Speaking Out Loud
I was listening to a show on NPR recently about the school system in NYC. A caller, who was a teacher, weighed in with his opinion on the state of New York’s educational construct. In a three-minute tirade he interjected “you know” fourteen times! This is a glaring perk of mine: to be aggravated by so many who use this “discourse particle” in their speaking, seemingly unconsciously. It is a lazy form of the expression “do you know what I mean?” and I’ve been led to understand that it’s a subconscious “filler” by someone gathering his or her thoughts during a conversation. There is a video of an interview with Caroline Kennedy when she was considering running for the Senate in New York. I think she coughed up something like thirty-plus “you knows” during the course of the one-of-one with the reporter. Hardly a credible endorsement for someone running for such a high-level office.
I believe we all have these speech quirks at some point in our lives, especially if called upon to speak before a group of people and nervousness sets in. My habit is the all-too familiar “umm…” and I have been working on eliminating this for some time now. But I’m convinced that if I have to have a habit of oration interruptus then at least I’ve got the somewhat intelligent sounding one. Umm…comes across like: “wait, let me carefully consider what I’m going to say next so you’ll assume I have a modicum of intelligence”. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.
Still, it is annoying.
And I wish I had one of those fabulous speaking voices, like Morgan Freeman, or Sam Elliott, or Barack Obama. Mine is a whiny, almost effeminate assault on the senses unless I deliberately lower the pitch, but that takes a lot of effort and too often I forget and in the course of a conversation I realize I neglected to trigger my “big guy” voice. Damn! Word of advice: never critically listen to your speaking voice recorded. Major disappointment awaits if you do.
The dreaded speaking-before-an-audience fear is rampant among many of us. Even some who do it on a regular basis, such as stage actors, or motivational speakers, still get the jitters before each appearance. John Lennon once told a reporter that even years later, after the Beatles success and well into his solo career, he was terrified to appear on stage and often found himself vomiting before stepping out to perform. I, myself, was a musician in my younger years and well remember the fear of performing live. I was given the advice to imagine my audience naked but that didn’t help. What did resolve my stage fright was repetition and playing with quality musicians. Confidence is the key.
People also say “uh”, “well”, “er” and “like” when speaking. Being assured of what you are saying, familiarity with your topic and/or with the people you are speaking to helps to kick these verbal ticks. Mostly, though, being conscious that you’re uttering these “filler” words is the first step in eliminating them from your delivery. It’s like, you know, so easy to forget that you, umm, need to pay attention to, like, yourself when you, er, talk. You know?
RjCook is the author of The Road Behind Me & Dream Lover and Other Tales. Click HERE for info.