We all have our little vocal style that makes us unique. How often have you heard someone make a remark about how interesting it is the way you phrase things? We learn the way we speak from our parents and our mentors growing up. So if you ever listened to yourself speak, you would recognise the expressions you learned from your childhood.
Your vocal style is what marks you as a distinctive individual. But when you stand up in front of a crowd, that distinctive way you speak becomes the centre of attention for the length of your talk. For the most part, that is what makes your presentation style enjoyable to your listeners. But sometimes how you speak can become a distraction. If you have some distinctive “quirks” that begin to dominate how you speak when you are in front of a group, that can be a big distraction to the people who are trying to enjoy your presentation.
There are some very noticeable verbal quirks that if they are affecting your ability to communicate as a speaker, they deserve attention so you can root them out of how you talk in front of people. The one that is most notable is the dreaded “um”. You no doubt have cringed listening to a speaker have to fall back on “um” during a talk. It is one of the biggest clues that the speaker is nervous, insecure or inexperienced. If you evaluate why a speaker uses “um”, it is usually one of a few things. It could be because he or she got lost in the notes of the presentation. “Um” is usually inserted to buy time because the speaker is nervous about a pause of silence.
But “Um” is not the only quirk of public speaking that can become an annoyance to a crowd. Another place holder phrase that sneaks in often is “you know”, or “like”. Occasionally you even hear professional public speakers use this one and it is almost as mindless as “um”. Sometimes certain phrases become catchy for a while and if they begin to “infect” how you speak, they will become notable to your audiences but maybe not even to you. The one that seems to be making the rounds lately is “at the end of the day” which is a fine phrase, if you only use it once. But you notice when speakers use it in speaking publicly, they use it many times.
The real problem with vocal quirks is you may not know yourself that you are using them. You are so focused on your topic and your presentation that they sneak in and become a crutch for you as you speak and before you know it, they are a habit that is hard to break. But there are some things you can do to send the habit of falling back on vocal crutches packing out so your presentation is clean of them and easier to take by your audiences.
One way to pinpoint focus quirks is to record your presentation and listen to it later. Now a lot of us don’t like the sound of our own voices so that is sometimes unappealing. But be brave because if you can identify any vocal quirks you might have, you have a good potential for rooting them out of your speaking patterns. Another outstanding method of just identifying which vocal habits you may use too much is to ask your friends, spouse or even your children to listen to you as you speak publicly to help locate any vocal crutches you might be using. The people who you are close with are willing to be brutally honest with you so you can become a better public speaker.
Once you know what vocal quirks plague your presentation style, make a conscious effort to get them out of how you talk. Many times we fall back on vocal quirks when we are not confident in our material. The answer for that is obvious. Practice. Know your presentation well and you will be more confident in front of people and that will help you smooth out the way you speak publicly. And by making an effort to take out irritating vocal quirks from how you speak, you are assuring those quirks are not distracting your listeners from your message. And then you will be more successful anytime you get up in front of a group of people to speak.