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Who Wins the GOP Presidential Candidacy Based on Speech and Voice Alone? March 1, 2012

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Did You Vote Yet?

TV and radio are jam-packed with political figures vying for your attention. Ever considered who might win, if the vote was based solely on speech and voice quality? 

Click here to listen to a clip of the four candidates. As you listen, pay attention to these characteristics:

  1. What words are emphasized?
  2. What is their tone?
  3. Who sounds confident?
  4. Who sounds interesting and engaging?
  5. Do they have a signature quality (related to speech and voice) that makes them stand out?

Who would you vote for, just based on voice these characteristics?  Click here to take our survey.

Now, I’ll cast my vote based on speech and voice quality only (not political views).

Ron Paul uses an upward inflection of his voice at the end of a sentence (“Uptalk”).  Listen to the first three statements. He states him name and talks about himself almost like he is reading a grocery list. This can create the perception of not being confident about the message. His rate and his clear diction are his strengths.

Rick Santorum sounds relaxed and friendly. However, a relaxed voice also can be perceived as not excited or passionate. He has clear diction and clear vocal tone. He does mess up by inserting a word filler (“uh”) in his introduction. 

Mitt Romney sounds vocally tense. If you compare his voice to Santorum’s you can hear the difference in tension. His rate, his pausing, and his diction are well rehearsed.  He is vocally expressive and vocally interesting, even though the tension is present.

Newt Gingrich sounds nasal and flat.  His overall pitch level is higher than most men.  Although there is some pitch variation, he doesn’t inflect much. However, he speaks at an excellent pace and delivers with authority.

Based on this small sample, I cast my vote for Mitt Romney. This is because the combination of his speech and voice characteristics made him commanding with a touch of friendliness. His delivery helped me believe that he is knowledgeable. If I were his voice coach though, I would try to eliminate his vocal tension. Voice tension can create the perception of defensiveness. 

What do you think?  Leave me a message!


Cast Your Vote-Which presidential hopeful wins based on speech and voice only? February 3, 2012

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If you have attended one of our courses, you know we
stress careful listening to speakers to hear subtle
differences in speech and voice.  This is a great time
to listen, as the TV and radio are jam-packed with
political figures vying for your attention and trying
to become the country’s next leader. There are many
differences among these speakers.  Ever consider who
might win if the vote was based solely on speech and
voice quality? 


As you listen with a more critical ear to their styles,
also pay attention to these characteristics:

1. What words are emphasized?
2. What is their tone?
3. Who sounds confident?
4. Who sounds interesting and engaging?
5. Do they have a signature quality (related to
speech and voice) that makes them stand out?

Who would you vote for, just based on voice characteristics? 
Click here to take our survey. We’ll post your answers and
our observations, in a future blog.

Six Holiday Gift Ideas that Promote Language Skills December 21, 2011

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Are you looking for a unique gift this holiday season for the board game lover on your list?  Whether it is for a child or an adult, a native English speaker or non-native English speaker, building language skills is important for anybody at any level. How about a game that promotes language skill development or vocabulary building and promises hours of fun and laughter with your friends, family or colleagues!


Like anything else, practicing healthy habits and developing new speech and language skills can escalate self-confidence, improve memory and cognition.  If you were told that this process could be accomplished by playing games and having fun, would it sound too good to be true?  Well, it is true.  Here are a few games that will really bring joy this holiday season and build language and cognitive skills!

  • Mad Gab-an excellent game for learning the importance of stress in words.
  • Taboo-learn to describe an action, idea, or thing using different words.
  • Cranium-develops word finding, spelling, unscrambling, and vocabulary skills.
  • Scattergories-a game that requires you to express yourself quickly.
  • Balderdash-learn to use creative word expression.
  • Scrabble-an all time classic that builds vocabulary and spelling.


Do you fumble when trying to pronounce new words?  Mad Gab gives you the opportunity to explore how stress on words changes the meaning completely.  Try reading this combination of words until you are stressing the correct syllables and producing a common saying:  Twin Tea Twin Tea Heinz Height  OR  Thirst Aim Awning.  Can you figure it out?  This game proves that stressing the right syllables is important to figure out words and it shows you how we link words together to form thoughts. The slogan for this game is:  It’s not what you SAY, It’s what you HEAR!


