3 Easy Tips for Being Understood the First Time!

  1. Final letters can say it all. The letter at the end of a word is important.  It’s there for a reason.  Pronounce it.  To be better understood by EVERYONE, let the listener hear the ends of your words, as well as the beginnings — carry that voice energy all the way through the word.  Is it “fifteen pounds” or “fifty pounds?”  Without pronouncing that final ‘’n’’ your listener won’t know.  Misunderstandings and errors happen. That little letter at the end provides the key to comprehension the first time.  Complete the word production and don’t leave people guessing what you mean!
  2. Speed kills understanding.  Clear communication will improve by as much as 50% when you slow down your speech.  Putting spaces between your words and speaking at a slower pace can allow those who may be translating in their heads or need more time to process complex thoughts or technical explanations the time to “decode” each word.  Record yourself in normal speech and listen objectively.  It may be time to apply the brakes to your speech.
  3. Keep it simple.  People whose first language is not English and people who do not share your knowledge level of a particular subject may not be able to easily understand multiple syllable or technical terms….and definitely not idioms. Keep it simple.  Choose uncomplicated words that are commonly used.  This is not a time to showcase jargon or an extensive multi-syllable vocabulary.


How Your Vocal Presence Influences Your Success

Christine S. Filip and Sharlene Vichness, New Jersey Law Journal
February 19, 2016

W.H. Auden was partially right when he said that, “All I have is a voice.” As a professional, one’s success is heavily influenced by one’s physical appearance, but one’s voice is the song of persuasion and a game changer. Your voice, like a great tune, has composition, rhythm, melody, phrasing and emotional content carried by words that move the listener. Highly acclaimed songs persuade us to listen, affect our feelings and sometimes make us dance. In truth, each of us sings a different tune.

Being successful at work requires our best “song” of persuasion in various settings, one to one, to a crowd, up the chain of command, down the chain, to insiders, outsiders, foes and friends. It matters dearly that we get that song right. Business voice is almost always a negotiation: multiple people with differing concerns trying to reach a useful solution that involves money.

Enter the Internet age, globalization and migrations of people to new places of work and life. Vast gulfs of bilingualism, culture and multiple generations of just plain English permeate our work and personal lives, and are obstacles to communication. To be a successful professional, to persuade and negotiate, which is what most business speak is, you must pay attention to your vocal presence.

Speaking + Body Language = Vocal Presence

Pair your vocal style with your body language and you get vocal presence, a song that works or doesn’t. Your vocal presence can change the arc of your career and your paycheck. Chances are very good that your public appearance will be recorded on the Internet as a speaker, alone or on a panel, a webinar, on a video newsletter, in a press conference or a networking event. That recording will serve to magnify the good and bad combinations of your vocal style and your body language: your vocal presence.Social media has given every participant the right to be a commentator on both the substance and style of your captured image.

Remedies for more effective communication and negotiation skills do exist, and they address the variables that make vocal presence different. The undermining variables include: accents; uptalk, aka, Valley girl voice; leftover teenage phrases (Dude!); growly voice, aka, vocal fry; rhythm and pitch; word choice; distracting space fillers, such as “ummmm,” “OK,” “like,” “you know” and other repeated meaningless words and phrases; and even body movements, like wiggling eyebrows, lip licking, constant head tilting, looking bored or angry, or large hand gestures.

Reading the Audience: Minimize the Differences

The point of this article is not that one style of vocal presence is better than another. The true message is that if you understand and read your audience and know its generalized style of communication, you can minimize your vocal presence differences that prevent effective communication.

A small example: as a native of New Jersey, in my early twenties I lived in New Mexico, just off the Texas panhandle. I started giving tennis lessons there. My first client was a young woman who in telling me about her life, mentioned that her husband, “holled sheet.” Translation: living in the cattle fattening capitol of the southwest, removing animal waste was an important business. Now you know. To be understood, I had to learn to speak slower, spend more time saying howdy, and severely downplay my “Joisey” accent to teach in a state where row-day-oh (rodeo) was a varsity college sport.

Of late, there has been a spate of articles focused on how women speak to their detriment at work, such as using “like” too much, making every sentence sound like a question (uptalk) or that cutesy growl (vocal fry) and diminishing phrases such as “Can I have a minute?” or “I think…,” or “I just want to say that…,” etc. There’s also been a backlash in articles questioning why, to be perceived of as competent, women have to speak like “older white men.” Fair enough.

