Citizen of the World Guides
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chapter 2
your voice and language

The second important element comprising your physical presence and the impression you create with people is your voice and the language you use. You want individuals to listen to what you have to say, to take you seriously and to respond to your voice in a positive manner.
The key dimensions to one’s voice and language are:
  • The tone you use. In most cases, your tone should be friendly, positive, confident and firm as opposed to soft and tentative. You also need to put some of your personality and feelings into the tone of your voice.
  • The extent to which you speak relatively loudly versus softly. While this depends on whom you are speaking to, generally most people do not speak loudly enough, particularly in business meetings. When you speak in a low voice, you run the risk of being ignored or getting a weak response to what you’re saying.
  • The tempo with which you are speaking. If you speak too slowly, there is a tendency for you to lose the attention of your audience or listeners. If you speak too quickly, people will have difficulty following what you are saying.
  • The enunciation of your words. Obviously, the more clearly you pronounce your words, the better, providing you speak in sentences as opposed to emphasizing each word in a forced manner. If you are uncertain about the proper pronunciation or meaning of a word, consult a dictionary. Everyone should have one available to refer to at work or home. Alternatively, use an online dictionary. Even well-educated individuals have to look up the correct meaning or pronunciation of certain words from time to time.
  • The grammatical correctness of your language. Save your use of slang for when you are with good friends. This does not just apply to your written communications. Try to avoid using incorrect grammar when you speak. For example, only use “I” as the subject of a sentence or phrase and “me” as the object of a sentence or following a preposition (which are words such as “between”, “for”, “of” and “with”). Don’t say, “Me and John are going out” or “This is between John and I.” Say, “John and I are going out” and “This is between John and me.”
  • The practice of putting a smile into your voice, including when you are using the phone. No one listens well to a grouch. Try to communicate in a friendly, positive manner as much as possible. It just gets you better results.
  • The expressiveness of your language. When you speak, you are projecting your personality, whether it is in person or on the phone. You want to come across as an expressive, positive and unique individual. So, put some of yourself into your language. Develop your own special phrases and expressions (One of my favorites is, “He’s not your average giraffe.”). Improve your vocabulary by regularly reading newspapers, magazines and books.
  • The cadence of your speech and sentences. What you say should have a natural rhythm to it. As you finish making a statement or answering a question, the tone of your words should have a slightly downward modulation.
  • Avoid ending your sentences with an upward intonation or lilt, which makes you sound tentative and unsure of yourself. This practice, known as “upspeak”, also often makes what you are saying sound as if you are asking a question when you do not mean to do so. Upspeak is much more common with women than men.
Other important elements of being an effective verbal communicator are:
  • The need to project a positive image. Do not apologize unnecessarily, such as saying, “I’m sorry to bother you.” Only say, “I’m sorry”, when there’s a real reason for you to do so. Women in particular are prone to apologizing too frequently.
  • The posture you assume when you speak. This applies to when you are both standing and sitting, as well as when you are using the phone. If you are slouching in your chair, this will affect your tone of voice even on the phone.
  • The timing of when you choose to speak, especially in groups or meetings. Pay attention to the rhythm and tenor of the discussion. Try to pick the most appropriate time to make your points heard.
  • The need to think and collect your thoughts before you speak. Usually, it is advantageous to lead by expressing your main point first when you have the full attention of the person or group you are addressing.
  • The extent to which you use positive, unambiguous language as opposed to weak and “wimpy” words, such as “kind of”, “sort of” and “anyways”. Also, use the word “yes” not “yeah”.
  • The way you begin what you say. Some people automatically weaken what they have to say by using unnecessary introductory phrases such as “To tell you the truth, … ” or “Let me be honest with you, … ” One could interpret this as saying, “Normally, I don’t tell you the truth” or “I am usually dishonest with you.” The same applies to “Frankly, … ” Avoid starting out by saying something that weakens what you want to say. In particular, banish “umm” from your vocabulary.
  • The extent to which what you say reflects the authentic real you as opposed to trying to sound like someone else in a pretentious or unnatural manner. People can spot a phony from a mile away. If you are an American, do not try to speak with a British accent. Just be yourself.
  • The need to refrain from using words that the person you are speaking to could interpret as being demeaning in any way, especially from an ethnic or cultural standpoint. You want people to hear what you have to say without impulsively reacting negatively. Do not use language that runs the risk of being offensive to your listeners. Talk to people, not down to them. Avoid attacking someone personally, such as calling a person “stupid” or a “dummy”. Focus on the action, not the person. There is no excuse for rudeness. Ever.
Not everyone can have a rich, deep sounding voice. Some people’s voices are squeaky or high-pitched, others are boringly monotone or too nasal. The way you breathe or use your mouth, nose and throat to speak can cause problems in how your voice sounds. If you are not happy with your natural voice, ask someone you trust for suggestions on how you can improve the way you speak.


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