Whether you’re pitching to your team, participating in a meeting, presenting to directors, or even just discussing ideas over coffee, the way you communicate can have a large impact on how you are perceived. According to several studies, people who utilize powerful communication strategies are more likely to be perceived as credible, trustworthy, confident, and attractive. In order to become a more powerful speaker, avoid these commonly used indicators of powerless speech:
The movements you make while you are speaking can distract listeners from your message and make you seem nervous or unsure of what you are trying to say. This can include fidgeting with jewelry, tapping your foot (which can also really annoy some of your co-workers), playing with your hair, pacing, or touching your face. Oftentimes, we don’t even realize that we are doing these things while we speak. This Business Insider article suggests recording yourself in a mock presentation, then playing it back to watch for any nervous ticks.
Fillers are words like “uh,” “um,” or “like.” According to Ken Sterling, the first step to cutting fillers is to realize that you are using them. Oftentimes, fillers are used as an opportunity for the speaker to gather their thoughts, but these small gaps in the conversation can be filled more productively with a phrase like “another important consideration is…” or even just a brief pause. While fillers are a bad habit for anyone, the use of “like” can be especially damaging to millennials, as it portrays a sense of inexperience or immaturity.
If you aren’t convinced that this can really make a difference, try this simple exercise over the next 24 hours: whenever you talk to someone, pay attention to how frequently they use filler words. Then, compare your impressions of the frequent-users versus the infrequent-users. You’ll be surprised to see how much something so simple can affect your perception.
Using tag questions is an easy way to unintentionally undermine whatever it is you are trying to say. Tag questions are questions that are added on to the end of sentences, such as “don’t you agree?” or “isn’t it?” Luckily, tag questions don’t need to be replaced with some other method of speech- the best way to avoid tag questions is to not use them at all. For example, if you were to say “this project will be beneficial, won’t it?” you would basically be saying that you don’t know if the project would be beneficial and that you need others to help you come to a conclusion. By simply removing the tag question and saying “this project will be beneficial,” you cut the uncertainty and send a message that listeners know you believe in.
Indirect Eye Contact
According to this Forbes article, avoiding eye contact can make it look like you are lying or have something to hide. It also makes it seem like you don’t fully mean whatever it is you are trying to say, or that you are not invested in your message. This one has a simple fix: look at people when you are speaking to them. When addressing a group, try to move your eye contact around the room so you don’t end up staring at one person the whole time, as this would make the average person feel pretty uncomfortable. Eye contact should also be utilized while listening, as this will show the speaker that you are engaged and present.
Over-apologizing in a meeting can make you seem weak and unprepared. If you end up doing something to undermine your credibility such as being late, having the wrong figures, quoting out-dated information, etc., try utilizing “thank you” rather than “I’m sorry.” You could say things like “thank you all for being so patient,” “thanks for pointing out that mistake, let me find the correct figures,” or “thank you for bringing that up.” This simple switch will make you seem more confident and the people you thank will appreciate that you recognized their contribution.
Overusing Business Jargon
While using phrases like ‘on my radar,’ ‘synergy,’ ‘touch base,’ or ‘dynamic’ seem like they would improve your speaking style, they can actually be distracting when overused or when used in the wrong context. Though it may be a good idea to use with your superiors who expect this kind of language, it can come off as insincere when addressing your peers or subordinates. Try to gauge jargon levels on a situation-by-situation basis, then adjust your usage accordingly to make sure you aren’t overdoing it.
These simple changes may not come instantly to you, but will come with practice. As Kelly Decker says, “there’s no such thing as a natural-born communicator.” Habits like these take time to implement, but will help you establish credibility and respect in the long run.