This article advocates being less different from your audience so that you can negotiate better results for yourself. This effect is true for both men and women, because we are all actors on the same stage, and we all exhibit a lot of differences. As a result, we look at voice first, then vocal presence in action, meaning, negotiation.

Elements of Vocal Presence

Your vocal presence is a professional brand to convey gravitas, substance and likeability, and to minimize the differences between you (the transmitter) and your audience (the receiver). Whether you are informing, persuading or presenting, this vocal image is a major factor in the success or failure of your intended outcome. Other factors include, but are not limited to:

  • Volume. To be effective, voice volume should be scaled to circumstance. Your voice should be appropriately scaled for close contact or projection to everyone in a larger room. An intimate whisper is inappropriate for a boardroom presentation.
  • Tonality. All dressed up in a “power suit” doesn’t impress your audience if your voice emerges as a donkey’s bray, growly voice or high-pitched squeak.
  • Accents and Regionalisms. Everyone has an accent; it’s part of what makes you unique. But accents can sometimes make understanding difficult. The speaker must always be mindful of differences in vocabulary and usage from region to region.
  • Vocal Affectations. Valley girls don’t belong in the office or the boardroom. Neither do surfer dudes, brah. And neither do statements ending in a question (upspeak). And to be taken seriously, do not allow “vocal fry” or growly, creaky voices to infiltrate your speech. Think Confidence, not Cuteness. Think Mature, not Frat. Men also exhibit vocal fry: Jimmy Stewart and Casey Affleck are but two examples.
  • Style. Your posture affects both how you sound and how well you communicate. If you are slumped, your voice will not project well and you will not appear to be competent and in control. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
  • Word Choice. Using qualifying words or fillers can be demeaning factors in your ”credibility quotient.” Diminishing words are: just, I think, in my opinion, I’m sorry, and other words or phrases that devalue the speaker’s authority. Notice the difference between “I just want to let you know what I think could be a good solution to the problem” and “I want to suggest a potentially viable solution to this problem.”

  • Voice into Action: Negotiation

    We use our vocal presence at work for conversations that are preponderantly negotiations: two or more people in a discussion trying to reach a fair result for all with a financial impact. We hold these negotiations up and down the chain of command and in endless types of high and low stress situations inside our workplaces and with outside parties, like vendors, clients/customers, suppliers and potential new hires. High impact negotiations, as in a performance review or contract with a vendor or customer require our best vocal presence to communicate and persuade effectively.

    In highly crucial negotiations, it is vitally important to reach an equitable result for your company and the other side—basic win-win strategy. Diving deeper into the research of the financial impact of business negotiations demonstrates a very serious top and bottom line financial effect: retaining high performing (good partners) vendors, clients and workers improves the revenue and profit results of your company and are not to be ignored.

    There are numerous vocal presence factors that make a positive difference to a high impact negotiation, but the two subtle factors that are often most neglected are:
    1. Establishing a greater degree of rapport by asking (and researching) questions about both the professional and personal goals of people across the table so you are better prepared for the give and take; and…
    2. Preparing at least two pricing outcomes based on costing out the dollar values of potential concessions, trade-offs and value adds. Being certain of your financial range allows you to appear considerate of the other side’s requests rather than seeming to make up prices on the spot, which always appears untrustworthy.
    Wrapping Up

    In our digital and diverse world, there is no room for troublesome communication behaviors. Vocal presence is grounded in the projection of competence and the ability to read an audience, which decrease the differences between you and them. It is the key to achieving success at work, in thought leadership and in competitive leadership, because we use words and physical presence to achieve results in negotiations that matter deeply.

    Filip is an attorney and the president of Business Development Partners in New Jersey. Vichness is the president of Language Directions in New Jersey. Together they present a workshop, “Change Your Voice. Change Your Fortune,” for businesses, higher education and professional firms.

    Copyright 2016. ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved.

    Reducing Language and Cultural Barriers

    For companies to effectively operate in today’s highly globalized environment, it is vital that language and culture barriers be minimized to help improve the workplace, according to Sharlene Vichness, president and founder of Language Directions, a full-service language training company that focuses on language and cultural education throughout various businesses and industries.

    Vichness, who in the past, was a French and Spanish teacher and worked in the professional sales industry for many years, saw a need for the type of services her company supplies.

    “I decided I wanted to fill in the gap between language and culture in order to break down those walls,” Vichness says. “For instance, I saw many companies that had huge communication issues between their workers and management. The management could not communicate with their workers and it would cause problems. I said, ‘I want to help management and employees effectively communicate,’ and therefore, make a company more efficient while improving the moral of the employees.”

