Word Whiskers and Lazy Speech

Rosemary Ravinal, APR, keys in on eliminating vocal fillers, lazy speech and other communication roadblocks.

We do it thousands of times a day when we speak. We fill those lapses in thought with vocal fillers; such as uh, hmm,you know, like—words and sounds that pepper our spoken statements.  Speech coaches call them word whiskers, like little whiskers that need to be shaved off our speech.

In hardball media interviews, they can buy time to formulate just the right answer.  When uttered with frequency, they are undesirable distractions that erode the impact of a statement.  The Exceptional Spokesperson works on substituting word whiskers with strategic pauses that bring emphasis and weight to what they have to say. 

Barack Obama masterfully uses the word and instead of vocal fillers and interjects pauses to emphasize key points.

Other elements of oral communication and vocal delivery that should be avoided are mumbling and slurring words together. Another is lazy speech, like saying fer instead of for, gonna instead of going to, ta instead of to, and so on. 

Good vocal delivery will enhance the audience’s perception of the Exceptional Presenter’s competence, credibility and impact. 

Other things to consider:

Pitch conveys mood and enthusiasm.  When we get nervous, our pitch tends to go higher.  Intonation is the rise and fall of voice pitch. Record yourself practicing key messages for an interview and listen for pitch variation.  Adjust by lowering your pitch while remaining natural.

Volume – Do a level check before any interview where a microphone is being used.  Too loud or too soft can affect the way your words are perceived. 

Speaking Rate – nerves and emotion speed up the rate of speech. Normal speech is 120-150 words per minute. Rapid-fire (195+ words per minute) answers may suggest you are angry or unsure about what you are saying. Unless you naturally speak like an auctioneer, slow it down.  Practice to find your most effective rate.

Pronunciation – if there are words you cannot pronounce or routinely mispronounce, don’t use them. Find a substitute or break them down into syllables. We endured George W. Bush saying nuke-lear for nuclear for eight years.  I never understood why he never tried atomic instead.

This post was originally published in Talking Points Miami, a blog devoted to helping communicators become exceptional spokespeople. 

Rosemary Ravinal, APR, is a corporate communications consultant, media trainer, TV personality and multicultural specialist.  Her firm, RMR Communications Consulting, has trained dozens of executives and spokespersons on the fine points of effective messaging, media interview skills and public speaking. 

Read More