Have you ever fumbled looking for the right words to use?  Learning to describe actions and ideas coherently is an important skill.  Most ideas can be expressed in multiple ways.  We can say the same thing using different words.  Since most of us experience moments of forgetting words, Taboo is a great way to practice describing ideas using different words. In this game, you must describe something without using specific words that are listed on your card.  For example, try describing sugar without saying the words sweet, white, brown, coffee or candy! The game further develops speaking with clarity.  When someone doesn’t understand what you say, being able to describe what you want to say in another way is important to help your listener understand.


Improving your vocabulary will reap benefits throughout your life.  New vocabulary helps build knowledge while ensuring brain activity for the aging brain.  When you can use and speak new words, you’ll produce a message that is clear and intentional.  By playing with new words, you may also be able to access them more readily and decrease the number of times that you experience word finding problems.  Both Scrabble and Cranium help develop vocabulary skills.


Having difficulty thinking quickly?  How about a game that promotes quick responses.  Sometimes when we want to express ourselves quickly, we need the skill of saying things concisely.  Scattergories helps develop quick thinking.  In this game, you match categories using words that start with the same letter.  The catch?  You only have three minutes to come up with the words to fit the categories. 


Balderdash is a game of bluffing!  Ok, maybe that’s not such a good thing in real life but it sure is a lot of fun in a game.  You will have to display a lot of confidence to hide your bluff.  In this game you provide silly or serious descriptions of events and your team decides if you are telling the truth or bluffing.


If you are someone who likes to play games by yourself, there are plenty of language developing games available to play alone.  Crossword puzzles, JUMBLE puzzles and word searches are all excellent games for vocabulary building. You can extend the learning by looking up unfamiliar words in the dictionary and writing them down in a small notebook.  Then, try using them in conversation.  Review them frequently to assure that they become part of your vocabulary bank.


Working on developing your language skills is fun and entertaining with any of these award winning games for all ages.  Whether you are looking for something to do at a party, reunion, or during a vacation, you can’t go wrong with these educational games!  Don’t forget to add them to your holiday list this year! 


What Causes Vocal Hoarseness? August 1, 2011

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Did you know there is a correlation between physical fitness and vocal health? Vocal sound begins with a complex and dynamic interaction of various muscles in the vocal tract. A good exercise program increases cardio-respiratory endurance, muscular strength, flexibility and coordination. These benefits (especially endurance and flexibility) contribute to more efficient use of energy during speaking and singing by reducing tension and increasing airflow for breathing. But you still might be experiencing hoarseness if you don’t take care of other factors that can create vocal problems.

Vocal hoarseness occurs for a variety of reasons. Here are 16 examples with explanations of vocal abuse that may cause hoarseness or vocal fatigue:

Coughing/Throat clearing — When you cough or clear your throat, you are slamming your vocal cords together very hard. Doing this enough times will create swollen cords and the vocal sound will be different. There is a method for coughing and throat clearing that isn’t hard on the cords that is especially effective for people who clear their throats or cough out of habit.

Excessive speaking during an upper respiratory infection — Since we are talking about coughing and throat clearing, it is highly likely that you are experiencing a cold. If so, it could mean that there is excessive mucous drainage which adds to the irritation of the vocal cords. This is a good time to take a rest from your speaking. Your vocal cords will thank you!

Grunting (as in weight lifting) — If you lift weights on a regular basis, you may be abusing your vocal cords. Weight-lifters slam their vocal cords together for the resistance needed to lift heavy weights and then grunt at the same time. This activity, repeated over time, may damage the vocal cords because the slamming together of the cords can cause a callous to build up, thus changing the mass of the vocal cords. This may result in a change in pitch and/or create vocal hoarseness.

Prolonged speaking — If you speak nonstop in addition to abusing your cords in another way (like speaking with excess tension or speaking at a high pitch), your voice will tire and even go away completely.

Talking in noisy environments — We all tend to speak louder in noisy environments and frequently speak at a higher pitch when talking loudly. This combination hurts the vocal cords.

