The NCSL Blog


By Samantha Nuechterlein

Repetition, speaking with hedge-words or softeners, and unnecessary apologizing are common mistakes we, as working professionals, make every day.

Catherine Jones speaking at NCSL's  2017 Legislative Summit in Boston.Before Thanksgiving, NCSL’s Young and New Professionals Program and the Women’s Legislative Network teamed up to host a webinar aimed at teaching legislators and legislative staff to command their daily conversations.

Catherine Johns, a leadership speaking coach, gave us a few tips on how to speak with power, presence and poise during all our interactions.

1. Eliminate softeners or hedge-words

As Johns shared a few examples I could feel people all over the country, including myself, cringing, as these are common conversation fillers. “I’m not an expert, but …,” “kind of,” “could be,” “this little project,” are all subtly chipping away at the impact and authority that your language holds. Give yourself a leg up and share your confidence—after all you are an expert and they called you.

2. Eliminate “I’m sorry”

Unless you have done something wrong and whole heartedly should be apologizing, stop apologizing. Not only does our habit of over apologizing diminish what we are saying in the moment, it diminishes the meaning of an apology when its needed.

3. Speak conversationally

Spoken English and written English are two very different things, remember to keep them separate. When speaking to an individual or a group of people, speak to them don’t recite to them. Your audience may not always understand your jargon or acronyms, be concise but don’t build a barrier between you and your audience by using jargon they don’t understand.

4. Repetition is not your friend

Johns put it best: “Say it once, say it well, and zip it!”

5. Ground your voice

Literally … place your feet on the ground. If you’re sitting at your computer and speaking on the phone, make sure those two feet are flat on the ground. It will elevate your posture and give you a platform from which to annunciate.

6. Pause

Stage actors and stand-up comedians alike understand the power of a good pause. Take a breath, it allows for your audience to absorb what you are saying. Hey, maybe even substitute a pause for one of those “ummmmms” no one wants to hear.

As you gear up for 2018, bookmark this page for a quick self-prepared pep-talk before any town hall, committee testimonial, or phone conversation with your boss.

For a more extensive listing of the do's-and-don'ts of speaking with authority, check out Catherine Johns’ 39 Keys

Samantha Nuechterlein is the lead staff for the NCSL Young and New Professionals Program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.