“So, like, you work in PR? That’s awwwwesome! That must be, like, a fun job. I mean, you talk for a living.”
Someone once said this to me and it made me laugh. Working in public relations is a fun job, and communication is at the essence of what we do. And to be good at it, you have to present ideas well, both in written and spoken form.
To pursue a career in communications and public relations, it is critical that you convey your thoughts clearly and confidently in front of clients, supervisors and in meetings. Public speaking – even if not a formal presentation – is something everyone will have to do. You have to be fluid in your delivery; don’t let your speech hold you back.
I came across an interesting article in Fortune from Anne Fisher titled, “The way you talk at work, like, matters – you know?,” that provides advice for young women looking to climb the corporate ladder but their communication style – or “Valleyspeak,” in particular, held them back. Valleyspeak is the language of talking like a “Valley Girl,” which involves adding an inflection in one’s sentences so they sound more like a question than a statement, and peppering in fillers such as “like” and “you know” numerous times throughout a conversation.
While this habit has become very mainstream – we all know people who talk like this, and I myself have been guilty of it, too. The downside of this communication style is that it makes one sound timid, unsure and lacking self-confidence.
In her article, Fisher spoke with Christine Jahnke, an executive speech coach and president of Positive Communications in Washington, D.C., about this Valleyspeak phenomenon and ways to develop a more professional speaking style. Her tips were helpful, and included items such as seeking honest feedback from coworkers, joining Toastmasters, studying the speaking styles of successful people, and taking note of how higher-ups at their company spoke.
I’d like to add some suggestions:
- Rehearsing a speech for a presentation? Have a coworker listen to you and count how many times you say “uh,” “like,” “I mean,” and “you know.”
People are usually surprised by how often they use these fillers in a speech, even a rehearsed one. You see this in TV interviews all the time, especially if there is a lull in conversation or the interviewee is asked a difficult question, he or she will sprinkle in a few “you knows” to keep the ball rolling. People often fear a gap in conversation, and feel the need to say something to avoid an awkward silence. But it’s perfectly okay to pause before responding to a question or moving on to a key point and let the listener catch up.
- Don’t rush – speak slowly enough so people can understand you.
Some people are naturally fast talkers. But in a presentation or meeting, you have to pace yourself.
- The importance of good phone etiquette is underrated. This is an essential part of working with clients.
Answer the phone with a clear voice. When leaving a voicemail, leave a brief message that describes the subject of the call but don’t leave a long, rambling message outlining every detail. (that’s what the callback is for). And, when leaving your phone number, say it very s-lo-w-l-y and repeat the number. One of my pet peeves is when someone leaves a message and rattles off a phone number so quickly I only catch the last two digits and have to replay the message three times to get the whole thing.
• In addition to avoiding “Valleyspeak,” beware of mumbling and talking too softly.
• Watch your email etiquette – don’t type an email like you would a text message or Facebook status update.
Good communication habits in the workplace also apply to written communication. For example, you wouldn’t write in an email to a client: “OMG! Big news 2day. Call u l8tr!” With busy schedules and time-sensitive projects, it’s easy to rush and get casual in emails, but be careful to still write complete thoughts and spell out words. Don’t use “u” instead of “you” and “ur” instead of “your” in a business email.