It's The Way You Say It

It's The Way You Say It

by Carol A. Fleming Ph.D.

Paperback

$17.95

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781450215169
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 07/06/2010
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 0.48(w) x 6.00(h) x 9.00(d)

First Chapter

IT'S THE WAY YOU SAY IT

Becoming Articulate, Well-Spoken, and Clear
By Carol A. Fleming

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 Carol A. Fleming, Ph.D.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4502-1516-9


Chapter One

Part 1: Assessing Your Voice

If you ask people how they want their speech and voice to be described, they will probably say articulate, resonant, knowledgeable, clear, persuasive, and confident. These are the characteristics of speakers you admire, and you want to be in that club because you know how very much it matters. As one of my clients said, "Every time you open your mouth, you put your business in the street" (i.e., you put your reputation on the line).

I will tell you a secret: People are not good judges of their own speaking characteristics. They are aware that there's something about the way they talk that is a problem for them and they make guesses about the specifics. Here's what many clients say when they first come to see me:

My voice is too high (too gravelly, too nasal, too ...). I mumble/swallow my words, and I don't speak distinctly. I am very uncomfortable with small talk, public speaking, and interaction with any authority figures. My speech is too soft, and people are always telling me to speak up. I sound like a child. My voice is too feminine for a man. I'm terrified! I have to make a speech (deliver a eulogy, toast at a wedding, etc.). I have an accent, and people keep asking me to repeat myself (or people in the workplace seem to discriminate against me because of the way I speak).

In my experience, I've found that most people find it difficult to find the right words to describe their communication concerns. Ironic, isn't it?

In this part of the book, you'll be assessing your own voice. The first step to improving is figuring out what specifically you'd like to improve so you can address the issue directly.

What Is a "Problem"?

A problem is some aspect of your speaking that calls attention to itself or causes you or others to be distracted from your message. Many of the following chapters will describe features of speaking that frequently cause problems. You will be told repeatedly to record and listen to yourself for the simple reason that you do not know how you sound; you only know what you intend. Trust me on this. Throughout this book you will find examples of persons who are shocked when they first heard their recorded speech, those who absolutely do not recognize the recorded voice as their own, and even people who cannot understand their own speech when listening to a previously recorded passage.

We have a unique internal relationship with our speaking that is nothing like the waves of sound that other people hear as our voice. We hear our own voices right inside our heads, and this makes an enormous difference in the sound we perceive. Also, our brains are so involved in the formulation of meaning and language that we simply do not have the cognitive bandwidth to pay attention to how we sound.

Speaking concerns usually have two components: (1) aspects that represent linguistic learning, habits of speaking, and expression, and are amenable to change through specific identification and practice of new patterns, and (2) psychological aspects (tensions, anxieties, etc.) that can either cause or be the result of the speech pattern in question.

Let me illustrate this situation with Andrew's speech problem. Andrew, a man in his midtwenties, knew there was something wrong with the way that he said the /S/ sound. When he was in high school, others kids would tease and imitate him, making a funny slushy sound for the /S/. (I shee you're shitting on the sheet!) Oh, how very funny this was. And how humiliating to Andrew! You are probably asking where the school's speech therapist was. Apparently his problem was considered "too minor" for these overworked people.

He was currently a backroom employee in a financial institution, but he really wanted a promotion and an increase in his salary. The position available to him would require face-to-face customer contact and some management communications. You can be sure that Andrew had avoided any public speaking situation up to this point. He decided to give it one last try and he found me.

When I tell you how easy it was to correct his /S/ problem you will just shake your head in wonderment. Probably in response to a dental problem in the front of his mouth in childhood, Andrew had learned to produce an /S/ sound through the side, by his incisor teeth (a lateral lisp). Normally, the /S/ is made right behind your two front teeth with the tongue forming a narrow channel to shoot the air right behind the dental surface. His lateral lisp became habituated, and he used it for the following twenty years. It started as a physical problem to which he adapted through learning, which had huge psychological consequences for his expressive confidence, which in turn had a major impact on his career path.

In one session, I was able to show him how to produce a correct /S/. Of course, it felt totally foreign to him and required much practice, reassurance, and monitoring on the tape recorder to make him comfortable with the new articulation. Then we had to go through practice situations of increasing speed and complexity to get the new habit secure. Andrew was highly motivated and willing to do the focused practice to internalize the new /S/. Four sessions later, our last, he entered my office, sat down, and announced with a great twinkling of his eyes, "I am sssitting on the ssseat!" We enjoyed a great shared laugh, and it was a sweet moment. Andrew got more than just a good /S/. He got the confidence to speak in front of people and to reach out for the promotion.

You can see how emotions and habits are equally involved in the communication process, and both must be addressed to go forward.

