In AManner of Speaking

It really is how you say it

Journalist and communications executive Marquita Thomas currently lives in Washington, D.C. and has written and sat through enough presentations to know what makes a bad one. Having worked as a speechwriter for congressional politicians and corporate executives in California and the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau (LACVB), she knows that delivery is as important as content. Slumped shoulders, a dragging gait, monotone speaking, speech peppered with “ums” and “uhs”, and/or fidgety hands are not only distracting but can be a turnoff. “I’ve been in rooms where the speaker’s body language and tonality has no presence and the whole room becomes bored.”

Whether you’re addressing a conference, speaking directly to your staff, reporting to your company president, or leaving a voice mail, how you present your message weighs heavily on how it is received. “Too often we focus on language but not how it’s being delivered,” confirms Marjorie Brody, president of Brody Communications Ltd., a firm in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, that consults with Fortune 100 to Fortune 1,000 companies on presentation, leadership, and business communications. She is also the co-author and publisher of Help! Was That a Career Limiting Move? (Career Skills Press; $10.95).

Brody says that poor communicators often don’t realize their potential for change. “We have habits that are hard to break,” she continues. “We say, ‘This is me, this is how I communicate.’ We just lack awareness — unless people point it out.” Voice coach Renee Grant-Williams of Nashville, Tennessee and author of Voice Power: Using Your Voice to Captivate, Persuade, and Command Attention (AMACOM, $17.95) agrees. “You were born with that hair, too. But we spend billions of dollars trying to make it better,” she notes.

It’s worth the effort to become an effective communicator because most audiences fixate on the nonverbals: vocal tones, body language, facial expressions. “Unfortunately, the nonverbals tend to overshadow or undercut the message,” Brody explains. “Mixed messages such as crossed arms and no smile, particularly if you are delivering good news, are difficult to read and can impede the deliverance.”

One way to enhance your communication skills is to practice. “We really don’t think these presentations through,” says Brody. “We think ‘Oh, these are just my employees’, or, ‘I’m clear so I’m sure my employees will get it.’” Even if your speech is written, says Thomas, you should be so familiar with it and the message it’s conveying that you are able to concentrate on your relationship with the audience. Your physical presence should always project authority.

Brody suggests several ways to improve delivery:

  • Check visuals. Put a mirror next to your phone to check your expressions when talking. Smile. Your delivery will be warmer and more pleasant.
  • Check habitual body quirks. Clicking your pen, playing with your hair or swinging in your chair might convey a lack of confidence. Pointing your finger or folding your arms might be viewed as aggressive.
  • Ask for feedback. Ask someone you trust, whose delivery you like. If you think straight criticism might be too difficult to handle, break your question into two parts;
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