3 Bad Speaking Habits You Don't Know You Have

3 Bad Speaking Habits You Don't Know You Have 150 150 Laura Sicola

If you’re like most people, even if you consider yourself to be a “pretty good” speaker, you know you could always be better. The irony is that, while that’s generally true, you probably don’t realize the actual problems you need to fix.

So let’s turn the microscope to three of the most common pitfalls to effective speaking.

  1. Fillers

We’re all familiar with the sins of the repeated “um,” “uh,” and “like,” “you know” and “I mean,” but fillers get much more sophisticated and subtle.

Words like “actually” and “really” can transform into what I call educated fillers. They seem to fit into the conversation, but repeatedly sneak into speech in places where they have no inherent value. They just chop up the sentence, making it harder for the listener to cognitively process the underlying message.

But where most of us get tripped up is the variety of fillers used. If you alternate between them as you speak, they’re less likely to be noticed… but still detract from the fluidity of the point you’re trying to make.

  1. The Vocal Cliff

The “vocal cliff” is what I call the habit of trailing off at the ends of your sentences. This happens for a variety of reasons. First, we tend to speak in a stream of consciousness, which is full of commas rather than periods. As you’re running along, you run out of air but don’t know where or how to refuel, so your voice creaks its way to a slow, grinding halt, much like if your car ran out of gas in the middle of the road.

Another cause of falling off the vocal cliff is when you’re halfway done with your point but your brain is jumping ahead, cueing up the next point you want to make so you don’t forget it, while your mouth struggles to catch up. Your lack of attention to what you’re currently saying comes through as your voice falls off the cliff. Stay present.

Or maybe you trail off because you lose confidence in what you’re saying after reading some displeased faces in the audience. This causes you to hold back, and you fall off the cliff, which projects your self-doubt.

  1. Negative Facial Expressions

As you listen to people, chances are, you don’t even know what kind of facial expressions you make, but more often than not they can convey negative thoughts. Maybe you’re just thinking about what the person is saying, but your “thinking face” has furrowed eyebrows and an ever-so-slight frown. This leads to two problems.

First, people will infer anger or disagreement, regardless of how you genuinely feel. Second, when you do speak, those down-angled facial features actually flatten your pitch and tone, making you also sound displeased. Even if that’s how you feel, do you really want to telegraph it so transparently? And if that does not accurately reflect your feelings, then you’re sending mixed messages and sabotaging your own credibility.

To avoid any of these pitfalls, awareness is the first and most important step. Don’t assume you know which habits you do or don’t have. Try video recording yourself talking on the phone. When you watch it afterwards, do you hear fillers creeping in, or does your voice fall off “the cliff”? Do you appear anxious or irritated? You’ll be amazed at what you discover, and what adjusting such small behaviors can do for your overall executive presence and leadership image.


Do you have questions or comments about your bad habits or how to avoid them? If so, contact me at laura@vocalimpactproductions.com or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss them with me personally!

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