When you say something, do people misunderstand what you’re trying to say? Do you feel like you often have to defend yourself because people get the wrong idea about you? Research shows that your words are around 20 percent of what you communicate. Many factors, including your location, the time of day, your gestures and someone’s life experience or instinct affect how well people understand you.
I’m a fast talker, especially when I’m passionate about a topic. I’m also kind of chatty, and what I mean by kind of is I’m sure most people that know me want to tell me to zip it sometimes, but are too nice to say it! I’ve been working on slowing down my speech and to try not to talk as much when I get going. I’m working on it in the most public way too, by doing a You Tube baseball show with my best friend. Nothing’s better than trying to fix something than publicly!
If you can also work on the way you speak, there are ways to make sure that the points you try to make are the ones that people receive.
People in television, radio and public speaking practice the way they speak to make sure they sound engaging and persuasive. So can you. Here are some tips to make sure the messages you want to send are in synch with the way you say them.
Listen to yourself
Record yourself to hear how you sound when you talk to someone. Pick a time when you’re relaxed and alone. Talk until you know your voice sounds natural. You should talk long enough so that you can pick up repeating speech patterns.
When you review your recorded message, pay attention to your:
- Volume: Are you too loud, too soft or in a normal range?
- Tone: Do you sound angry or impatient, do you whine, are you monotone/flat, upbeat, or does your voice sound friendly?
- Pace: Do you speak too fast or too slow, or at a reasonable pace?
- Pitch: Is your voice high-pitched or squeaky, or is your voice low-pitched, deep or in-between?
- Speech patterns: Do you emphasize or repeat important words to get your point across or does your point get lost in the rest of your conversation?
- Attitude: Do you come off as a bully, too timid/mild, friendly or somewhere in-between?
Once you’ve figured out how you sound, pay attention to how you look when you speak.
Look at yourself
When you have a conversation, look at yourself in front of a mirror. You can also ask a friend to help you with this step. Try to focus on your movements when you talk. This time, pay attention to:
- How close you are to the person you’re speaking to; are you too close, at a good distance or is there too much distance between you?
- Your hand gestures. Do you move your hands a lot when you speak or are they motionless?
- Your facial expressions. Do you barely move your face when you talk or do you smile, move your eyebrows, wrinkle your forehead or squint a lot?
- Your eyes. Do you look at the person you’re talking to, do your eyes move around a lot, or do you look down?
- Your posture. Do you slouch, stand/sit up straight? Do you look confident or uncomfortable, or unsure of yourself?
- The way you’re dressed. Do you try to dress appropriately for each situation or are you too casual in a formal or business setting, or overdressed for a casual setting?
Check your communication impact
Review how you sound and how you look when you talk until you feel like you’re getting your point across.
First, make sure that your communication style doesn’t interfere with what you say. Some examples include:
If you look around a lot and avoid eye contact, people might think you’re lying or that you’re not confident, even if neither is true.
If you’re standing or sitting close to the other person, it can be considered either positive or negative, but it’s fairly easy to tell. During real conversations, is the other person moving away from you or staying in the same spot? Is your listener distracted? Does the situation feel tense?
Second, build any feedback you notice or receive from others into your conversational style.
Remember to ask questions to confirm there is an understanding between you and the other person. For example, if you agree to help a friend or coworker/someone at school with something, confirm what day and what time of day is mutually agreeable. Say how you feel and ask the other person to do the same to make sure you both understand each other.
It’ll take practice, but it becomes easier to send and receive the right message when you understand how much of an effect the way you present yourself has on others and your message.