Hearing Yourself as Others Hear You

At the beginning of the university speech and voice courses I taught, I would routinely tape-record each of my twenty students saying the Pledge of Allegiance in random order. This is a passage that everyone could recite without reading it. They were not to identify themselves during the recording. I would then play the recording several days later, asking the students to raise their hand when they thought they heard their own voice. Few could actually identify the sound of their own voice! We rarely get the opportunity to hear our speaking in the context of other voices when we do not know for sure that it is our voice. There is much to be learned from this exercise!

If you are really interested in finding out how you sound when you talk to people, you need to hear your own voice. This means recording your speech (step one) and actually listening to it (step two). Many people neglect step two due to tremendous reluctance. I think that there is a profound emotional shock when you are listening to yourself. You are using that great auditory analyzing ability you've been developing all your life and turning it on yourself. Switching from internal to external listening can be quite a disconcerting and shocking as you realize that your version of your voice is radically different from the one everyone else is hearing.

The sound of our voice emanates from the interior of our bodies, and so it represents our unique internal dimensions. What could be more personal? By just listening to a snippet of a voice you can usually tell if the speaker is a child, a woman, or a man. The way you shape your vowels, the timing of your speech sounds and their completeness, how you shift the melody of your voice, and even how you shape the beginning and end of your syllables are personal characteristics.

Rachel, a job seeker, wanted to change her Southern accent. As far as I was concerned, her accent was soft and pleasant and presented no problems. I recorded our conversation, played it back, and asked her to point out exactly what was objectionable to her. She immediately cried out, "Shut it off! I hate that! It's just a redneck hillbilly!" That is exactly what she heard in her voice, the sound of uneducated people who lived in simple poverty. She assumed that the rest of us could picture her background as easily as she could just by hearing the sound of her voice. And she insisted that we find something to change. So we did. I identified certain diphthongs (vowel sounds that involve the gliding from one position to another, as in the word "I" [ah-ee]). This gliding did not occur when she used this word, so this was new knowledge for her. She loved it! She'd waltz into my office proclaiming, "I like to fly kites!" gliding through the changes in the vowel like a pro. This was enough for Rachel to feel that she had done something about her accent problem. And she had.

You may not be able to change your parents and family home, but there are many things you can do to develop a better, more satisfying speech and voice. There are many people around you who have done it. Some people turn the recording machine off so fast that they never get to hear that they are a lot better than they think they are. This would be a really good thing to know.

In order to work on your communication, you'll need to listen to a recording of yourself. If you don't already have a recorder, spend some time at the counter of your favorite electronic store and get something decent. The better the recording quality, the more accurately you'll be able to hear how you sound to others. I have had much better success with tape recorders than with digital devices in capturing the acoustic spectrum of speech sounds and voice. You don't have to spend over a hundred dollars for a suitable tape recorder.

Next, record yourself in natural but professional conversation. If possible, record your end of the conversation while you're speaking to a client, colleague, or supervisor on the phone. Ideally, you'll be able to record for at least ten minutes. Why so long? Because the twists and turns of our verbal communication are various and complex. There is much to be considered:

You may be speaking clearly and deliberately for one minute and then swoop into a high-speed mumble as you get excited. You may find that you slip and call someone "honey" when it is inappropriate, or you use other inappropriate language. You could hear that the way you laugh is quite loud and explosive. If you tend to interrupt people, you could catch it on this tape. Your voice may have a nice melody that you lose when you get into some prepared language, as in a sales presentation.

You can record a conversation with a friend if necessary, though your vocabulary and other elements of your speech will adjust to this less professional situation and give you a slightly different sample of your speaking. But you do want other people involved.

If you read something out loud, you will not sound the same as when you naturally talk, and if you just try to talk to a recording machine in an otherwise empty room, you will not be using the same speech styling and voice that you do with people. You want to hear your normal, natural speaking voice. Speaking is a social act that comes into being through interaction.

You'll be using this recording in the next chapter to assess your communication on a wide range of characteristics. Remember, it's ultimately up to you to decide which unique vocal traits you will accept and which you'd like to adjust for social and professional reasons. There's no one way to sound, but there is a range of norms that tend to be more acceptable.

Completing a Vocal Self-Evaluation

Are you one of the dedicated people who have actually made a recording? Congratulations! You've now done something that many people never bring themselves to do, something positive that will really help you change the sound of your voice. Using this recording, you can complete a self-evaluation that will determine what chapters you'll be focusing on throughout the book. It's best to wait a few hours between making the recording and listening for this self-evaluation, as time will offer you more distance and objectivity. You may need to listen to the recording several times, as you can really only listen for one or two vocal elements at a time. I know how uncomfortable this is for many people. It is simply not something that you ordinarily do. It is something you expressly avoid doing, am I right? I offer the following words of Seneca (Roman philosopher) to encourage you:

It's not because things are difficult that we don't dare. It's because we don't dare that things are difficult.

