Creative commentary plus crafty composition

Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Being in ‘Ahh’ Voice

An article in the April issue of Psychology Today focuses on an issue familiar with those of us in Toastmasters, but to some extent with a somewhat different, even favourable, position.

One goal in Toastmasters continuously is to reduce, ideally weed out, filler words and sounds; the point of view expressed in Psychology Today is that the person or circumstances dictate some flexibility in applying such a strategy.

Thus, what many regularly view as distracting interjections – ums and ahs, you knows, etc. – rather may be heard as “tiny conversational tools, gently guiding dialogue forward”.  The author posits that filler words “signal that the speaker is having trouble producing a thought” – no argument from Toastmasters here – and that such utterances “ask the listener to stay tuned while the problem is resolved”.  The Toastmasters perspective takes more into account the listener, who’s trying to decipher continuity in the message.

The author also asserts that filler words ‘alert listeners’ – as opposed to distracting them – so they will pay greater attention to what follows.  This may be so at times, but in my experience the listener is just as likely focused on piecing the flow together.

What many in Toastmasters would also question is a research finding that filler words can actually be positive aids to understanding and remembering a message.  I can recall a speaker of some repute at a World Press Freedom Day luncheon, whose continually ending sentences with filler words was quite frustrating, generating the opposite result.

It is fair to point out that context does influence the desirability of limiting verbal pauses.  For example, verbal distractions will negatively impact a job interview or public presentation; but in casual conversation they come across as a more natural part of speaking, and ‘perfect speech’ could even be unsettling.

Other points raised in the article would seem somewhat less contentious.

Speaking in a higher-pitched versus a lower-pitched voice is generally a disadvantage.  There are occupations, such as opera singers, where the former quality is rewarded. But usually, a lower voice is considered more appealing, more likely to enhance credibility.  A common feeling is that “low voices signal a more aggressive, dominant, and confident individual”.  Consider those who do audio work for commercials: a commanding type of voiceover is typically what we hear.

Nervousness tends to cause a voice to be higher when speaking in public.  Those aware of this can try to modulate their tone in response.

Talking rapidly can be a ‘six of one, half a dozen of another’ characteristic.  Many have a perception of fast talkers as displaying charisma, in the sense of feeling there is a connection ‘between speed and fluency’.  On the other hand, talking too quickly can come across as nervousness which makes it difficult for listeners to get the whole message.  Those with this tendency would be well-served to slow down especially during important addresses.  Situations can also help the speaker more proactively alter speech speed, such as in talking with a child.

Like it or not, perceptions about others’ accents is quite subjective.  Someone in one culture will hear foreign accents as more intelligent than if from another culture.  Those with familiar region accents are often viewed as more approachable.  Accent familiarity tends to correlate with being perceived as knowledgeable and trustworthy.

There is an inherent bias to favouring those in one’s own group, as impacted by accent.  As one becomes an adult, interactions can arise where such a bias can cause problems, such as in interviews or public encounters.  According to research, having a confident tone can help offset the inclinations of bias.

A picture may be worth a thousand words – but if those words are verbalized, fillers and unintended perceptions may challenge the idea that the picture is seen completely.

Couching Coaching

A column in the current edition of the Insurance Journal brings up the issue of coaching, albeit within the parameters of insurance versus investment advising. 

The author is a long-time coach, author, and keynote speaker, outgrowth of a highly successful career as an insurance advisor and executive manager.  His view is that coaching advice for insurance agents and insurance-based financial advisors needs to differ from that offered to investment advisors.  In practice, many of the former group are exposed to coaching designed for the latter. (more…)

Writing Blogs vs. Writing Books

I’ve written quite a wide number of blogs.

I’ve also recently finished the last draft of my first book.  (I did craft a full length screenplay years ago.  Perhaps deservedly, it’s sitting in a file drawer; a worthy effort, but some re-work from exhibiting film-worthy credentials.)

While it is probably obvious that there are meaningful differences in the approach and execution of the short, to-the-point, blog versus the wide, hopefully well-structured arc, of the full-length story, these are not all necessarily obvious. (more…)

The Write Way

I have finally finished the last draft chronicling my career in the financial services industry.  I have committed to this being the final revision: sooner or later you have to pronounce it so.  (Unless it were to become a screenplay, which would mean no end to potential changes.)  In addition to the months needed to sort through my files and records, it only took me almost five years to complete this project. (more…)

Socially Correct Holiday Season Slogans

Let’s put out to pasture the term ‘political correctness’!

Not only has this expression increasingly fallen out of favour based on its accumulated baggage, built on decades of use, but the word political doesn’t stand up anymore as encompassing enough to cover the inexorable intrusion of social media and expression.

Therefore, let’s henceforth categorize any relevant references under the theoretically broader, more modern term of ‘social correctness’. (more…)

Reaction Times


Anyone able to reflect on this, based on years of personal experience or through research, knows that one of the biggest evolutions since the latter half of the twentieth century has been the speed of communications. Technology has become an indelible, intrusive catalyst of delivery; combined with more recent omnipresence of the internet and social media, has meant being part of a revolution in daily life around the world. (more…)

Making Words Come Alive

Stories have a better chance to come to life when we construct and deliver descriptions which the listener’s mind’s eye can see.

Stories may be the essence of the message being presented.  Stories might also be part of the construction, such as in support of the theme of a speech.  The latter example is part of the formula discussed in an article in the October issue of Toastmaster magazine. (more…)