Friday, August 22, 2008

Speech Training: Don't Drink & Speak - Top 7 things to avoid to preserve your voice

Since it's Friday and we're all getting ready to go out and celebrate the weekend, let's take a look at the Top 7 things you should avoid if you want to preserve your voice and sound like a star speaker.

1. Alcohol
Yep, there goes your weekend! Sorry, but alcohol dries out your vocal cords (along with dehydrating the rest of your body). Plus there are tons of other reasons why you shouldn't drink and speak!

2. Cigarettes
Not so many people are smoking anymore, but if you're one of the few who are, I'm not going to lecture you. Your voice is the last thing you should be worried about.

3. Dairy products
Dairy products are a huge cause of increased phlegm. Try cutting down on dairy if you feel like your throat is coated and clogged.

4. Hot or cold drinks
Very hot drinks like coffee and tea or cold ones like your glass of ice water or 64-ounce coke are going to irritate your vocal cords as the extreme temperatures change the size of neighboring tissues in your throat.

5. Caffeine
Not only should you not drink alcohol, you also shouldn't drink coffee to get over its effects the morning after. Caffeine is dehydrating, and when you lose water from your system, all that phlegm in your throat becomes more concentrated making it harder to speak well.

6. Citrus fruits
Citrus is like dairy in that it produces a lot of phlegm. And you always thought that having lemon in your tea was a good thing! It might be for some reasons, but your voice isn't one of them.

7. Talking excessively
This is usually the hardest one for speakers. Why? Because we like to talk! But it's pretty simple: the less you use your voice, the better it will sound for your speech. Screaming and yelling and singing along to every song at the Black Eyed Peas concert (yes, guilty!) is not going to help either.

It would be crazy to avoid all of these things all the time, but think about them before you have a big, important speech to deliver. It helps to have a nice, strong voice!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Public Speaking: What's your dirty habit?

You may not want to admit it publicly, but we all have dirty little habits. Unfortunately, when you're speaking in public, you might be the only one who doesn't know what your dirty little habit is! Body language speaks for itself and the nervous ticks that people develop are known to all except the person with the problem.

Whenever I point out these little fidgets to people that I coach, they always say, "Really??? Do I really do that?" When they see themselves on video, they can't believe it!

Here are some of the most common dirty habits I see:
  • shifting weight back and forth (rocking)
  • wringing hands
  • pulling/loosening tie knot
  • straightening jacket
  • playing with hair
  • tapping foot
  • playing with a pen, clicker, notes, etc.
  • picking nails

I'm sure there are many more that I'm forgetting.

So how can we prevent ourselves from fidgeting? Video tape yourself. I promise that once you see how silly you look doing these things you will never want to do them again. When you find out what your dirty habit is, stay focused on it so you don't relapse later down the road to recovery.

So, what's your dirty habit?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Public Speaking: Remain Conscious

By "remain conscious" I don't mean in the physical sense (although it is hard to get through your presentation if you're passed out on the floor). What I mean here is that you need to remain conscious of the words that are pouring out of your mouth.

Have you ever heard a speaker who's mind seems to be somewhere else? He keeps saying the wrong things and not even realizing that he's said them. He'll say something like, "The 3 worst things to do are..." and then lists the three best things and everyone in the audience is looking at each other thinking, "He meant best, right?" What's worse is when he just keeps talking, not even realizing that everyone in the audience is confused.

What's going on in the speaker's mind when these slips happen? Usually one of two things:

1. The speaker practiced his talk word for word 50 million times, to the point that even he is so bored by it that his mind checks out and his mouth is still running. It reminds me of a flight I was on where the pilot announced there was a 1 minute time difference between Bangkok and Singapore instead of 1 hour. The plane wasn't the only thing on auto-pilot that day!

2. The speaker is focusing on too many things at once. It isn't easy to think about what you just said, what you're going to say next and what is coming out of your mouth now, all at the same time. Add on top of that all the other thoughts in your mind like how much longer you have to speak, whether the audience likes your slides and how you wish you wore different shoes that day, and suddenly it's very easy to have slips of the tongue.