Try to take an investigative approach toward the recording to determine what you'd like to improve. Many people are way too critical of their speaking and seek out an abundance of imagined flaws. Ask yourself if you would be that critical if you were listening to the speech of another person.

Your Checklist

Check no more than three of the issues you noticed while listening (or that people have regularly told you are a problem for you). You'll use this information, along with the evaluations from others, to help determine where you really need to focus your efforts:

_______ My vocabulary could be more professional.

_______ I use too many fillers (um, like, you know, etc.).

_______ I talk too much.

_______ I talk too little.

_______ My voice is too loud.

_______ My voice is too soft.

_______ My accent is difficult to understand.

_______ I speak too fast.

_______ I speak too slowly.

_______ My voice is too high.

_______ My voice is too low.

_______ I don't articulate words clearly.

_______ My voice is raspy/creaky.

_______ My voice is monotone.

_______ My voice is too effusive (pitch changes too much).

_______ My voice seems young/immature.

_______ My voice is challenging to listen to.

_______ My speaking is staccato (syllables are punchy, choppy).

_______ My tone of voice seems too flirty for a professional environment.

_______ My voice starts out strong but fades at the end of sentences.

_______ My sentences end with a questioning tone, even when making a statement.

_______ I don't sound confident while speaking.

_______ I struggle to get the point across succinctly; I ramble.

Many of us find that it's difficult to evaluate ourselves with confidence and we turn to other people for their opinion. In the next chapter, I will give you a similar evaluation form to give to others for this feedback. This will be very helpful, but even this requires some careful thought.

Getting External Feedback on Your Communication

Getting the opinions of a few trustworthy people about your communication can greatly help you improve your skills. After all, you're trying to improve the way you come across to others, so the opinion of others should be respected. You are going to look for areas of consensus, as not everyone is equally skilled at offering accurate feedback on these matters.

Again, making yourself vulnerable to the opinion of others may be a great test of your courage. Consider another point of view: what would you think of someone who sought out your opinion of their communication skills and specifically asked for your advice? I'll tell you how you'd feel: honored, trusted, and respected. And what would your opinion of that person be? You would respect them for their courage, seriousness of purpose, and positive attitude (and secretly you would wish you had their guts!).

Offer this questionnaire to two or three different people who you like and respect, and also who you think will answer you honestly. If you can consult a colleague or a supervisor for this, it would be immensely helpful to hear how you are presenting yourself professionally from their point of view.

Note: Make it very clear that you are asking for specific feedback about your communication skills. Many people will be reluctant to comment if they fear hurting your feelings. If you are from a different culture, they may be concerned about some kind of "discrimination complaint." Use your intuition and offer such people reassurance that they will be assisting you in developing better communication skills that will really help you advance. I refer to these people as your "external ears," people in a position to give you helpful feedback.

When it comes time to practice your new skills I will also recommend the use of "neutral ears." These are people you talk to throughout the day who have no idea that you are using them for practice. They are neutral because your communication to them is less personal: Where is the nearest bus stop? How do you get to Howard Street from here? That sort of thing. Yes, you are deliberately making a conversation for purposes of practicing your speaking.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from IT'S THE WAY YOU SAY IT by Carol A. Fleming Copyright © 2010 by Carol A. Fleming, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Introduction....................vii
Part 1: Assessing Your Voice....................1
Hearing Yourself as Others Hear You....................4
Completing a Vocal Self-Evaluation....................7
Getting External Feedback on Your Communication....................9
Communication Evaluation....................11
Part 2: Resolving Specific Problems....................13
Fast Talkers....................16
Loud Talkers....................21
Soft Talkers....................23
Raspy Talkers....................29
High Talkers....................37
Indecisive Talkers....................43
Staccato Talkers....................47
Breathy Talkers....................50
Fading Talkers....................53
Part 3: Developing a Dynamic Voice....................59
Expressing Vocal Variety....................64
Getting Emphatic....................68
Developing the Resonant Voice....................74
Getting It Pitch Perfect....................81
Part 4: Becoming Well-Spoken....................87
Using the Simple Declarative Sentence....................89
Words Fail Me!....................92
Speaking Your Mind Effectively....................98
Offering a Gracious Response....................102
I Wanna Be Articulate!....................108
Part 5: Unifying Your Verbal and Nonverbal Messages....................119
Carrying Yourself with Confidence....................122
How You Look When You Talk....................126
Making Eye Contact....................129
Showing Your Interest....................131
Becoming Approachable....................133
Short Person, Big Message....................136
Part 6: Let's Talk Business!....................141
Making an Impressive Self-Introduction....................144
The Intelligent Interview....................147
Leave Me Voice Mail, and Let Me Tell You How....................150
Getting Your Point Across....................153
Smooth Small Talk....................160
Speaking in Front of People....................172
You Plus PowerPoint....................183
It Is the Way You Say It!....................190
Citations....................195
A Note about the Author's Other Publications....................197

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