It’s Not What You Say But The Way That You Say It?

It’s Not What You Say But The Way That You Say It?

Your elocution lessons for today:

“L, L, L, T, T, T, D, D ,D. Little tiny dinosaurs are dancing up and down.”

“B, P, B, P, W,W,W, Mmmmmm. Big pigs wallow in mud!”


No, I haven’t turned into Henry Higgins however, last week I did learn more about the power of speech when two completely separate events occurred. The first when a candidate lost a job because they spoke too quickly, the second when I read a superb and personal blog post from someone I met on twitter and then in person at a local tweetup.


Now I’m not going to go into accents ( far too controversial;) ) but I am going to highlight some of the common classic traps we fall into and how they come across, especially when we are nervous, in an interview situation or new networking environment.


  • Speed Demon. I talk too fast. I come from a large family (some Irish) and you always had to talk fast to get a word in and your point across.

I’ve also met a lot of great candidates who are very bright, enthusiastic, passionate and full of energy. They think fast and boy do they talk fast. The problem is, can the listener keep up with them?


It is difficult to decipher and process information at speed when you are listening to someone you are not familiar with.


Do you sound credible talking at 100 miles an hour? Do you come across as calm, considered, professional? How can the interviewer tell when they are hit with a wall of sound?


I never really considered my speed an issue, as it was part of me. It was only when interviewing candidates who could give me a run for my money that the effect hit home and it was a real eye opener, believe me.



  • Um, Um, Um, erh, um. Tricky one this as it’s a habit most of us develop. The issue comes when it paralyses the speaker and they lose their flow or when every other word is an uhm or err that the speaker themselves does not notice, but a complete distraction for the listener who switches off to what is actually being said in-between.




  • Do you know what I mean? This phrase has been satirized many times. Repeated phrases can make us sound stupid and restricted. Hands up here again though I’m afraid.


My personal phrase of affliction is “Are you with me?” As I speak at speed and am usually training or giving instruction, I use this to make sure I haven’t lost my audience. This is because I’m concerned about my ability to communicate effectively, not their capacity to understand, and yet who wouldn’t feel patronised when repeatedly asked if they are following? Mortifyingly the last thing intended.


  • “I must admit…” “Honestly” “I’m not going to lie” These types of phrases can also have the opposite effect. If you keep stressing your authenticity you are drawing the listeners attention to the very opposite.


  • VOLUME. If ever in doubt it’s better to speak to softly than too loudly. Interestingly enough many softly spoken individuals command respect and attention. As the listener has to concentrate on listening, they drown out distraction and zone in on what is being said.


Too loud is uncomfortable. The listener pulls away from the speaker. They may even try to speed up the process to avoid embarrassment. Their energy is then taken away from listening as they adopt different strategies to avoid feeling uncomfortable such as paraphrasing, talking over or cutting short the speaker.


  • Monotone. It is hard to listen to someone who speaks every word at the same tone. Inflections, emphasise, tonal range and pitch makes conversation interesting. Just like body language it subtly sends communication signals back and forward between individuals and demonstrates their interest and engagement.


Obviously I am not a speech therapist. If you’re new here I blog with tips, hints and observations on the job search process, mostly based on my own experiences from the trenches. For many of us, we are unaware of how we come across. The patterns above are habits, which with awareness can be broken. Record yourself answering interview questions for an instant self- assessment.


For others however, speech issues can have a much bigger impact. For a fantastic insight from a true speech expert with a sincere and engaging voice again I urge you to read “ What do I have in common with these celebrities?” from A day in the life Random mumblings and observations the blog of  @BoyDay on twitter.

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