By Stephanie Clark
While your appearance influences 55 percent of a first impression, your voice will account for a further 38 percent. And although you needn’t think that an interview is doomed if you make a squeaking sound when you first begin to speak (after all, interview jitters are common to all), certainly some people could benefit from considering their day-to-day vocal practices.
What exactly is it about a voice that can be off-putting? Common speech afflictions include an overly nasal or whiny tone, a tone that is so flat and monotone that it might put one to sleep, or rapid-fire delivery that is difficult to follow. Perhaps the most annoying speech habit is that popular raised inflection that makes every sentence sound like a question, and the speaker sound, unfortunately, less than sure of him or herself.
Be pro-active: ask friends and family for honest input, or record yourself speaking. If you are landing interviews, but receive no offers, ask for post-interview feedback (not every recruiter will be willing, but you will find some). Ask specifically if there were any issues that you need to address.
Here are a few worthwhile vocal exercises. Practiced over time, these will make an unobtrusive entrance into your everyday speech. For monotone speakers, practice speaking in an exaggerated sing-song fashion. For those who speak too quickly, practice speaking very slowly. Successful orators speak quite slowly, deliberately, at only 110 or so words per minute. Command your interview audience by emulating this pattern. Improve your overall delivery by exaggerating the length of the vowels a little bit, pausing more often in association with natural phrasing. If you recognize that you speak with the questioning inflection or other off-putting tone, you may wish to find a vocal coach to help you break this habit. Another idea would be to join a Toastmaster group for practice and support.
Here’s the thing: when one is nervous, annoying habits can reintroduce themselves, and the best of intentions can fly out the door. Rehearsing with exaggerated emphasis can ingrain practices so that in moments of high excitement, those bad habits will not overtake your delivery. Perhaps the most irritating vocal habit of all is the “you knows” and the “umm’s” and “ah’s” that periodically slip into many of our conversations. These crutch words, when used in excess, jar the delivery, and depending on the position, can seriously hamper your bid for the position.