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Is Your Voicemail Sending the Wrong Message?

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

It’s entirely possible a voicemail message may be your first “live” introduction to an important new contact. Just as you’d want to make the best possible impression when meeting someone face-to-face, you WOW! them on the phone. Your voicemail message has to be a powerful performance as well.

Have you ever listened to a voicemail recording and thought, “ugh, I hate the way my voice sounds on messages!” It’s actually such a common phenomenon that you may even, like a significant number of people, be borderline phobic about leaving voicemail messages.  It’s a signal that you may not own your vocal behavior.

When you talk day to day, you don’t notice verbal tics. You not hear its high pitch or “vocal fry”, or you may not notice a distracting rhythm to your speech. However, there are ways to solve this problem and start leaving voicemail messages that work.

The first step to creating a professional voicemail that leaves the right impression – both incoming and outgoing messages – is to record yourself. You need to learn to perform on the phone in the way you’d perform when trying to impress an audience at a presentation, in the boardroom or during a high-stakes meeting.  If you’re nervous or distracted when leaving a message for someone, you’re going to use fillers like “um” or “uh,” or the pitch of your voice may rise. If you’re uncomfortable when recording your outgoing message it may sound robotic and stiff, or rushed.

Record yourself repeatedly and practice until you’ve deleted those undesirable habits. Not sure what to look for? Here are some qualities you should try to eliminate in your “voicemail voice:”

  • Unnaturally high pitch, usually a problem more for women than men
  • Unnaturally low pitch, which can sound forced or condescending
  • Vocal fry, a creaky vibrato quality that’s hot with celebrities like Kim Kardashian, but sounds awful in business
  • Talking too quietly, which may seem meek
  • Talking too loudly, which may seem aggressive
  • Rushing your words
  • Pauses or fillers that could seem disorganized
  • Airy or nasal quality


Introducing Others and Talks of Honor

Friday, September 12th, 2014

Giving talks of honor in any setting requires careful strategy to avoid drawing the wrong kind of attention.

Honoring others at special occasions and networking opportunities puts your own brand in the spotlight as well. I regularly see individuals at events reading intros from a sheet of paper they printed from an organization’s site. This can seem unprofessional at best. At worst, it can make your audiences cringe.

Talks of honor come in different shapes and sizes. Presenting others at events is one way you might find yourself introducing someone. This might be at an intimate setting or small group gathering where making an introduction is easy.  Or you might be emceeing an event where you are responsible for introducing multiple program components, or introducing the event’s keynote speaker. Regardless of the type or size of event, you can utilize the IAP™ Formula to achieve your objectives and showcase your own brand in the process. IAP stands for:

I = Intent

A = Audience analysis

P = Powerful performance

Your ultimate objective with all talks of honor is to ensure that the individual who is the centerpiece of the event feels special. A second yet critical objective is to showcase your own brand in a positive light. I usually tell people to concentrate on one purpose at a time. However this is the one situation where both honoring and showcasing are vital objectives. Here’s why: if you look shabby or falter when you speak, you can harm your own brand. And you certainly won’t honor the individual you are presenting.

Your approach and goals may be different based on the type of introduction that’s needed. Here are my tips for a few of the more common talks of honor you may be asked to perform:

Introducing featured speakers

Just like any speaking opportunity, introducing people is a craft. You can polish these mini-presentations into true gems by learning to practice with intent and by researching details about your honoree. Don’t use the event program to do your research!  Find unknown yet fascinating facts that your audience may not have uncovered on their own. You can start by connecting with mutual acquaintances, reviewing the speaker’s website or doing some simple online searches. The point is to deliver something unique – and something your audience will respond to.

In many ways, you’re like the warm-up band for the headlining act. It’s your job to get the audience excited about the upcoming presentation. Including tidbits that are interesting, and even a bit odd, will help both the featured speaker AND his or her audience. As an example, let’s say you were going to introduce 3M’s Post-it notes’ creator and you occasionally use Post-it notes as a substitute for your business card. Or maybe you found out something your speaker did as a young child that helped determine their current life direction. Both are great anecdotes to include.

Making a Toast
Making toasts

Toasts, whether they take place before a meal or in any other circumstance, are intended as a celebration. You have freedom to use festive wording and intriguing anecdotes. It’s important to remember that the main purpose is to honor your subject. But don’t forget that while you’re making the toast, you also will be in the spotlight and it’s important to bring everything you have to the occasion. Take a moment when preparing to think about your audience and understand the common theme that has brought everyone together.

Last autumn, I gave a wedding toast for my brother and new sister-in-law at our local country club. It was a difficult task! Knowing I would be speaking in front of family, friends and business contacts, my audience was definitely eclectic.  But everyone had something major in common; his or her love for this fantastic couple. If I focused on this common element, my toast would be successful.

For this specific toast, I knew my emotions might get the best of me so I relied on my sense of humor to counterbalance emotion. I also practiced before the big event. Much of my toast was improvised and even included some spontaneous observations about the wedding, and my final speech was unscripted. But I did rehearse with a script multiple times before the reception. It’s 100% okay to use a small cards with bullets  for your toast at the event if public speaking is really not your thing.

Any sort of toast is an opportunity to really get to know you as a communicator. If you’re humorous, draw upon your wit. If you’re not usually humorous, now is not the time to  try a stand-up routine. Toasts must be genuine, or they will fall flat.

Listen to yourself deliver the talk of honor that day. Rehearsing like this can help you prepare for a powerful performance. Practicing in front of a mirror or in a room alone, you’ve released some of the emotion that could accompany your words. You’ll also be able to tell when something sounds unclear or “off” in some way. Take care not to over-rehearse, but know that nobody has ever sounded bad because of practice.

Award ceremonies

Numerous organizations and associations distribute annual awards. Often, the rewards are given out at special events like galas or receptions. If you’re asked to introduce the recipient of an award, you must know how to say the recipient’s name and the title of the award correctly. All of the previous advice to rehearse, understand your audience, and build upon a common theme is very important. But in a business occasion like this one, it is imperative that you represent yourself well with your physical appearance as well.

I remember an evening gala where the speaker’s knees mesmerized me, mainly because she wore a minidress. For the setting and the role she had to play, I would have advised this speaker to dress more conservatively. At a minimum, had she asked me, I would have told her to wear a dress that was better suited for her age and covered her knees. At best she should have worn an evening gown or dressy suit as she introduced the award recipient.

In a nutshell, classy and event-appropriate clothing let you honor the award recipient while simultaneously achieving your secondary goal of highlighting yourself.

Here’s to you

Don’t be like my publicist, who tells the story of the first time she had to introduce someone when she was a fresh young salesperson right out of college. Thinking it would be a snap, she didn’t practice or even think about it until the moment came to introduce her speaker. You can guess what happened; she froze and was unable to speak a single word! This might be a drastic example, but preparation, practice and a strong physical presentation will help you avoid those embarrassing situations.

Personalization and imagination are vital when presenting someone, regardless of the forum. Spend time preparing a delightful, concise and informative introduction, and you could be on the featured speaker dais next time around. Wishing you good intent and powerful performance as you undertake the task of honoring others!