to Improve Public Speaking

We recently returned from conducting a couple days of Media Interview Skills Training on the West Coast for one of our aerospace clients and wanted to share some insights that were discussed.

One thing we've noticed during the past couple years is a tendency particularly among younger women to inflect up at the end of their sentences. They say powerful things but end them on the upswing. It makes every sentence sound like a question. It saps them of credibility and authority, making them appear eternally uncertain. 

I love meaningful voice inflection. As a young broadcaster, I loved watching Bill Kurtis on the local CBS affiliate in Chicago. He was a master of using pacing and inflection to build drama and pull a viewer into a story. But if your inflection goes up? At the end of every phrase? It makes you sound weak?

A good way to determine if you have fallen into this terrible habit is to record some of your conversations. Most smart phones have a voice record feature. Just record yourself and listen back.

If you record yourself you may discover another common and harmful habit: audible pauses. That's our fancy term for ums, uhs, likes and you knows. Audible pauses are basically the result of your brain being most at ease when your mouth is making noises -- even if they are meaningless sounds. Silence freaks your brain out! So it fills every little bit of air with sound. 

All of us do it a little bit -- nobody is perfect. But if it happens too much you can sound inarticulate and unprepared. That's putting as positive a spin on it as I can. To be real, it can make you look stupid or vapid, as is the case in the following video.

How do you address it?

The most important step is to begin self-identifying that you are using these audible crutches. Only then can you begin to break down the bad habit and replace the ums with silence. That's really all there is to it. Silence can be your friend. It can make you look thoughtful and make your words seem that much more important and considered. 

Give it a try -- record a conversation or presentation and let us know what you find. Are you speaking strongly and confidently or does your voice inflect upward at the end? You want to speak in strong, declarative statements that don't leave any room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation. Further, is your speaking free of meaningless noise or do you use verbal crutches? You will want to replace any meaningless sounds with silence.

These two small tweaks can greatly increase your credibility in the eyes of your audience and, in the process, increase your confidence. 

Good luck!

Daniel Keeney
(214) 432-7556
Author: Daniel Keeney
Phone: (214) 432-7556
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