The commencement speaker approaches the microphone a few minutes later than promised. He clears his throat and tugs at his tie. He keeps his eyes fixed on the print-out of his speech as he mutters an “um” in between monotonous phrases. Though he finishes his speech, which was well written, he leaves the crowd unconvinced, uninspired, and slightly asleep.
Communication is the force that carries you through interviews, class discussions, and all other introductions. As we’ve heard from Michelle Obama, and now Melania Trump, “Your word is your bond.” It is what you put out to the world and how others begin to understand who you are as a person. It has the power to fix something or botch it completely, so aim to express yourself successfully.
Using your voice to achieve your goals is often easier said than done. It’s always daunting to have a conversation that determines whether or not you get a job or into a college. For some, there are additional challenges, like second languages, social anxiety, or speech disorders. Whatever the obstacles, follow these tips to use your voice to climb to success.
Be mindful of how you speak to yourself.
The majority of your conversations happen internally. You talk to yourself more than you talk to anyone else, so be careful what you say. Treat yourself the way you want others to treat you. If you don’t want others telling you that you look silly or your shirt is stupid, don’t tell yourself that. Counteract each negative thought by challenging it with a positive one. Each time you think something bad about yourself, follow it with something good. Those thousands of conversations in your head should be your cheering squad. They should give you the confidence you need to participate in the world around you. The world is hard enough. Be kind to yourself.
Watch how you speak about yourself.
Standing face-to-face with a professional who is testing your knowledge in a subject is intimidating. If he or she corrects you, don’t discredit yourself and don’t make excuses. Use this as an opportunity to learn. Being open to criticism is vital; it helps you grow, so there is no need to beat yourself up about something awkward you said or did. Speaking poorly about yourself is destructive, and it tarnishes your reputation with yourself and the listener.
Speak with integrity.
“Be impeccable with your word,” wrote don Miguel Ruiz in his book The Four Agreements, “Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”
Your word sculpts your behavior and illustrates your world. Dishonesty and negativity are red flags for listeners. If your words are not true or harmful, they are toxic, which means that people put themselves in harm’s way by participating in a conversation with you. How would you feel if a friend lied to you or gossiped to you about another person? Is listening to that dishonesty and negativity a wise use of your time? Won’t it hurt you when you realize that the speaker has been deceitful? Of course. Lies and gossip are bad habits that should be broken. Be aware of how you use your words, and use them for truth and positivity. Be impeccable with them.
Avoid speech disfluency.
Speech disfluency is when there are breaks in a person’s speech. We often recognize these as sounds, like “uh” or “um,” but they can also be words, such as “like,” “so,” or “okay.” Disfluency in speech can diminish your credibility. It distracts listeners from what you are trying to say and weakens your message. So, how can you cut it out?
- Take a deep breath, reset your mind, and relax. Most often, speech disfluencies sneak in during nerve-racking situations.
- Ask a friend, public speaking coach, or professor to listen for the habits that distract from your message.
- Record yourself and find those troubling ticks yourself. Most smartphones have voice memos that can be used for recordings.
- Work with a speech pathologist.
These tricks will reduce your “um”s and “like”s, but completely squashing those fillers will take time. The first step (and the biggest step) is awareness. If you’re already there, kudos to you.
Convey your passion.
Speak with enthusiasm! Any presentation, whether it be storytelling with friends or selling your skills to a potential employer, is at a loss if it is not fueled by the heart. When you have told a story time and time again, you might be so familiar with it that you feel comfortable in your knowledge. Don’t get lazy. Illustrate your words with confidence and excitement to create an emotional engagement between your listeners and yourself.
A speech doesn’t need to be running at superspeed to sound passionate, though. Take your time to articulate each sentence, and consciously avoid speech disfluency, discreditation, and negative habits. Speaking quickly does not correlate with engagement. In fact, you often lose listeners by giving them the idea that you’re nervous or rushing to get it over with. Vocalize your passion with your whole body. Speak with your mind, eyes, hands, and posture. Stand tall. You have something important to say, and the world is listening.