Monday, September 5, 2011

I declare: Use language to sound confident as a speaker

Many women readers of this blog write in about wanting to sound more confident. Some want to rid themselves of sounding tentative, as if they're asking a question even when they aren't. Some feel they're going too far in the other direction, being strident when something less pushy is called for. Others mask anxiety with a lot of enthusiasm. None of them feels good about how they sound when they speak, using those approaches.

So I think it's time we returned to a grammar basic, one that will help you strike the right tone, whether you're giving a speech, a presentation or just having a workplace or social conversation. It's the simple declarative sentence.

Declarative sentences are often defined as much by what they are not as by what they are. Declarative sentences contain no commands, no questions and no exclamations. They are straightforward statements, rather than explanations. Direct and plain, they also are confident and focused.

How can you use declarative sentences more effectively? Use them to replace the things they are not:

  • Practice comparing how they sound in place of almost-questions. Instead of "I think we should go to the park at lunch?" with a raised inflection at the end of the sentence, "I think we should go to the park at lunch" sounds much more authoritative.
  • Replace commands with group declarations: Take the time to say "Let's stop arguing," instead of "Stop arguing!" Makes a big difference. Why? In effect, you're inviting a change in behavior, saying "Let us..." Old-school, but subtly effective.
  •  Dial back your exclamations and explanations:  Enthusiasm's great--unless it's unrelenting. Make sure your exclamations count, and choose declarative sentences. The same is true if you over-explain. A simple declarative sentence can save you many minutes of sounding defensive, if you use it right. Read Do you over-explain? 5 speaker tricks for using data and details wisely for more ideas.

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