Pulse: At Your Service: Say What?

Yeah, we’re talkin’ to you. A Philadelphian’s guide to speaking a bit more clearly

It seems so simple, but even the most educated among us can’t communicate well. Maybe you’re not putting your best foot forward at crucial job interviews. Maybe technology has made your teen talk like a search engine. Whatever the occasion, being able to express yourself coherently goes a long way. Which is why we reached out to opera singer-turned-voice specialist Rosemary Ostrowski (who also helped establish Jefferson’s recently opened Voice Center) for some pointers on, er … like … um … getting your good word out with panache.

What’s the most common speech mistake you see?  People speak too quickly, so they don’t give themselves room to breathe or pause. It’s especially noticeable in the younger generation. That’s why people use filler words such as “like” or “um.” Obama uses “uh” a lot, even though he has an amazing quality to his voice. We almost have to consciously slow our brains down and relax.

How can we stop using fillers?
  It’s mostly about awareness. I highly recommend that people record themselves—they are always surprised by what they hear.

Any advice for interviews?  Finish your sentences. A lot of people don’t do that. Technology comes at us 100 miles per hour and has made us speak too fast. Finish your thought and proceed on to the next one. And give yourself time to think of an answer. Try not to use fillers, because it shows that you are nervous. Silence is a very powerful thing. It lends an air of confidence.

What about speaking in public?  Focus on changing your volume and rate, to keep things interesting. Slow down and enunciate. If you have a good, clear, confident voice, people are going to listen no matter what you are saying. A strong voice can be a powerhouse, signature quality.

Anything to help with nerves? 
Drink water. Keep shoulders and arms relaxed. If standing, don’t lock your knees. And concentrate on breathing from your lower rib cage and belly. When we are nervous, our breath tends to be shallow, which makes voices high-pitched.

What about the cringe-­inducing Philly accent? (We’re asking for you, Johnny Doc!)  The Philadelphia accent is mostly a quality and vowel issue. It sounds rough and garbled and comes from the back of the throat. Try redirecting the breath forward, to the nose and mouth.