Speak Like a Professional: 7 Tips for Better Business Speech

Two women present their funding requests to the same management team. Let’s listen in:

Diana: So, you know, this project is insanely good, we can sell it soon and customers will really like it. I only need like $50,000 to get to launch. Can I go forward?

Suzanne: With a $50,000 investment this product will launch in 6 months. We project 15% market share in the first year, generating topline sales of $500,000 at a 25% margin. Will you confirm the investment?

Notice the difference?

Business professionals have their own way of speaking: tone of voice, words, and the way they present information. To succeed in this environment, you must match this style. Lois Frankel devotes an entire chapter of her book ‘Nice Girls Still Don’t Get the Corner Office’ to 20 ways women undermine themselves simply by the way they communicate. I’ll focus on just 7 simple changes to your speaking style that will help you sound like a credible, reliable professional.

Speak Like a Professional

Use short, clear, declarative sentences

Short sentences focus your message and make it easier for your audience to follow. Avoid fillers (um, actually, like, to make a long story short…).  They add nothing, distract your audience, and sound insecure.

Speak in the active tense

Own your actions. Professionals make things happen. Passive tense (‘a decision was made’) implies that things happen to you. Active tense (‘I decided’) shows responsibility and confidence.

Stay calm under pressure

If someone asks a tough question, think before answering. If you don’t know the answer, commit to finding out and replying after the meeting.

Speak naturally

Let your voice rise and fall with your content. Use a steady, calm tone. Avoid ‘uptalk’ -the (more female) habit of raising your pitch or tone at the end of a sentence. It turns a statement into a question.

Say what you mean

Avoid jargon, slang, and euphemisms. If you recommend selling something, talk about selling it, not ‘monetizing an asset.’

Focus on what matters to your audience

When asking for funding, state how much you need and what you will do with it. Make clear what they will get for their investment and have a management plan. If asking for a job, concisely state what the role is and why you are the best choice.

Be specific

‘We’ll have insanely great sales’ is not a forecast! Tell them how much, when, and where: ‘We will sell 2 million units in the US by the end of 2017’ is a forecast they can understand. Give specific dates and deliverables.

Start Now

Professional speaking is different than social conversation. Everyone works at it. Record yourself practicing a presentation, or record your side of a telephone call with a colleague. You might be amazed; many of us no longer hear our verbal ‘tics.’  Listen for what you do well, and for how you can improve. Enlist a friend to help. For example, if you use a filler word, ask them to note down the number of times you say it in a meeting. Then work on reducing that by 10% each month. With time, you will eliminate it.  Igor Avidon, CEO of Avidon Marketing Group, also recommends reviewing your written communication. “Most people write similarly to how they speak. Review your most recent email exchanges and see if you can spot issues like passive language or jargon overuse. This can help you pinpoint your most pressing improvement opportunities.”

Communication is at the heart of success in the office, or in a job search. Keep working on your speaking style. People may not know exactly what’s different, but they will know that you sound more believable.

As to our two project managers, who do you think received funding? Yes, Suzanne. The management team gave her the money; they told Diana to try again when she had facts.

If you want recognition and respect as a professional, start by sounding like one!


Main image credit.

Marne Platt

Dr. Marne Platt is the President of Fundamental Capabilities and the author of 3 books (so far): Living Singlish: Your Life, Your Way; Professional Presence; and PREP For Success. Originally a practicing veterinarian, she built a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry. She founded Fundamental Capabilities to ‘pay it forward’ by providing career development workshops and coaching for women. ‘Living Singlish: Your Life, Your Way’ is an ‘older sister in your pocket’ packed full of advice for young women on building their own independent and exciting life. 'Professional Presence' and PREP For Success' help you strengthen your spoken and unspoken communication and leadership presence.

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