Your Voice: The Four Amigos: “Ah”, “Um”, “Like” and “You know”

VoiceOver the last year, I’ve learned a lot about communicating with the human voice. How did I do this? By hosting an Internet Radio Show on BlogTalkRadio.

Prior to the Internet radio experience, I was asleep at the vocal chord wheel, so to speak.  I used my voice each day, took it for granted, and didn’t really pay much attention to how it sounded—or how my voice was received by the listener.

Internet Radio changed all that in a heartbeat. Suddenly, sound quality, level, tone, flow, speed, and subtle vocal nuances all captured my attention. It was like a new Universe opened up and I was Christopher Columbus … with a microphone!

Here is what I discovered about improving the listener experience from editing interviews with my special guests. These observations might be useful to you since we now live in a world of multimedia, so the chances are that you will have your voice and visual reflected back to you many times along the happy trail via podcasts, teleconferences, Internet radio, and the like.

The Four Amigos: “Ah”, “Um”, “Like” and “You know”

Many people have a speech pattern rich in vocal nuances such as “ah”, “um”, “‘like” and “you know”. If you are able to listen to a recording of yourself speaking on a topic of interest for about 45-minutes, you’ll be able to pick up the ones that pepper your speech pattern quite easily.

You might also pick up a few “unique-to-you” tendencies too. For example: I have a habit of starting sentences with the word “Now”. For example: “Now, Steve, tell us more about xzy …” Plus, if I am interviewing more than one person at a time, I have the habit of saying “You guys”, as in “Have you guys ever thought about the impact of xyz?”

Including a few of these common (or unique) vocal nuances in your speech pattern is OK, but if you find yourself listing heavily in this area, especially when forming your thoughts during a live or recorded interview, it might be time to consider “how to” gently extract them from your speech.

Here’s what I’d suggest (and yes, it worked for me):

1. If you have SKYPE, install a free SKYPE recorder (there are many to choose from) and record a 45-minute conversation of yourself talking about a topic of interest with a friend or colleague. As an aside, you will have to let your listener know that you are recording the call, as a professional courtesy.

2. Once you have your recorded call (MP3), play it back to yourself. Tip: Grab a nice cup of tea because you will be listening to a 45-minute recording—you might find that a hot beverage makes the editing experience more comfortable, even comforting.

3. Take off your critical hat and put on your soft, knitted toque because the goal of the exercise is not to discern what you did right or wrong; it is to to discover how you can deliver the most pleasing audio experience to your listener (which comically enough, just happens to be you at the moment).

4. As you listen, take note of your tendency to use “ah”, “um”, “‘like” and “you know” during the course of the conversation. Remember that a few of these vocal nuances here and there are OK.  In fact, it makes the audio conversation sound more honest, real, and in the moment. On the other hand, the nuances that you need to pay attention to are the ones that detract form your ability to communicate your message in a clear, appealing, and concise way.

For example, here are two versions of the same audio message:

  •  “Um, the flowers are … ahhh … like … a bright blue colour. You know, similar to the colour of blue in the sky.”
  •  “Um, the flowers are (silent pause) a bright blue colour. (Silent pause) Similar to the colour of blue in the sky.”

If you read both versions out loud (or even if you look at them), you’ll understand my point; the second version is more pleasing to the ear.

So, how do you get from A to B, especially when in motion (re: thinking on your feet)? The first step is to sync-up what is in your head with what is coming out of your mouth. You can do this by learning how to breath properly, and then, practicing when to interject a silent pause to replace an “ah”, “um”, “‘like” and “you know”. From my experience, it takes about one to two months for this to become a natural part of your speech pattern.

If you feel that this process is a little daunting, it isn’t. The key is to take things step-by-step, have confidence in yourself, and practice. It is also important to be relaxed and patient.

Tip: When striving to make your vocal style more pleasing to the ear, it helps to focus on something positive to counteract self criticism or impatience. My focus of choice is believing in my message, understanding that I am on a learning curve, and a heart-felt desire to offer my listener the best audio experience possible. If I feel discouraged, this is where I go.

After a year hosting an Internet Radio show, I now understand what Italo Calvino meant when he said: “It is not the voice that commands the story: it is the ear.” So true. So true.



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