Talking with excessive tension — Imagine holding a tight fist all day. What do you think your hand will feel like at the end of the day? Tired? Sore? This is what happens to your voice when too much tension is present.

Smoking cigarettes/marijuana — This one should be obvious…the smoke that passes through the vocal cords on their way to your lungs is extremely drying to the entire vocal tract. If you smoke, quit!

Speaking/singing in smoky environments — Second hand smoke has been shown to hurt people almost as much as taking puffs yourself. If you have to speak or sing in smoky environments, be sure to drink plenty of water.

Drinking alcohol — Alcohol is dehydrating and will rob you of your fluids. See the next point on drinking water.

Not drinking enough water — Most experts recommend 8-10 glasses to stay well hydrated and keep your vocal performance edge!

Inadequate breath support — Good breath support is essential when it comes to voice projection and maintaining good vocal health. Make sure you are using diaphragmatic support and not shallow breathing. Poor breathing technique is a common problem among speakers.

Reverse phonation — To do this you must be speaking while inhaling. Think of gasping or certain types of sighing or even heavy sleeping. Some kids may talk like this for fun too! There may be an occupation that may use reverse phonation such as a clown. But, it isn’t a good practice over the long term.

Abusive laughter — Too high of a pitch, laughing with reverse phonation, or too loudly are the things that people can do wrong while laughing.

Yelling/Excessive habitual loudness — Yelling, like throat clearing and coughing, slams the vocal cords together. Too often we also talk at a higher pitch when we get louder. This combination is hard on the vocal cords and over time, will result in hoarseness. Speaking too loudly over time will also hurt your vocal cords.

Inappropriate high/low pitch — If you speak with a pitch that is too high or too low from the optimal place in your pitch range, you will experience hoarseness. Often times, individuals try to produce and maintain a pitch that is too low for their pitch range.

Hard glottal attacks — The habit of building up pressure below the vocal cords and releasing the air abruptly on words that begin with vowels is called hard glottal attacks. Say “I” sharply and forcefully and then say “I” with a silent “h” in front of the “I.” Listen to the difference between these two sounds. When the vocal cords are chronically brought together forcibly, the result is hoarseness.

If you are hoarse and still not sure why, schedule an appointment with a physician or an Ears, Nose and Throat Specialist to find out if there is a physical problem.  You may also need a vocal coach to help you identify abusive behaviors and you learn vocally healthy activities.

What is Accent Reduction Training? June 7, 2011

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Have you ever wondered what  accent reduction training is?  Wikipedia provides an interesting tidbit of information regarding accent reduction (Click here for the article.)   Some good points are touched upon related to the elements of accent reduction:  pronunciation, speech patterns, and speech habits, changing the way one uses the mouth, teeth, and tongue to form vowel and consonant sounds, modifying one’s intonation and stress patterns, and changing one’s rhythm.  There is some debate, even among practitioners, about which of these areas is most important to develop to gain higher intelligibility.   

The goal is to enhance the clarity of communication with the native population.  It is not necessary to eliminate an accent but rather to be better understood.  Foreign accent elimination is extremely difficult to achieve.  Some of the reasons that it is difficult that I found in the research (Patsy M. Lightbown and Nina Spada, How Languages are Learned, 3d Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 53-76.) suggest that our ability to learn a second language is actually influenced by the environment in which we grew up, our aptitude, intelligence, age, learning style and motivation.  New language learning is also influenced by our self-confidence and willingness to make mistakes.    Having the right combination of these factors may assist you in eliminating the accent, but it will still take a significant amount of effort and time.  We see actors who have eliminated an accent for a role, which demonstrates to us that it can be done.  To do so though, it helps to have lengthy and intensive training for the specific speaking part that is being learned.  I normally don’t recommend it and most people don’t have time for accent elimination especially busy executives.

Do you think second language learners should eliminate their accent or just reduce it to be better understood?

Are you worth listening to? January 14, 2011

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The most important factor in the listener’s mind that determines if the speaker is worth listening to is not the content but the person delivering the message. Listeners answer these questions in the first few minutes of a presentation to determine the speaker’s credibility:

1.Does the speaker look and sound like a leader?
2.Does he/she appear knowledgeable?
3.Does he/she appear to be trustworthy?

