Speaking

A great many people are afraid of public speaking. Others thrive on it. Being effective at public speaking requires several different skills and attributes. When I say “public speaking” I am referring to more that just standing in front of an audience to deliver a speech. I am also referring to any conversation or monologue that is intended or expected to be heard by strangers or acquaintances other than your close fiends and family. Job interviews or YouTube uploads, for example.

Obviously the content of what you say is important, but so is the way you say it. Use of proper grammar and pronunciation leaves a positive impression, and, more importantly, makes your message much easier to understand. Conversely for bad grammar and mispronunciation. It is also important to avoid that bugaboo of so many people who speak extemporaneously in public, such as TV reporters or courtroom lawyers: the superfluous filler. You know, like “you know” and “like.” (Yes, that’s intentional :-D). If you watch Washington Week in Review, for example, an unscripted news discussion show on PBS, you will hear print journalists who write beautifully, usually first-timers on the show, fill their speech with “You knows” and “I means,” sounding like illiterate teenagers on a first date. Teens and now even twenty- and thirty-somethings are the main offenders of putting “like” into every sentence. They might say, “She was like so mean and I was like shocked at, like, how no one said anything.” People do this without even being aware of it. Having spent many hours in legal proceedings, I often saw transcripts of my own speech. I was pleased to see that I used full, grammatical sentences free of these distracting mannerisms. Perhaps that’s why I was quite successful in litigation. If you’re not sure whether you do it, record one of your presentations and then play it back later. You may be surprised at how you sound; it could be the audio equivalent of your driver’s license photo.

Other factors that do not always get the attention of commentators in this area is the quality of the voice itself, such as the pitch and the accent. To some extent you are stuck with what voice genes you were born with and where you were born, but it is possible to improve the sound of your voice and lose a regional accent with practice. I’ve had many dear friends from the South over the years, but I confess that I find a southern accent very irritating to hear. Men have a natural advantage in the area of pitch, since lower voices are generally more pleasant to listen to. Women can often sound squeaky or nasal, with a bit of a “quack” sound to their voice. Speaking in an even, moderate pace and at an even volume also helps a great deal in making your speech more appealing. Someone who is excellent in these factors is NBC’s Ann Curry. I happen to think she is one of the worst interviewers on TV and not very bright, but she has a wonderful low-pitched, clear voice and even speaking pace. Another broadcaster I recently listened to impressed me in this regard, as well. Listen to Salini at this podcast: Healing the Soul and see if you don’t agree. Whether or not you find the content to your liking, she speaks in full grammatical sentences in an even, pleasant voice. If you’re a public speaker, you could do well emulating her style.

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