In the new year, why not make a resolution that will make you sound smarter? There are three simple ways to sound more confident in your next presentation or media interview in 2017.
Take Down Uptalk
We’ve all heard people? Who talk like this? And make their statements sound like a question? Until their very last sentence.
Linguists call it the “high rising terminal,” but it’s commonly known as uptalk. And it’s one of three common traps that can make you sound less confident when speaking.
The trend of uptalk isn’t new. Its exact origins are debated but often blamed on Australia and California (my native state, so no finger-wagging from me.) It can now be heard throughout the U.S., U.K. and beyond. In fact, a 2014 study even found that 85% of bosses say uptalk is a “clear indicator of insecurity” and could hinder chances of a promotion or raise.
Your image of an uptalker might be a young female. But Matt Bauer, a friend of mine with a Ph.D. in linguistics and director of the Speech Analysis Lab at the Illinois Institute of Technology, says men do it, too. “The last two sitting presidents used uptalk regularly, sometimes in their State of the Union addresses, and no one says a word,” he says.
How do you stop it? I advise clients in media trainings to record themselves on their next conference call. Try pausing the recording after each sentence that ends in uptalk and repeat that same sentence declaratively. It’s not easy to change a habit, but over time, you can sound more confident.
Start Hating “Like”
The second trap is not surprising to anyone who listens to modern-day conversation. Improper use of the word “like” has become the new “um.” And, similar to its predecessor, or the equally problematic “you know,” it’s a contagious filler word.
As you feel yourself starting to use “like” improperly, pause for a second. Ask yourself if you can use another word instead.
When you’re tempted to say, “It was like a million dollar budget,” instead say, “It was [pause] around a million dollar budget.”
Often times, the word “like” doesn’t need a replacement. Linguists call this a discourse marker. Instead of saying, “I didn’t, like, know what to do,” simply say, “I didn’t [pause] know what to do.”
Put your skills into practice by downloading an app such as Ummo or Like So. These apps record your conversation and highlight filler words, displaying them on your phone screen. You can count the number and track your progress. What’s not to like about that?
Overuse of the phrase “I think” is the third trap to avoid in media interviews and public speaking. It often sounds tentative and wordy. And it’s usually unnecessary.
Imagine these two sound bites from a CEO. Which sounds more confident?
“I think we’re making real progress in Latin America.”
“We’re making real progress in Latin America.”
Once again, pausing before you blurt out a sentence will help avoid the “I think” trap.
Dr. Bauer says there are certainly times when the phrase “I think” is warranted.
“I might say, ‘I think there might be something on the bottom of your shoe,’ when I mean, ‘You walked out of the bathroom with toilet paper on the bottom of your shoe,’” he says. “Not saying the obvious might save you from some embarrassment.”
But outside of any squirrely social situations, don’t be afraid to sound confident in your next interview. Avoiding these three traps may be your best career New Year’s resolution yet.
Ryan Richert, a former TV reporter with 20 years of communications experience, is executive director of Global Media at Golin.