    Language Directions uses qualified instructors whose native speaking languages range from Spanish, and Chinese, to Korean and Mandarin, in industries such as healthcare, food and hospitality, and government. The company not only teaches individuals to better understand a language, but focuses on cultural awareness training, which includes proper body language, language issues, tonality and voice projection, eye contact, and educational or religious factors affecting employee behavior and productivity, as well as classes in accent reduction, among others.

    Providing an example, Vichness says, “In working in a hospital setting, we can have instructors teaching Spanish, for instance. One instructor may teach people who do not speak Spanish how to communicate directly with Spanish speaking patients and their families. And, in the same hospital, we may also have another instructor teaching basic English as a second language. We may have a third instructor teaching what we call More Americanized Pronunciation and Speaking. It could be for foreign doctors and nurses who speak English, but they are just so heavily accented that coworkers and patients may not be able to understand them. We can also have a fourth instructor teaching a course called Intercultural Communication, which is about how everyone can play in that ‘sand box’ together. We have cultures from all over the world and we all have to understand a little bit about each other and respect each other.”

    Vichness stresses the importance of understanding each other in the workplace not only as a tool for business vitality, but as a tool for safety.

    “It is important for workers to properly understand how to use machinery in a factory setting, for instance, or how to properly handle food in the food and service industry. It is all part of what we are trying to do here at Language Directions.”
    Vichness concludes, “There are little cultural differences that we, being in a diverse workplace, need to understand and learn from. Diversity is here to stay and it is up to us – as a society, as a state, as a country, as a business owner, etc. – to not only to teach the people we work with, but to also learn from it ourselves.”

    Aug 11, 2014 | By: Anthony Bucci, Assistant Editor | New Jersey Business Magazine

    The Journey to Subcontracting – Featured in WIPP Magazine

    Language Directions first decided to pursue federal contracting opportunities ten years ago as a Prime Contractor. Our research showed many opportunities involving our expertise in language and regional culture. But a candid analysis of our capabilities, documented past performance in military-related projects, and other factors, revealed the impracticality of this approach for the young company we were at the time.

    Subject matter expertise and quality of course delivery were not an issue. We had a good deal of success in language and cultural skills training in the private sector. Some solicitations contained components totally unrelated to our expertise and we didn’t feel comfortable or qualified to recruit for skills completely outside our core capabilities or experience. Also, as a business new to defense procurement, we had no past performance with military students. Like getting your first job, everyone wants to hire “experience,” but how do you get experience?

    There was also the proposal preparation: the amount of research, recruiting, and administrative effort involved. The time and dollars required to submit a bid might seriously stretch the resources of the young company we were at the time and compromise our existing business. We thought it might make more sense to be part of a team where each member would have a valuable and essential contribution to make. So, we started down the road to subcontracting: searching for large and small team members to satisfy the varied requirements of each solicitation. Language Directions has great expertise in specialized language and regional culture training to bring to the team and each team member has its own individual strengths. One of our core principles is that the highest level of success is achievable by doing what we do best and working together with businesses who do what they do best.

    Since those early days, we’ve learned a lot and gained traction in the subcontracting world. We grow and learn with each new opportunity. We are now part of an active consortium of large and small businesses supporting one another in seeking teaming opportunities. Every solicitation brings new lessons, insights, and challenges.

    Based on our experiences, these are our best practices of successful subcontracting:

    • Show up. Attend Vendor Days, procurement, and contracting events. Meet people face-to-face. There is no better way to quickly establish rapport. Chatting with a Prime informally at a Vendor Day began a relationship resulting in our first subcontract.
    • The truth, the whole truth. Honestly represent your capabilities and limitations. Don’t exaggerate. Be sure you can back up your assertions. Primes need to be confident in the quality of their subcontractors. Don’t expose your company or the Prime to negative consequences because you can’t meet expectations and find yourself off the team. Primes will help you navigate the waters if you are candid about your ability to swim.
    • Be responsive to all inquiries and data calls. Primes have always complimented us for delivering information promptly. Conform to timeline and submission formats. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
    • Don’t be a diva. Be willing to step up and help where needed. Always remember you are there by invitation, not by entitlement. Be flexible and pleasant. They’ll come back to you if you are easy to work with.
    • Leave them wanting more. A long-term mutually beneficial relationship with Primes is based on being indispensable to their success in projects involving your expertise and being a business partner who can be counted on. The quality of your work reflects either positively or negatively upon you, the Prime contractor, and ultimately the success of the entire project.

    • Full .PDF Here, myContracting Magazine October 2014