How-to: Speaking well in public

Image: the 'Don't do' listArticle originally appeared on the Speaking Well in Public Facebook page, August 2015

Speaking well in public is a vital business and social skill, so it’s important to be aware of the impact you have when you speak.

Here are three voice habits to beware and avoid when you’re speaking in public, to your colleagues, your team or your clients. These three fashionable vocal tricks can cause your listeners to wince and your personal impact to plummet …


There’s a sound known as Australian Question Intonation – or AQI.

That rising inflection at the end of a sentence?

Even if you’re not asking a question?

It’s very common among teenagers?

But it seems to be infecting everyone else?

It’s confusing, especially in public speakers, leaders and managers. Be aware if it’s starting to creep into your own speech, and for more authority and gravitas, let your tone fall at the end of a sentence.

The Creak

‘Vocal fry’ is the technical term for that sound produced when the vocal folds are fluttered together, usually at the end of a sentence, producing a creaky, croaky, guttural, rasping Dalek-like sound.

It’s common in the US, and is becoming increasingly common in the UK. It’s been noted that the sound is prevalent among high level female executives and well known stars, perhaps in an attempt to make a naturally light voice sound lower and more authoritative – and young women are mimicking it to sound more like their idols.

Listen to the girls on ‘Made in Chelsea’, most of the actresses in ‘Suburgatory’, Zooey Deschanel from ‘New Girl’ and Jolene Blalock from ‘Star Trek: Enterprise’ [all film and TV actresses who don’t need to project their voices] for exaggerated examples of the sound.

For an actor or a public speaker, vocal fry can only be a problem – deliberately limiting the airflow across the vocal folds and suppressing the power of the voice will inhibit the speaker’s ability to project across a distance, impair the message and affect personal impact.

And be aware of the effect of vocal fry on your audience – it can sound grating, sarcastic and extremely off-putting.


You can’t have missed it – the staccato sprinkling of the word ‘like’ in conversations overheard in cafes, trains and offices everywhere.

‘And I was like …’ has even developed its own contraction ‘an’yse’lye’, all run in together as one word with a glottal stop at the end of it

So what does ‘like’ mean? It seems to have several main functions at the moment:

To replace ‘and I said’ and ‘and she said’ – ‘And I was like ‘no way’ and she was like ‘way’ and I was like ‘whatever’ …’

To replace ‘and my attitude was’ and ‘and her attitude was’ – ‘And I was like totally amazed and she was like not having any of it …’

Just before a verb or a concept, as though the speaker needs a bit of a leg up before they can articulate the next bit – ‘he never like had any intention’ and ‘my friend’s like best friends with her sister …’

As a meaningless interjection, a linguistic tic that the speaker does not even realise they have, a sound to fill the gap until the next word comes along – a 21st century ‘um’.

Like any other language fashion, ‘like’ is an acquired and displayed badge of belonging, and there’ll be another one along in a minute. The question is … do you do it? Have they started counting your ‘likes’ – or worse, doing a surreptitious five-bar gate on a napkin? If you do it at work, it will damage your professional image. And if you do it as a public speaker, you must expect the five-bar gate to be the main source of hilarity at the coffee break.

Record yourself speaking and ask yourself and people you trust to tell you the truth – ‘how do I sound?’ PH

About Philippa Hammond

Speaking Well In Public offers a portfolio of public speaking courses for business, performance and social occasions designed and developed by Philippa Hammond, combining her skills and techniques as an award-winning trainer, working actor and voice artist. Philippa is a member of Equity and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.


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