So, how do we ensure these embarrassing slips don't happen? Here are a few tips:
  • Focus on "now" - Think about what you're saying as you say it
  • Don't practice too much - Sometimes enough is enough
  • Keep your material fresh
  • Make sure you are well-rested
  • Clear your mind of outside thoughts before you start your speech
  • Relax - Being nervous can over-ride your logical thought process
  • Keep your points simple and clear so you and your audience can keep them straight

Have I forgotten anything? How do you stay clear and collected during your speech?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

English Language: Countable & Uncountable Nouns

Here's the simple explanation:

Countable nouns refer to things that can be counted. There is a singular form and a plural form that usually adds an -s or -es. For example:

1 chair - 2 chairs
1 potato - 2 potatoes
1 lion - 2 lions
1 clown - 2 clowns

Uncountable nouns are usually substances (ie: water), qualities (ie: patience), feelings (ie: love) or concepts (ie: experience). There are also some things that we usually don't count, but refer to generally (ie: luggage, machinery). These types of words do not have a plural form.

So how do we know if "luggage" means one bag or two? We use quantifiers to give us that information:

I have some luggage over here.
I have three pieces of luggage.
I only have a little bit of luggage.
I only have one item of luggage.
I have a lot of luggage.

Here is a list of the most common uncountable nouns that I often hear people add an 's' to. Make it your goal this week to use 3 of these words in their correct uncountable form.

advice: He gave me some great advice.
information: The speaker provided so much new information.
work/paperwork: I have tons of paperwork.
baggage/luggage: The airline allows two pieces of luggage.
feedback: He gave me some great feedback after my presentation.
furniture: We bought some new furniture over the weekend.
machinery: The factory is filled with complicated machinery.
equipment: They just renovated the fitness center and bought lots of new equipment.
staff: Make sure to tell your staff about the policy changes.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Communication Etiquette: Top 10 Email Essentials

This might sound really basic to you, but it amazes me how few people follow very simple email etiquette. I get email from people asking (or sometimes demanding) me to help them with something and they don't even put their name at the end of their mail. How can I respond to you if I don't even know your name? Sorry, but those pieces of mail go straight to the trash bin.

Here are my top 10 absolute essentials for business email (personal mail with your best friend might be a different story). Remember that just because we can't see you in an email, we are still imagining what you might be like based on the way you write and present yourself. It's the same as being on the telephone with someone. You still need to preserve your professional image.

So, here we go:

1. Fill in the subject line
I hate mail with an empty subject line. It isn't that much of a problem when I first get the mail, but if I have several different messages from you and I want to go back and find a specific one, it really helps to have a short, topical subject line to refer back to.

2. Write a greeting (ie: Dear John)
Would you ever start a telephone conversation without saying "Hi" first? Weird, isn't it?

3. Use proper spelling
We do have spell check these days. Make sure yours is working properly.

4. Use proper punctuation
5. Use proper grammar
These two points are just given, aren't they? Write like the educated person you are.

6. Don't write in all capital letters
Just in case you missed the memo, writing in all CAPS has come to mean that you're yelling at someone.

7. Don't write in all lower case letters
At the same time, capital letters were invented for a reason. Use them when you start a new sentence and for proper nouns like people and place names.

8. Write your name at the end of your mail
"But it says my name in my email address!" So, what? It's just common courtesy to sign your name at the end of a letter. It doesn't matter if it's electronic or not.

9. Don't overdo your signature
Sometimes I get email where the signature lines (all the extra stuff after your name like your address, phone number, 15 web sites and 32 blogs) are actually longer than the mail itself. Most email programs give you the option of creating several different saved signatures. I think I have at least five that I choose from depending on to whom I'm writing and my relationship with that person.

10. Proof-read your message before you hit "send"
It only takes a minute to quickly review what you've written. Depending on the importance of the mail I send, I might spend a whole lot longer than that proof-reading it. I know we're all busy, and it seems like there are fewer and fewer hours in a day, but taking the time to proof-read is a must if you want to present yourself well. Remember that your spelling and grammar check doesn't catch everything.

It's really common these days to do business with someone over email for years and never actually meet the person face to face. If you hope to make a good professional impression, basic email etiquette is essential!

If you are interested in learning more about email etiquette, I ran across a great blog the other day: Check it out.

I can also recommend a great book: Shirley Taylor's Guide to Effective Email. It's available in major bookstores, and I'm sure you can find it on Amazon. You can get more information here: