By Mary O’Brien, M.D.
Are you well-spoken? Would other people agree? There are many aspects of professional behavior, and speaking is one of the most important. Unfortunately, as a culture, our speech patterns, vocabulary, and grammar are deteriorating badly.
Incessant use of e-mail and texting has had a negative impact on speaking skills and vocal quality. Parents, teachers, and bosses seem reluctant to correct anyone. Someone might get upset. People often confuse correction with criticism. That’s misguided and it can undermine success. Part of being an effective health-care professional involves conveying knowledge and inspiring confidence among patients and colleagues. Bearing that in mind, here’s a little checklist to help polish your speaking skills:
- Watch out for verbal crutches (um, uh, well, like, you know). Better yet, eliminate them.
- Don’t start or end a sentence with the word “so.” So, we’ve had a lot of turnover lately, so.
- Learn the correct use of the words “fewer” and “less.” Skim milk has fewer calories than whole milk.
- Try not to begin or end a sentence with a preposition (to, of, with, for, on).
- Incorrect: He doesn’t have any place to go to.
- Correct: He doesn’t have any place to go.
- Incorrect: We have many medications to choose from.
- Correct: We have many medications from which to choose.
- Learn when to use the subjunctive case.
- Incorrect: I wish it was true.
- Correct: I wish it were true.
- Review the proper use of pronouns: Attention, Southerners.
- Incorrect: Her and her husband went to the seminar.
- Correct: She and her husband went to the seminar.
- Recall the use of past perfect tense: Attention, Midwesterners.
- Incorrect: Ordinarily I would have went home.
- Correct: Ordinarily I would have gone home.
- Eliminate redundant adjectives: Attention entire country.
- Incorrect: The patient had a small, little bruise.
- Correct: The patient had a small bruise.
- Pay attention to singular or plural agreement between nouns and verbs.
- Incorrect: There’s lots of options.
- Correct: There is a lot of options.
- Avoid constant self-reference.
- “For me, this is not helpful.” It’s not about you, but this phrase is ubiquitous.
- Check your vocal quality. Is your voice loud, shrill, strident, or frenetic?
- Watch out for bad habits in the cadence of your speech. Refrain from “sing-song” phrasing and “up-talking” at the end of a sentence. It makes anyone sound like a silly school girl.
- Slow down. Smart people often speak quickly, but you don’t want to sound like a toy machine gun or a cartoon character on amphetamines.
- Diction is a crucial part of effective speaking. It requires effort.
- Guard against “whiny girl” or “lazy girl” voice. Irritating sound emanates from the posterior pharynx with inadequate volume. The speaker comes across as bored and boring. Modulate your voice to sound like a competent, knowledgeable adult.
- Be careful with gestures. Many people overuse hand gestures. It’s distracting and undermines the real message. Excessive gestures can make someone look desperate. Politicians take note.
We work hard to develop our careers. Don’t allow poor speaking habits to sabotage your future. You never know who might be listening.