When going out for dinner, a date, or to work, most of us pay careful attention to how we look. Before firing off an email, we know that it’s a good idea to read over what was said before hitting “send”. So why don’t we do the same thing when we open our mouths?
In most settings, most Americans fail to speak with even moderate clarity, brevity and precision.
We are speech slobs.
Even in public settings, when our words are recorded, we “um”or “er”, and say “you know”, “so”, “right”, or “to be clear”. Many of us ramble and rush while speaking, and employ useless filler words when a simple pause for thought would be more than adequate.
Silence is often golden, yet many of us interrupt ourselves with irrelevant asides and tangents that distract listeners from hearing what we are trying to say.
Even the smartest, most intellectual, and confident podcast guests are surprisingly unaware of how tripping over their words or stumbling into non-sequiturs dulls the impact of their arguments.
I know. Most weeks, I slap on a pair of headphones and spend at least twenty hours a week, carefully listening to interviews and editing what people say. The aim is to make myself, co-hosts, and guests sound better— carefully editing for clarity, while maintaining moments of humor, passion and spontaneity. You’d be amazed how we sound before and after the editor’s digital edit blade has done its work.
(An aside: It’s hard to understand why many podcast producers fail to commit to even light editing. That will be a subject for another blog).
Many people argue that we should listen to their thoughts unfiltered or “uncensored”. Asking them to edit themselves or, lord forbid, sign up for media training, would render their speech “inauthentic.”
As my English friends and relatives would say: “Rubbish!”
Most people look very much better when they’ve given some thought to grooming and to how they dress. Authors and journalists know that their written words have greater impact once an editor has cleaned up their prose. The same is true when we attend to our spoken words.
How do we get better at speaking in public, at work or with friends? One suggestion is to switch on the excellent “Voice Memos” app on your iPhone and record an example of how you speak. Listen carefully. Learn your speech tics. Mine included many ums and you knows. Now they’re mostly gone.
I also took the drastic— and quite brilliant— step of marrying my editor. While remarkably patient, she does occasionally give needed reminders to bring my lengthy remarks to a close. I’m still a recovering mansplainer. But awareness of one’s manifest flaws can lead to improvements.
I will leave it to my family, friends, and podcast listeners to judge for themselves as to whether the room for improvement is a bit smaller than it once was.
Richard Davies is a podcast host, producer, consultant and media coach.