Your Speech Projects Your Image

“The way you speak affects the image you project more than any other single factor.”
The above words comprise the opening sentence on page 11 of my book, Are We Communicating Yet?  It may appear to be a strong statement, but think about it.  In real life, as well as on television, in the movies, and in books, observe how strongly speech is used to describe and define a person.
This was underscored recently when Jean and I attended a live stage performance of Tim Conway and Harvey Korman – Together Again.  They were hilarious.  I laughed until I cried on a couple of their skits.  Seeing them, led Jean and me to watch a rerun of one of the Carol Burnett Show TV episodes.  I was reminded again that it wasn’t just what they said that made Carol, Tim, Harvey, and Vicki Lawrence (Momma) so funny, it was the way they said it.  People may present a Godfather-type persona, an educated persona, a backward persona – or whatever – by the manner in which they express themselves. 
Consider the classic television examples of people developing their characters and projecting their images with their speech.  Henry Winkler, originally a Shakespearean actor, had a bit part on Happy Days as the cocky, street-wise Fonzie. The character, defined by his speech and demeanor, soon became a hit and a major part of the show.  And then there is the obnoxious speech pattern of Fran Drescher that defined her as The Nanny.  What about Don Knotts’ portrayal of Barney Fife?  And, of course, Marlon Brando was the original Godfather.  I’m sure there are countless characters that come to your mind as you think about people portraying presidents, mobsters, ministers, teachers, powerful business people and others.  
Such consideration should cause you to inspect your own speech.  You may be bright and competent, but if your speech doesn’t reflect your real qualities, you sell yourself short.  If people often ignore you, don’t take you seriously, or interrupt you in conversations, perhaps your speech is at fault.  The good news is – like an actor – you can change.
Compare your speech to the speech of those you admire – those to whom you listen.  Build on your strengths and overcome your weaknesses.  Do you need to lower your vocal pitch?  Do you sound nasal, whiny, or negative?  Do you sound tentative or singsong?  Does your voice reflect enthusiasm, conviction and warmth – or do you come across as apathetic, monotonous and aloof?  What about the pronunciation and enunciation of your words?  Concentrate upon what it is in others that causes you to listen, adapt it to your own personality, and become a better communicator.
Observe and listen to people who seem to demand respect and attention.  Most likely, they have a combination of clarity, energy, conviction, expression, confidence, ease, appropriate humor, and empathy for others.  You don’t hear them using meaningless fillers like “uh” and “you know.”  They don’t talk too fast or too slow.  They don’t talk in a monotone that puts their potential listeners to sleep or makes them wish they were elsewhere.  Their statements don’t sound like questions. They don’t ramble or repeat themselves.  They are interesting.  They look you in the eye.  They pay attention to their body language.  When necessary, they ask questions in conversation to get clarification.  They avoid nervous habits such as clearing the throat, coughing after every other sentence, or nervously playing with their hair.
Publisher Malcom Forbes (1919-1990) said, “By inflection you can say much more than your words do.”  Henry David Thoreau (1817-62) claimed, “The person determines what is said, not the words.”  While creating many memorable characters, actor John Wayne (1907-79) advised, “Talk low, talk slow, and don’t say too much.”
Carl Mays, author of over a dozen books and speaker at over 3000 events, can be contacted at or 865-436-7478. His books, including A Strategy For Winning, People of Passion, Anatomy Of A Leader, Are We Communicating Yet? and Winning Thoughts, are available in stores, on,, and other Internet locations.


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