How to Speak More Professionally

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Speaking professionally at work will reward you in many different ways now and for the rest of your career. No matter what industry you are in or the position you currently hold, learning how to speak like a professional will help you establish yourself as an authority in your field, enable you to connect with others in professional settings more effectively and earn you more money in the long run through increased sales, increased trust and the greater likelihood of being promoted within your company.

Being able to talk professionally also makes you appear more trustworthy to others, which will improve your professional and social reputations.

Listen to Others Talk Professionally

One effective way to learn how to speak professionally is to listen to others speak professionally. Look online for speeches from individuals you admire and listen to their speeches carefully. If you are not sure where to find videos of people speaking professionally, try looking up TED Talks and videos of professional conferences for your industry. While you watch these videos, pay close attention to:

  • Word choice
  • Body language
  • Vocal inflection
  • Vocal tone 
  • Use of pauses in speech 
  • Use of rhetorical devices like open-ended questions, personal anecdotes and use of onomatopoeia
  • Speech patterns

During meetings, pay attention to how your company’s leaders speak and carry themselves while addressing the team. Speaking professionally at work is about more than actual speech — it is also about body language and use of intonation and inflection. Take note of the ways your supervisor communicates effectively as well as areas where she does not, such as awkward pauses or excessive use of run-on sentences. Use your understanding of her speech and engagement with the conversation to gauge her professional speaking skills.

By understanding how other people's speaking skills impact you as a listener, you can understand the skills you have to master to become an effective professional speaker. It can be effective to write down a list of actions you feel are key to effective public speaking and focus on them while you practice talking professionally. Similarly, writing down the traits and actions that you feel detract from effective professional speech can help you recognize these traits and avoid them in your speech.

Incorporate Business Phrases

Talking professionally is the skill of speaking effectively in work-related settings. This is not just in your workplace — these settings include industry conferences, networking events, interviews and mentoring sessions with individuals who are looking to start their own careers in your industry.

The right business phrases to work into your vocabulary depend on your industry and your position. Some business phrases are used universally, while others are industry specific. For example, most professionals find themselves talking about metrics, conversions, profits, losses and strategies, but health care professionals have very different industry-specific vocabularies. While teaching yourself to speak like a professional, adding universal and industry-specific business phrases to your vocabulary will enable you to demonstrate that you know what you are talking about.

Do not simply drop business phrases into your speech if you do not thoroughly understand them. Using a word or term inaccurately can destroy your credibility as a professional. If you are not completely sure that you are using a business phrase correctly, do not use it. Using business phrases correctly is an important part of talking professionally, and using simpler speech correctly is far less damaging to your reputation than using business phrases incorrectly.

Stop Using Slang and Filler Words

Slang is fine to use with your friends, and sometimes, it is fine to use around the office with your close colleagues. However, slang has no place in professional speech, and using it while talking professionally will undermine your credibility. Train yourself to use the proper phrases for people, places and things and to avoid using any language that may be considered vulgar or crass.

Another way speakers undermine their own professionalism is by using filler words in their speech. Filler words are meaningless words the speaker uses while hesitating in an effort to avoid halting the conversation completely. Using filler words can make the speaker seem anxious or make the listener feel like the speaker is not adequately prepared to discuss important business matters with him.

It can be difficult to banish filler words from your vocabulary, especially if you have always relied on them to fill the gaps in your speech. Silent speech gaps always sound more professional than gaps filled with “um”, “ah” and “you know.” One way to prevent yourself from using filler words in a presentation or conversation is to rehearse it and arrive for the engagement well prepared. However, sometimes a speaker can mentally fumble for words and phrases even if she practiced her speech, so practice remaining silent as your brain finds the right word, which is key to speaking professionally.

Pay Attention to Tone and Inflection

Inflection is the act of a speaker modifying his vocal expression to provide emphasis, context or grammatical clarity for a specific word or phrase. For example, the inflection used when saying “we’re eating pizza for lunch” is different from the inflection used to say “we’re eating pizza for lunch?” Many speakers unconsciously use a question-like inflection when speaking, which undermines their credibility on the topics they are discussing because it makes the listener feel like he is being asked rather than told about a subject.

Tone, often referred to as intonation, is similar to inflection in that it is a vocal modification. The difference is that the term “intonation” is often used to refer to things like vocal pitch, tempo and volume. The right volume for a speech to 100 people in an auditorium is not the right volume for an intimate conversation between three people, nor is the pace used to run a prospective customer through a list of a product’s benefits the right tempo for a serious discussion about a patient’s treatment options.

Know Your Audience

Another important part of speaking professionally at work is knowing how to gauge your audience and adjust your speech accordingly. Using jargon and technical terms with the IT team is necessary for communicating effectively about tech challenges and their solutions, but using this same language with the marketing department, the sales department, shareholders or consumers will just confuse them and potentially lead to misunderstandings.

Confusing others with big words is not professional. Understanding how to change your vocabulary to reach your listener without relying on slang or overly casual language is a skill to master to speak like a professional.

Seek Honest Feedback on Your Speaking

You can learn a lot about how to speak like a professional by talking about it with your colleagues. After a meeting or important conversation, ask the others involved in the meeting or conversation what they thought of your speaking and if they have suggestions for how you can improve your professional speaking. You can even offer to help your colleagues improve their professional speaking skills while improving your own by exchanging constructive criticism.

Knowing what you do well and how you can become an even stronger speaker can boost your confidence, which in turn will increase other people's confidence in you and your abilities.

References

About the Author

Lindsay Kramer has been a full-time writer since 2014. In that time, she's experienced the ups, downs and crazy twists life tends to take when you're launching, building and leading a small business. As a small business owner, her favorite aspect about writing in this field is helping other small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs become more fluent in the terminology and concepts they face in this role. Previously, she's written on entrepreneurship for 99designs and covered business law topics for law firms.