Three Vocal Patterns to Know (and Possibly Sidestep) in 2018

We’ve seen a big (and delightful) push in 2017 to encourage more success among business presenters. Toastmaster’s announced this year more than half of our Fortune 500 companies (including Google) have created in-house Toastmaster clubs. In the same spirit, this blog outlines three vocal patterns worth understanding (and sometimes avoiding) to help hook (and retain) your already distracted audience.

Breathe Through Verbal Filler

We all insert some verbal filler when we present. But if we say ‘um,’ ‘uh,’ or, ‘like’ too often, we start sounding insecure and unprepared. To avoid filler, I recommend:

  • Rehearsing as many times as possible before hand. (Yes, this step takes time; however, any effort pays dividends when you can present more confidently and fluidly.)
  • Creating (and briefly consulting) a cheat sheet with a few bullets outlining the key things you want to say. Often, we insert filler when we can’t recall our next idea.
  • Breathing through the tendency. When you feel filler surfacing, take a moment. Pause. Then, continue.
  • Keeping the presentation short. If you struggle with filler, less becomes more. See this blog for tips on short (but punchy) presentations.

Use Upspeak Strategically (and Not Too Liberally)

Upspeak or upward intonation describes the tendency to end your declarative sentences on an up note. This pattern works perfectly fine when you live somewhere where everyone upspeaks (such as California, New Zealand, or Australia.) But elsewhere, business audiences tend to think this pattern sounds insecure. When presenters ask me how to stop upspeak, the following tips resonate:

  • Know the tendency exists.
  • Understand not all upspeak sounds insecure. Upspeak signals to our audience we have more to say, for instance, we’re mid-list, or mid-description. Also, some speakers ask an audience to affirm something on an up note. (For example, You’re following me, yes? The speaker says ‘yes’ on an up note.) In these instances, the speaker feels (and acts) authoritative, not at all doubtful. Note too: Some audiences find this pattern of requesting affirmation on an up note annoying and condescending.
  • Remember as you approach the end of your sentences to downward inflect.
  • Practice announcing your name and title without upspeak. In any presentation, across all cultures, we sound insecure if we introduce ourselves using upspeak.
  • Watch broadcasters you admire. Most TV news broadcasters, for instance, downward inflect at the end of their statements.  Emulate that approach.

Understand When to Fry

Vocal fry (also known as vocal glottarization or creaky voice) describes when we speak using the lowest register in our voice. Speakers tend to use the pattern when wanting to sound authoritative or to emphasize an idea. Radio personalities increasingly use vocal fry as a way to sound more casual and to connect with their audiences. My take on fry follows:

  • Use as you wish, but know that older audiences tend to find vocal fry off-putting. Some find the person using the pattern as disinterested or unambitious. If you’re presenting to an older audience and use fry for style reasons, hold off in this environment.  This study from Duke University reveals how those in professional settings may view vocal fry.
  • Understand that men and women use vocal fry patterns equally, in spite of prolific media reports on women using vocal fry. This compelling NPR piece describes the risky business of audiences policing the voices of younger women.
  • Understand that some vocal fryers use fry for health reasons, not as an intended presenting/speaking style. Said differently, if you find vocal fry annoying, don’t always assume the speaker intentionally uses this pattern. They may suffer from a cold, for instance, or have other health conditions.

More blogs on business speaking live here. 


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