Bina Feldman joined our team this year and we are thrilled to be working with her. Bina is a Speech Language Pathologist, now working as a speech coach. She delivers Communication Skills workshops and offers one-on-one training and coaching. www.BinaFeldmanConsulting.com
We usually think of etiquette as rules for polite behaviour. They come from social norms. I often ask myself, what about the etiquette for speech and language? Is it long gone or just forgotten? Am I out of step with the culture of today’s youth, the way they speak, their communication innuendos or their idiosyncratic verbal style?
Why does speech etiquette matter to me? It grates against my ear to hear speech that is littered with filler words that have no meaning and clutter the message. I hear questions when none are intended. I identify muffled speech and words that say one thing and mean something else. I call them SLEFs – Speech & Language Etiquette Faux Pas.
I know I’m not the only one who notices them. The boss, the client, the customer, the friend or family member is aware of them too. What effect do they have on the listener? I believe the listener responds negatively to these mannerisms, whether consciously or unconsciously.
So what is a Speech & Language Etiquette Faux pas? (A faux pas is a violation of accepted social norms.) A SLEF is any speech or language idiosyncrasy that diminishes your verbal style, sends mixed messages to your listener, or precludes a clear crisp message in communication. One major problem with SLEFs is that the speaker rarely hears the pattern and may become defensive when it’s pointed out.
“Well that’s just me; it’s the way I speak.” “You don’t understand. Everyone speaks this way.” “You’re making too much of it, there’s nothing wrong with the way I speak.”
It appears that people, most often young and/or female (though not always), don’t seem to care that their speech and language reflects poorly on them and diminishes their message. It detracts from a positive first impression. Like your handshake, your voice and speech are integral to your presence. Ideally the speaker uses grammatically correct language that engages the listener. SLEFs create a barrier between the speaker and the listener. The listener must wade through the SLEF to receive the message. It takes a lot of cognitive energy to listen that hard.
For business people and professionals, your verbal style will contribute to your success or undermine it. In public speaking, presentations or negotiations, this style of speaking is especially noticeable. It focuses the other person on how you speak rather than what you’re saying.
No doubt these are difficult patterns to break and yet it can be done. If you suffer from SLEFS, take heart. You can change poor speaking habits and convert them to stronger ones. It’s well worth the effort.
Here are a few SLEFs that ring in my ear:
You’ve no doubt heard it so often; you may not recognize it any longer. Most often it affects people less than 30 years of age. Upspeak or uptalk occurs when a person makes a question out of a sentence that isn’t a question. This pattern of intonation demonstrates a lack of assertiveness and authority. The speaker doesn’t inspire the confidence of the listener. The speech pattern implies that you’re seeking continual approval and affirmation.
Learning tip: Tape yourself in conversations and identify when you’re using upspeak. Repeat the same words with a downward pitch at the end of the sentence. Use more inflection mid-sentence to encourage a downward drop at the end. Speaking louder may help as well. Find a trusted friend who will send you a secret signal to speak “down” in the moment. I suggest the index finger pointing downward.
Filler Words or sounds
“Like,” “You know,” “I mean,” “Truthfully,” “Well,” “Ahh,” “Um,” or a giggle/laugh
Filler words and sounds are problematic for many speakers. Initially, they may have been adopted to give the speaker more time to formulate their message. Eventually, they become habitual even when the speaker is certain of what they will say. Most everyone uses filler words or sounds sometimes. It’s when they punctuate a high percentage of phrases and sentences and draw attention to themselves that they interfere with listener concentration. They become loud in the ear of the listener and send a negative message about the speaker. Almost always the speaker is deaf to the high frequency of the filler word or sound.
Learning tip: Tape yourself in casual conversation or on the phone. Count the number of times you hear your filler word or sound within five minutes. Practice in conversation with a trusted friend or speech coach. Try talking for 1-2 minutes without saying “that” word or sound. When you hear the SLEF, repeat the exact sentence without that word/sound. Use a pause in its place. Become more comfortable with pauses. It may sound awkward at first, but persevere through your discomfort zone and you will succeed.
Mumbling comes in all ages and stages. It’s about speaking indistinctly and quietly, making it difficult for others to hear. Mumbling usually demonstrates a lack of energy on the part of the speaker. It’s frustrating for the listener and can be seen as manipulative. We hear mumbling often in the very young or the very old. When an adult mumbles it’s especially disconcerting and considered rude. It could be a sign of under confidence, shyness or fatigue.
Mumbling most often results when the mouth opens very little during speaking. The sounds created in the mouth are confined and warbled. By speaking louder, the mouth will naturally open wider and the mumbling will reduce. There are many physical problems that result in mumbling. Provided these conditions don’t exist, the speaker must put more energy into her/his voice.
The basics of how to act in both business and social situations is what etiquette is all about. Verbal etiquette is equally as important. How well you express yourself; your fluency; tone of voice; volume; inflection; clarity of message; and grammar all contribute to a strong verbal presence. It may be a longer journey for some than for others, but it is well worth the trip.
More on presentations
- 3 Secrets to AWESOME Presentations
- 5 Tips to Creating Powerful Stories
- Pontification From The Mount
- How to Give a Winning Presentation – 6 Great Tips
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