Thursday, May 26, 2016

Guest post: Do you tic when you talk?

(Editor's note: I asked voice coach Kate Peters for permission to reprint this post, which gets at an annoying but involuntary vocal problem many speakers experience. She notes, "Non-verbal “language" speaks volumes to an audience about who the speaker is, their emotional state, and their confidence. In particular, nervous habits surface as body language, but they can also surface as repeated vocal sounds of which the speaker may not even be aware.")

When I was in high school, I had a French teacher who grunted between every few words; little pig-like grunts would come from her mouth even when she was not speaking. It was awkward for us, to say the least, and she was the brunt of many jokes. However, she was either completely unaware of this tic, or did not know how to stop it.

Most people have seen physical tics such as head jerks, or hands that pull at clothes over and over when speaking, but there are also phonic tics. Phonic tics are involuntary sounds produced by moving air through the nose, mouth, or throat. Some call them vocal tics, but they could be a sound made when you breathe or a click of the tongue or a throat clearing. The extreme of phonic tics is Tourette Syndrome, but most are not that severe. For most of us, tics appear when we least want them to– when we are in front of a group. Tics are associated with anxiety. (Naturally, I now have much more compassion for my French teacher because I realize that we must have scared her to death!)

People with tics report that they first feel an irresistible urge to clear the throat, or grunt, or whatever the tic is followed by the tic. Even though it feels like you can’t stop yourself, it is possible to get rid of most tics as you do other habits, through awareness and practice; if you are aware of it you can stop it. Some tics, of course, are more deeply ingrained, more about the anxiety of being in front of others, and may take longer to conquer. Either way, if you have a vocal tic, eliminating it will increase your credibility, your comfort, and the audience’s comfort as well. Here’s how to work on it:
  • Observe yourself, either through video, or through feedback from others. You need to know exactly when the tic appears and what it is (grunt? click? sigh?) Sometimes this is all it takes to begin to break the habit.
  • Answer the tic urge with distraction.Tics are pent up energy. If you notice when the urge comes upon you to make the tic sound, say something before you can tic, or energize your voice consciously and you may dissolve the urge, and even replace it with a positive habit.
  • Before going on stage, calm yourself down with several deep low breaths, and repeat.
  • Focus on what you can do for others rather than what they are thinking about you. This is the key to conquering almost any kind of stage fright!
  • Prepare well. The more prepared you are the less likely it is that the nerves will get to you.
About Kate Peters
Kate Peters has taught voice and communication impact for over 30 years, and is the author of the book, Can You Hear Me Now? She has coached many executives and leadership teams at companies such as Cisco, Intel, Ernst and Young, Disney, Boeing, CA, British Petroleum, Invensys, First American, and Nissan. She helps translate geek speak into influential everyday speech for speakers at TEDMED and TEDx events, and is a featured speaker herself with organizations such as Women in Business, NAFE, E-Women, Rotary, The UCLA Alumni Association, CASE, and IABC. As a guest on talk radio spots she has taught vocal skills to thousands, and thoroughly enjoyed coaching callers into the Canadian based “Wayne and Jane Show" to sound sexy for Valentine’s Day.  Her blog, Kate’s Voice, has been named one of the top 100 online public speaking resources by Prezi

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Daniel Oines)

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

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