One tool that I use every time I start a new client is videotape him or her presenting. Then we view the recording together and use a five-point checklist. To increase your chances of listener attentiveness when you speak, be sure to pay attention to these five things:

1.Speech sounds conversational.
2.Vocabulary is appropriate.
3.Rate of speech is easy to listen to.
4.Nonverbal behaviors (eye contact, smile, etc.) exude confidence.
5.Points are concise and clear.

Weight Lifting May Be Damaging Your Voice July 28, 2010

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Do you spend a lot of time in the gym lifting weights?  If you lift weights on a regular basis, you may be abusing your vocal cords.  People who lift weights abruptly squeeze their vocal cords together with a lot of force and then grunt.  This activity, over a period of time, may damage the vocal cords because the slamming together of the cords can cause a callous to build up, changing the mass of the vocal cords.  This may cause a change in pitch and/or create vocal hoarseness.  Extensive weight lifting should be avoided if you depend on a well-functioning voice in your work. Or be sure to ask a personal trainer how to lift weights without abusing the vocal cords.  You may also want to  consult with an Ear, Nose or Throat doctor.

Would you like to hear more great tips related to speaking clearly in the workplace?  Subscribe to my podcast and receive weekly tips just like this one.  www.clearly-speaking.com

Pronouncing Words that are Spelled the Same July 22, 2010

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Some words in the English language are heteronyms which means that they are spelled the same but pronounced differently depending on whether or not the word is used as a noun or a verb in a sentence.  They are not to be confused with homonyms which are words that are spelled the same and pronounced the same but have different meanings.  For example, the word “change”  pronounced exactly the same, can have multiple meanings: I have change in my pocket. Vs. I will change my voicemail.  There is a pattern to pronouncing heteronyms correctly and it totally depends upon whether the word is a noun or a verb.

To learn more about this tip, this week’s podcastis now available!

Mayday! Don’t Let Communication Skills Ruin the Day! January 28, 2010

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Recently, tbs shared the most funny ads on television.  They were all good and it was really interesting to see international ads.  One ad in particular caught my attention.  You can watch it here:


It reminded me of a friend of mine who told me a story about his own personal “mayday” at work.  He was an accountant who provided bottom line numbers to his supervisors.  Because of the way he pronounced 50 it sounded like 15.  The numbers really changed the meaning of his report! 

Often the non-native english speaker makes the numbers ending in “teen” sound like “ty” if the ending is not pronounced completely or the stress on syllables is inaccurate.  This can have disastrous effects for multiple professions (e.g. doctors dictating reports and prescribing dosage for meds, etc.)  For numbers, it is important to stress the second syllable on “teen” numbers and stress the first syllable on numbers ending with “ty.” 

Have you ever experienced a mispronunciation that completely ruined the day?

English the Official Language for the European Union? November 25, 2009

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I received this post from friend  who didn’t know the author.  If you do, please let me know. Would love to give credit!   I couldn’t help posting it.  It is clever and funny–enjoy!

The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the European Union rather than German, which was the other possibility. As part of the negotiations, the British Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a 5- year phase-in plan that would become known as ‘Euro-English’.

In the first year, ‘s’ will replace the soft ‘c’. Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard ‘c’ will be dropped in favour of ‘k’.  This should klear upkonfusion, and keyboards kan have one less letter.  There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year when the troublesome ‘ph’ will be replaced with ‘f’.  This will make words like fotograf 20% shorter. 

In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling.  Also, al wil agre that the horiblmes of the silent ‘e’ in the languag is disgrasful and it should go away.

By the 4th yer people wil be reseptiv to steps such as  Replasing ‘th’ with ‘z’ and ‘w’ with ‘v’.  During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary ‘o’ kan be dropd from vords kontaining ‘ou’ and after ziz fifz yer, ve vil hav a reil sensibl riten styl.  Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi TU understand ech oza. Ze drem of a united urop vil finali kum tru. 

Und efter ze fifz yer, ve vil al be speking German like zey vunted in ze forst plas. 
If zis mad you smil, pleas pas on to oza pepl.