For established executives or young professionals looking to climb the corporate ladder, what you say may not be as important as how you say it.
Anyone with public speaking experience knows this first hand; you can have the most interesting things to say, but if you speak too fast/slow, too loud/soft, or just don’t have the right energy and tone, people will stop listening.
And it’s not limited to public speaking; how you interact with your boss, peers, partners, clients, or prospective clients influences your credibility, negotiation power, or overall effectiveness in job interviews.
In a recent online class, Sharlene Vichness, President of of Language Directions LLC, explored 5 core elements of speech that contribute to your executive presence:
The thing to remember about volume is you need to adjust for the room. Think back to your days as a student in a lecture hall – if you didn’t sit within the first 5 rows, you probably couldn’t hear your professor. By properly addressing the room, you can keep everyone engaged and attentive. One should, however, pay attention to ‘breathiness’, or the amount of air you put behind your words (think of someone trying to speak after running up a flight of stairs). Vichness warns that speaking with too much breathiness will: “project you as out of control, anxious, and insecure.” Use enough volume to show confidence, but not so much that you are shouting and come off as arrogant or angry.
The tone of your voice has a big impact on your executive presence. The habit of “up-speaking,” as Vichness names it, involves raising the pitch of your voice at the end of each sentence. Normally, one would raise their pitch to imply a question. However, many people will end statements with the same tonality. “Clients, interviewers, and supervisors expect you to sound like an expert. When you ask everything like a question, it doesn’t show you’re confident.” said Vichness.
Also read: Creating Productive Meeting Presence
Nervous Laughter and Fillers
Many of us are guilty of fillers; the “uhms” between thoughts, nervous laughter after a sentence, or overuse/misuse of the word ‘like’. These fillers make you seem unsure and hesitant of what you are saying. The problem with fillers and nervous laughter is that people use them without noticing – like breathing. To remove them from your vocal style, ask a friend to notify you every time you use the word “like” to fill a gap, or end a statement with nervous laughter. You’ll become more aware of the pattern and will be constantly reminded to avoid using the filler.
Of course your energy dictates your executive presence! Your audience will pick up on your energy level and either be motivated or disengaged as a result. If you are excited about what you are discussing, let it show. Make sure that your energy level is appropriate though – being upbeat and peppy doesn’t work when announcing a mass lay-off.
Find the right balance between a cheerleader and Droopy. While neither is office appropriate, there’s always an appropriate energy level that will resonate with your audience.
Accents and Regionalisms
Nobody expects you to change your accent, nor should you. It is part of who you are. What you should be concerned with is becoming unintelligible due to your pronunciation of certain words or use of slang/idioms (think of the ‘utes‘ scene from “My Cousin Vinny”). Be sure to enunciate as clearly as possible, and slow down your speech so that your words don’t slur together.
If you are serious about addressing your vocal presence, consider these tips:
- Record Yourself Speaking and Listen Back. Determine where you can improve, what you might be guilty of, and what you like about your vocal style.
- Be Aware of What You Say and How You Say It. Start each day, meeting, client call, etc, by reminding yourself to focus on the speech patterns you want to address.
- Get Feedback. Ask a close friend or trusted colleague to pay attention to your mannerisms and speech style. Request feedback on what you’ve already identified as areas for improvement. Ask if they notice something you hadn’t previously noticed about your communication style, then add it to your list of things to work on.