How we speak, whether we acknowledge it or not, tells others about us. What it tells them might be completely inaccurate, but that is irrelevant because the moment we open our mouths, the judgment is made.
This is one reason that some speakers are taken less seriously than others even though their intellect or qualifications might be identical.
As you listen to other people speak, notice the intonation they use. More interesting speakers use what is called a ‘widely varying intonational pitch pattern’. That means that they go up and down in tone or pitch to a greater degree than a speaker who is monotone. It makes our speech more interesting to listen to. It adds flavor and can enhance the punch line, and even captivate the audience.
Think about people you know and how they speak. People who finish most of their statements on a lower note, going down with their voice as it were, are typically taken more seriously and what they say will be questioned far less frequently than another speaker who does not. Someone whose tends to use too much variance in pitch can come off as phony or flighty. There are some intonationaly creative people who have fallen into a terrible habit that prevents others, from taking them seriously at all. These individuals speak statements as though they were questions. For example: “Hi? I am Connie? I will be working with you today on your presentation?"
Really Connie? Are you sure? Connie is simply looking to draw an affirmative response from the people she is talking to. Likely, she just wants to encourage them to respond positively with head nodding, which (in her mind) would let her know that her audience is thinking “Oh great!" The effect her intonation has however is that it leaves anyone she is talking to unsure about how seriously they should take her. She seems to be asking if her statements are correct. So, when she says “My name is Connie?" it seems as though she is not completely confident that her name is in fact Connie. Women who have developed this habit are often quickly labeled ‘ditsy', ‘immature’ or ‘confused. ’ When men use this speech pattern, it is even more confusing as it comes off as a wimpy, effeminate or insecure.
So how can a nice speaker like you develop an intonational pitch pattern that is interesting, and at the same time ensure that you project confidence, maturity, and professionalism- and thus, be taken seriously?
1) Practice using intonation that accurately conveys what you intend. This one simple thing will project greater confidence in what you are saying and so people will trust what you say;
2) When you ask a question, only take your tone up a little. Going up too high can make a speaker seem flighty;
3) Spend time studying how newscasters speak. Their job is to be taken seriously and to project professionalism. Practice speaking with similar intonation;
4) If you have not mastered proper grammar, make that a top priority;
5) Speak at a relaxed pace. If you speak too quickly, you will give others the impression that you are nervous, uptight or unbalanced and it can make your audience feel uncomfortable and rushed.
Practice, practice, practice! The benefits of being an effective speaker, public or private are virtually endless! It is a skill that is essential to climbing corporate and social ladders. Great public speakers achieve greater success and higher paying, more exciting employment. Ask yourself, “If I were a great public speaker, how would my life change or improve?" The careful consideration of that question is the beginning of future success!
La Velle Goodwin has been speaking, performing, teaching and entertaining for nearly 20 years. She is a member of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers, Director of Rabid Entertainment Inc. , and developer of Speech Savvy Workshops