Poor Speaking Skills Versus Job Search Success and Career Advancement

Have you ever had to listen for long to someone whose voice seemed in imminent danger of fading out completely or was annoyingly laced with “umms” or “you know” or other meaningless verbal fillers? If so, you can probably relate to an article I just read, ““Is This How You Really Talk?”” (in The Wall Street Journal online). Author Sue Shellenbarger states that “new research shows the sound of a person’s voice strongly influences how he or she is seen. The sound of a speaker’s voice matters twice as much as the content of the message….”

Poor Speaking Skills can Hurt Your Career

That’s right. Your weak speaking skills could hurt you. You might ask: Could my voice quality and/or other elements of my oral presentation really be throwing a huge speed-bump in the path of my career? According to Shellenbarger’s article, the answer is very possibly yes. For example, if you need to be perceived as assertive, a strong leader and so on, a quiet vocal delivery of your messages might undermine the impression you need to make on your audience. If that audience consists of people who can decide whether or not to offer you a job or a promotion, you definitely want to consider what you can do to improve the situation!

This is also true in other aspects of a job search or ongoing career management, including interviewing. When you obscure the delivery of your message through poor speaking skills, you could fail to gain the support of colleagues for critical initiatives, lose the respect of the team you are expected to manage or discourage an interviewer from giving you a chance at second-round/multiple interviews. The potential repercussions of poor speaking skills could add up to a long list by the time you’re done!

Do You Know If You Have a Speaking “Problem”?

You might think you have reasonably good speaking skills and can’t imagine how anything about your vocal delivery could negatively affect your ability to land a job or advance in your career. However, it’s not necessarily safe to assume you don’t have an issue with it just because no one has told you that you do. Friends, family, colleagues–many people hesitate to raise such a sensitive subject with someone they know. They might be afraid of hurting your feelings or making you angry at them if they do. What can you do to ensure that how you speak isn’t standing in the way of your career success?

Here are just a few tips you can try:

  • Record yourself speaking and listen to it with your eyes closed, so you’re not distracted by visual elements around you. As much as possible, eliminate auditory distractions as well (find a quiet place).
  • Ask someone whose judgment you trust to listen to you delivering a short presentation and provide candid feedback. Then remember not to “shoot the messenger”!
  • Consider finding and working with a speech coach/consultant, especially if you have an important interview or on-the-job presentation scheduled down the road, to make sure you’re delivering the message effectively. (Don’t wait too long to do this, however; it can take time and practice.)

Importance of Non-Vocal Presentation Skills

In college, I had an instructor who frequently stroked his goatee while he was speaking to the class. This mannerism was so distracting that I had to avoid looking at him if I wanted to absorb the information he was presenting! I never had the nerve to mention it to him, and I don’t know if anyone else ever did, but I hope so.

Visual gestures can be a bad habit you’re unaware of. Try recording a video of yourself doing a presentation and watch it as objectively as you can to see if you’re using distracting gestures. You might just be glad you did!

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