“Speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
~The Simple Sophisticate, episode #98
More often than we realize, it is the melody of how we say the words we express that have the most powerful effect. Yes, it is the words as well. We cannot state a soothing sentence that contains hurtful, aggressive words, but how those words are spoken plays a pivotal role in the connections we make, the influence we have, and the trust we build with our audience.
Sam Elliott. Morgan Freeman. Sean Connery. Tom Selleck. James Earl Jones. Barry White. The deep, resonant voice of each of these men undoubtedly assisted in their careers. Many of their roles solely required their voice and nothing else. Remember “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner,” with the unforgettable classic music from composer Aaron Copeland’s Rodeo suite; however it is the voice, spoken as ruggedly and masculinely as if actor Robert Mitchum and then Sam Elliott were taking troops to battle, not merely suggesting a protein for dinner, that speaks to the future beef consumer.
Interestingly enough, if a man’s deep voice hangs in your memory years later, you’re not alone. Researchers at University of Aberdeen found that women are more likely to remember a man if his voice is deep and low-pitched. Why? Evolution. While it may have been drilled into women that deeper means stronger or fertile, in today’s twenty-first century, simply because a man speaks deeply simply means he speaks deeply. We on the other hand must do our homework to prove the assumption that he is worthy of leadership, strength and dependability. Frank Underwood, anyone?
However, understanding the power of one’s voice is important to note because it’s often the first sound associated with who we are. Granted, looks play a significant role as well, but speech is commencement of the journey of understanding who someone is. Intelligent, confident, prepared, stressed. And while what is said can most undoubtedly be a red herring disguising what someone truly thinks or is capable of doing, we as the observer must determine if we want to proceed further.
Take someone who is beginning to learn a new language. Speaking from my own experience, one of the most humbling tasks as someone who loves the written word is speaking in a foreign language and not doing it well. Why? It’s hard to speak confidently since you aren’t sure of how speak correctly and the energy that you exude is thus one of uncertainty. On top of that, if your vocabulary is limited, you are unable to be precise, clear and pointed in your discussions, further limiting the connections you make.
So yes, how you speak, both in the sound and the words uttered matters. It matters significantly.
And the good news is, just as you improve in your second, third or fourth language of choice, you can also improve in your native tongue. Here is how:
As I mentioned in this post/episode, how we speak plays a powerful role in the presence we hold in a room or with an individual or group. Speaking slowly exudes confidence that what we are saying should be listened to, we won’t be interrupted and because we’ve chosen to speak sparingly, but only when something worthwhile should be shared, the attention assumedly should be given. Again, much of this is about perception, but if indeed you have something to say, gather your composure and maintain it as you speak . . . . slowly and steadily.
2. Eliminate the apology
Last year The New York Times shared this article about the excessive amount of apologizing that women in engage in both consciously and unconsciously, and then directly, without apology, implored women to stop. Why? While I encourage you to read her article, to put it succinctly, we should use the words we put out into the world to embody what we really mean, being declarative, tactful and accurate and refrain from being passive. We can still be polite, respectful and elegant, but we no longer need to apologize for other’s thoughtlessness or our reluctance to speak up.
3. Adjust your pitch and tone
“Great ambition, the desire of real superiority, of leading and directing, seems to be altogether peculiar to man, and speech is the great instrument of ambition.” —Adam Smith
As mentioned at the top of the post, pitch is powerful. No, it is not indicative of the person’s strength or abilities of whom is speaking, but there are assumptions and stereotypes that linger. Be aware of this reality. You can change, to a degree your pitch. Having once had a female administrator who was more qualified, congenial, effective and strict than her male-counterparts, when she opened her mouth I wanted to cringe and many of the male staff had a visceral reaction of wincing. I share this example to demonstrate that one’s voice is not an accurate indicator of the person’s abilities. She was one of the few administrators I wrote a letter of recommendation for as she sought a higher and much deserved position.
Duke University found in a study released in 2010 that both men and women who spoke in low, deep voices were perceived as strong, dominant and healthy. Listen below to the difference in British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s voice before and then after.
