Editor's note: Local etiquette expert Karen Hickman answers your questions or helps solve your dilemmas Fridays in The News-Sentinel and at news-sentinel.com.
Q.: I am getting ready to start the interview process for a job, and I want to make a good first impression. However, I have been told I could use a little help in the way I talk. What advice do you have for me that could make me sound more professional?
A.: The way we talk says a great deal about us. The slang and colloquial phrases we use can often leave a negative impression on people, especially in the business world, and it can be career limiting. Many of us fall into bad habits of speech due to what we hear, whom we hang out with and where we live. But bad habits can be corrected with awareness and a concerted effort to change.
You want to match your speech for the situation. It is important to sound genuine, but you may need to be aware of not getting too relaxed in professional situations.
So here are some suggestions on ways you can make a good first impression with your speech:
•Saying “yes” instead of “yeah” will sound more intelligent and professional.
•Use good grammar. If you are unsure of your grammar, seek the help of a trusted individual to analyze your speech.
•Check the tone of your voice. If you know you have an annoying pitch to your voice, seek professional help from a voice coach.
•Monitor your voice volume. Being too loud can leave a bad impression and distract others.
•Speak up so you can be heard and don't drop your voice at the end of a sentence. Speaking too quietly can make you sound timid and insecure.
•Don't “up talk” at the end of your sentences. Up talk is the habit of ending every sentence as though it is a question.
•Avoid filler words and phrases such as “ya know,” “I mean, like.”
•Avoid slang whenever possible.
•Say “Hello” instead of “Hi.”
•Keep swear words under your breath. Epithets and coarse language can be very offensive to many people, and it is unprofessional.
•Avoid phrases that can make you sound less authoritative. For instance, instead of saying “Can I ask you a question?” just ask the question. Don't say “I'm sorry” unless there is a reason for you to apologize.
•Be careful of euphemisms and cliches. Many of those phrases have negative derivations.
•Tape your voice and play it back to get an idea of how you sound.
•Don't interrupt. Allow others to finish their sentences and thoughts before offering your response. Pauses are powerful in speech, allow you to formulate your response and also make you sound more intelligent.
•Speak with confidence. Stand tall, shoulders back and weight on both feet.
•Great speakers usually work very hard on cultivating their style and delivery. Pay attention to those speakers who capture your attention. Conversely, when you hear someone speak who is unimpressive, pay attention to their style, too.