by Suzanne LaGrande, Playful Evolutions
Have you ever thought about how much tone of voice and manner of speech factors into the way you interpret someone’s words?
It’s true: as humans, we listen to how people say something, and use a combination of inflections and words to determine what they actually mean.
It’s not just what you say, it’s also how you say it!
Therefore, in order to be a successful speaker, it’s important to be aware of a few key ideas. Most simply: to speak with authority, you need to use your voice to signal to others that you know what you are talking about.
In teaching public speaking at universities in the U.S. and abroad for more than 20 years, I’ve noticed some common vocal habits that lower a speaker’s credibility and undermine a speaker’s authority.
We make make assumptions about someone’s personality based on volume. If the audience has to strain to hear what a speaker is saying, they often assume that the speaker is shy or lacks confidence. This assumption, true or not, affects the speaker’s credibility. Being too quiet overall, or dropping one’s volume at the end of sentences, signals to the audience that the speaker isn’t fully committed to what she is saying. If the speaker isn’t willing to speak up, how seriously should we take what she has to say?
Often when a speaker gets nervous, she speeds up. Sometimes the speaker speeds up because she realizes halfway through the speech that she is running out of time, and wants to make sure to cram in everything she’d planned to say. But this makes it more difficult for the audience to absorb what the speaker is saying! Audiences need time to take in what is being said. When a speaker speeds up, she disconnects from the audience. Suddenly, it’s no longer about communication or making a connection — instead, the audience is paying attention to her nerves. If we don’t trust that the speaker cares about actually communicating with us, why should we care about what she is saying?
Usually, when we make a statement, we slightly lower the pitch of our voice at the end of the sentence. This is the verbal equivalent of a period. Conversely, when we ask a question, we raise our pitch slightly — the verbal equivalent of a question mark. Some speakers have the habit of raising their voice at the end of every sentence. The effect is that speakers are constantly leading the audience to question whether the speaker knows what she is talking about, because it sounds like the speaker herself is constantly questioning what she is asserting to be true! To speak with authority, you need to sound like you believe and are committed to what you are saying.
“I don’t know how to say this word…” the speaker announces, and then proceeds to mispronounce it.
“I don’t know if you can read this, but…” the speaker then reads from a slide only she can see.
The speaker calls attention to her lack of competence, and thinks that by apologizing in the moment, the audience will excuse her — and the audience often does. However, overall, this undermines her authority, and the audience’s trust. To speak with conviction, demonstrate your competence rather than making excuses for your incompetence.
Some speakers have the habit of ending sentences with tag questions that constantly ask for audience approval: “You know what I mean?” “Does that make sense?” or “You know?” It’s fine to ask these questions once in awhile to invite audience engagement. But if done too much, the speaker is effectively seeking constant verbal approval from her audience. This puts the audience in the position of care-taking, which undermines the speaker’s authority; she appears to have a fragile ego, which doesn’t allow people in the audience to not understand or to disagree. You need to be secure enough to give your audience the space to consider what you are saying, without feeling obligated to agree with you.
These are a few derailing verbal habits that I have noticed. What do you see or hear speakers doing that you think undermines their authority?
Suzanne LaGrande, Playful Evolutions
Suzanne is a communications consultant, cosmic clutter-clearer, and cat caterer. As a professor of communications who has taught public speaking at the college level for more than 20 years, she helps clients craft captivating stories and compelling presentations to fully own who they are and what they are here to do.
As an intuitive channel and energy healer, Suzanne helps clients clear the emotional and energetic blocks that may be keeping them from fully claiming their power and magnificence. She is also a cat lover who is more than happy to cater to and feed furry felines while clients are away through her other business, The Cat Caterer.