The catch that many women find to be a double standard is that women are assumed to be more attractive when they don’t speak in lower tones, while men can continue to remain attractive doing the same thing. Now, if we look more closely at this assumption, it has much to do with traditional gender roles, women subservient and docile and men, strong, dominant and authoritative. As we know we have been and are in the middle of a tremendous cultural shift. If indeed a man wants a woman who is weak, he may still gravitate toward the high voice, but if someone is looking for a confident, equal partner, who he can trust, a lower pitch would certainly be more attractive.
4. Choose water
Just as we need to hydrate our bodies for improved skin, hair and to flush out the toxins, we also need to lubricate our vocal cords. And while drinking coffee, wine or soda may be a craving, they do not facilitate the hydration our voice needs. Undoubtedly why a glass of water is always on the podium or round-table when debates and discussions are taking place.
5. Eliminate the uptalk
How you end a sentence indicates as much the content as well as the intent. If you end declarative statements with a high pitch of heightened intonation, your statement is presented instead as an interrogative sentence, a question, a wondering, not a fact, not a point of resolution. However, if you end your statement with a lower pitch, the door is not open for questioning, wondering or doubt. Granted if you are indeed asking a question, a slightly higher pitch is understandable, but even then, how you ask the question can make a tremendous difference. Keep the end of your sentences low when stating something factually or your opinion with reasoned support with confidence and let go of the uptalk. Click here to discover where it may have all began.
6. Eliminate the filler words
One of the most difficult habits to break if we aren’t conscious of it is using filler words such as “like”, “uh”, “er”, “um” and I’m sure a few more. After bringing the challenge up with my students to speak free of filler words, the first attempt always erupts in giggles because often we aren’t aware of how much of a crutch such words have become. My personal pet peeve is the word “like”. As a point of reference, if you listen or read formal conversation, news or newspapers, you will not see the word “like” even though it is frequently spoken in the English language conversation. Why? Are we really comparing everything we say to something else? No. But the Valley Girl phenomenon keeps holding on to us with her velcro-like grip.
I will readily admit, I still catch myself using this irksome word, but the more I notice it, the more practice I have of changing my habit. As a result, I have gradually seen(heard) my usage subside.
“Speech is a very important aspect of being human. A whisper doesn’t cut it.” —James Earl Jones
For men or women, even if you speak clearly, if people cannot hear you, what you say is not going to stick. Yes, some people have a natural ability to project well, but all of us can improve. Much has to do with our posture, breathing deeply from our abdomen, clearing our throat and choosing to speak confidently.
The primary reason soft-spoken people do so is uncertainty about how what they say will be received. While I hold on to Mark Twain’s maxim “Have more than you show and speak less than you know,” when you do speak, speak up, speak with confidence and allow yourself to be heard.
Even in times of trauma, warmth and comfort are a reassuring presence when observed in the speaker. As well, someone who is a joy to talk to often is smiling, not scowling. So when you speak be aware of the visuals that have been seen by your listeners. The details matter.
9. Know your audience
“Speak properly, and in as few words as you can, but always plainly; for the end of speech is not ostentation, but to be understood.” —William Penn
One of the most fundamental aspects of speaking, in fact, it is one of the three points of Aristotle’s Rhetorical triangle, is knowing your audience. Even if you do speak slowly with a lowered tone and refrain from upspeaking, if you’re speaking about or in such a way that your audience cannot relate, you will never be able to connect. So whether you are being interviewed for a dpromotion within your profession or speaking to an acquaintance who might be someone to build a friendship with, note your diction, note your subject matter and items that should or should not be discussed. This finishing touch will show your awareness, respect and knowledge of with whom you are speaking, and that is an act that is while unspoken, exceedingly powerful.
Even in our modern world where email and social media communication has a ubiquitous presence in how we connect with people, it is precisely because of technology’s dominance that our speech, when we do speak with others, whether on the phone, via Skype or in person has increased in value. Because in those moments we either confirm or erase the impression we have built through previous forms of communication.
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~In a French Kitchen: Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in France by Susan Herrmann Loomis
~On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town
~On Rue Tatin (blog)
~View the recipe for the salade below as seen on TSLL Instagram: Mushroom Salad with Caper Vinaigrette