Sound More Confident in One Easy Step

By Andrea Karim on 11 June 2007 (Updated 17 January 2012) 12 comments
Photo: paulwan8

I once took a class on public speaking. It's not something that I thought I needed, but it turns out that I'm a terrible public speaker. Most people are, but I always thought of myself as relatively eloquent.

My instructor was a voice artist with over 50 years of experience working (mostly in radio commercials). The first lesson she taught seemed easy at first, but it took most of the students the entire two hour session to learn. But it's so simple and important that I felt it needed to be shared.

Tone: The Key to Confidence

Our instructor told us that when she hires voice artists based on video resumes, she only has to hear the first line of their introduction to know whether or not she can work with them. Usually, when a voice over actor tries out for a role, their recording begins with them introducing themselves saying their own name.

My teacher said that she could reject 90% of the actors based on these first few words. In fact, she claimed that she could tell how confident the actors were based on how they said their names.

To illustrate her point, she asked us all to introduce ourselves and tell the rest of the class what we did for a living.

"Hi," I said. "I'm Andrea Karim, and I'm a writer —"

"Stop right there," intoned our instructor. "Why are you asking a question?"

"Huh?"

"When you told us your name — you said, 'My name is Andrea Karim? and I'm a writer?'"

"That's just basic inflection. People talk that way when we have more to say."

When you're telling a story, your tone will tilt upwards at the end of a phrase, indicating that the story is continuing (unless you're Canadian, in which case, every sentence is a question, eh?).

This is actually perfectly reasonable during normal conversations. But as our instructor pointed out, upward inflection (indicating that there is more to come) also indicates that the most important thing hasn't been said yet. In other words, we haven't reached the climax of the story. When we introduce ourselves as "Andrea Karim?" we are putting less emphasis on our names — we're saying that our name, our identity, isn't important. It's not the main point.

But it should be.

Make Your Name Count

Saying your name confidently isn't unusual — you probably do it all the time already. In a one-on-one introduction, you probably say your name with downward inflection, like a statement.

"I'm Andrea. Good to meet you."

The reason we do this is because introductions are brief — we might only say our name and exchange a quick pleasant greeting before moving on. When you meet someone one-on-one, you aren't generally planning to say anything of great importance. Your brain is content to treat your name as the important statement that it is.

But when you introduce yourself in front of an audience (or over voicemail), you start with your name and move on to something else. The result is that you may end up saying your name like it's a question, because your brain is already eager to move on, to your speech or song or poem or whatever it is that you are reciting in front of a group. You're not thinking of yourself as the main point.

You should.

When introducing yourself to a group of people, be sure that your name is a statement. Your first name should inflect upwards, and your last name should inflect downwards.

It should sound more like "My name is Andrea? Karim." Follow with a slight pause, then continue with the rest of your introduction. Actually, don't use my name, unless you want to be mobbed by thousands of screaming fans.

Try it by yourself a few dozen times, and then try it out next time you have to give a talk or introduce yourself to a group. You'll be pleasantly surprised at what a difference it makes in the overall tone of your introduction.

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Guest's picture

I'm sooo proud you used my photo !!! :-)

(And good article, by the way...)

Andrea Karim's picture

We are so delighted by Flickr's creative commons pool. Thanks so much for allowing your photos for use in the public domain!

Paul Michael's picture

I have found so many wonderful photos through Creative Commons. Excellent bunch of talented folks out there. And Andrea, great article. I intend to use that advice to the fullest.

Bob B.'s picture
Bob B.

"Actually, don't use my name, unless you want to be mobbed by thousands of screaming fans."

Oh damn, and me without my "Andrea, I want to have your babies" placard. Wink

Great article, as usual!

Andrea Karim's picture

Oh damn, and me without my "Andrea, I want to have your babies" placard.

If I had had a nickel for every time someone said that to me... well, I guess I'd have a nickel now.

Will, can you see to it that the 'Andrea... babies' placards are reprinted and handed out?

Guest's picture

I lead a study group and I need to learn a lot about speaking in front of groups. Thanks for the tip!

Guest's picture
jos

interesting... youd think that i would have learned something like that from one of the many communications classes i took in college... it makes alot of sense tho... great article

Andrea Karim's picture

It's a little awkward at first, I must admit. But it helps people to remember your name and sort of "cements" your presence in their consciousness.

I actually go by "Andi" at work, and saying "Andi Dickson" sounds really close to "Andy Dick", which makes me feel like a bad, bad person.

Guest's picture
Sue

I just recently saw Suze Orman's PBS special on her new book, "Women and Money" and this is one of her big messages in it. She makes women in the audience stand up and own their names while introducing themselves to others in the audience. At first I thought it was a weird concept, but as an intercollegiate speech and debate coach I realize the importance of sounding like you know what you're talking about even if you aren't totally confident that you really do! And, we all know our names, so why not say them confidently?

Guest's picture
Umer Khan

Hi Andrea,

Thanks for sharing a great tip. I was wondering if you could share which class this was - company and instructor. Thanks.

Andrea Karim's picture

Hi, Umer. The class was a voice-over course taught by a talented actor named Pat French. She lives in the Seattle area and gives voice-over lessons out of her home. The class that I signed up for was offered through a community college. I'm sure her info is Google-able. :)

Guest's picture
Guest

If anyone i was listening to introduced themselves as Andi Dickson, I would assume them to be be the famous english cricket groundsman Andy Dixon and they probably would get mobbed by fans! OK until we ask them how to make a wicket a spinner!!