Tuesday, August 26, 2014

We, Like, Need a Better Game Plan

As fate would have it, I recently found myself as the front-seat-driver privy to five teenage girls in the backseat playing “One Minute Madness,” otherwise known as “The Um Game.”  The object is to talk about a given topic for one solid minute without saying the words “um,” “like,” or “ya know.”  Topics ranged from the mundane (stop signs) to the icky (ear wax) and as they laughed their way through it, they all agreed that the game was surprisingly challenging.  (I swear on my copy of “Do you Speak American?” that I did not put them up to this.)

How terrific that teenage girls are game for a new game that challenges their ability to speak without verbal tics and crutches!   

The fact is, we do need a better game plan – or more games and better strategies - to help young girls/women modify their speech patterns so the sound of their own voices don’t get in the way of their success. 

Just a few days ago, Christina Sterbenz, a young writer at Business Insider, contributed a trend story entitled, “Are These Common SpeechHabits Bringing You Down?”  She says, “How you say something matters as much as, like, what you say.  If you want to get your ideas across, then pay attention to certain controversial speech habits becoming increasingly more common.”

Sterbenz covers six of the most common trends, many of which I have covered in this blog: 
1. Vocal Fry 
2. Uptalking 
3. Beginning sentences with “so” 
4. Saying “Um” and “Ah” 
5. Saying “Like” 
6. Clearing your throat  

All six trends have video accompaniments.  Former News Anchor Connie Chung does a great piece on uptalking, interviewing both a linguist on her thesis and Villanova college students on this contagious rise in our intonation that turns our proclamations into questions.   

It is enlightening (if not a bit disturbing), to watch the YouTube videos of mega star pop idols showcasing their own mindless affectations including Kesha’s creaky vocal fry, Taylor Swift’s “um” syndrome and Justin Bieber’s innumerable “likes.”

For mega stars and mere mortals alike, games like, “One Minute Um-Madness” (my combined new title) and maybe even a modified version of the word guessing party game Taboo (switched up so you are not allowed to fall prey to verbal tics) are fun and effective exercises to help us rid ourselves of the verbal fillers, vocal fry and the “like” syndrome. It is all about awareness and modeling the right speech behaviors.  However, it is tricky. 

According to speech/language pathologist Marci Macaluso, “You need to be conscious of your speech pattern at the same time that you are being spontaneous in your conversation.  There are different strategies for shaping these behaviors.  But, you really need to commit to changing, because it takes a lot of practice.”

We all want to present our best selves.  No matter our chosen professions, internships or leadership positions, we don't just need to dress for success, we need to speak to impress!  But how do we find our own authentic voice, and one not riddled with like, ya know, whatever?

At the upcoming panel presentation on September 18th, 7-9pm at the Chappaqua Library, we will discuss all of this – the socio-linguistic trends (aka verbal fashion trends) including verbal tics and crutches, vocal fry and social media's affect on our speech patterns.  There will be tips and tricks as well and as an opportunity to learn more about a speech modification program. And, I am so thrilled that I will be joined by Speech/Language Pathologist Marci Macaluso, Writopia Lab Director Lena Roy and Human Resources Consultant Pam Schiffman.  

Like, hope to see ya there!:-)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

“Treasure Cats” and Other Truisms

When is a table more than a table?  Ah, a riddle!  The answer is, when its design bakes in your hopes and dreams. 

Back in 2011, my family and I were inspired to design such a table while shopping at Craft Works, a store in Martha’s Vineyard that sells handcrafted, custom-designed Sticks furniture and object art.  We already owned a Sticks mirror, framed in etched wood and with hand-drawn imagery illustrating the motivating words below including, “Think Big,” “Celebrate,” “Give,” “Seek Knowledge.” The mirror hangs at the foot of our staircase, and we see reflections of our selves and our beliefs every time we descend.  This table would be its companion, but this time, we would be choosing our own imagery and our own maxims.

“What a fun family activity!” I said to my 11-year-old daughter, 10-year-old son and 40-something husband, as we mulled over different themes and palettes. But when it came time to finding the right words, the adages that best expressed our own truths, the fun factor left and deep thought and conversation took over.  What sayings would encircle our table?  What were the words that fulfilled our belief system and the moral code that we wanted to share and impart to our children, and maybe even our children’s children? 

The kids had a lot of good input, although we had to gently nix a few like, “Drink Chocolate Milk,” “Treasure Cats,” and “Stay Cool!” (All worthy!). My funny husband’s contributions included “Love Meatballs,” and “Wrestle a Bear” (a metaphor or sorts).   Unfortunately, with space restrictions, we had to be choosy.

Along with “Laugh out Loud,” and “Sing and Dance,” one of my first contributions was “Speak Out.” Sound familiar? Whether at school, work, within our communities or at home, I truly believe that speaking with conviction, and being able to clearly articulate your ideas and beliefs is an important measure of a fulfilling life. 

It made the list. And now here I am today, three years later, writing to you about speaking out. Or, as true to my blog, “Saying it Like You Mean it!”  I am constantly reminded of its importance, and the challenges that surround getting our voices heard, with the confidence and verbal dexterity that compels others to listen.

So, back to our table (or, to the drawing board, so to speak)…Ultimately, we did come up with truisms that we all agreed upon.  The table sits in our den, a prized treasure.  And one day, this table might be a family heirloom, sitting in the home of one of our grandchildren.  

I hope it inspires thought and conversation.

Love family
Treasure friends
Seek knowledge
Speak out
See the world
Understand one another
Laugh out loud
Sing and dance 
Watch sunsets
Find peace
Know yourself
Be creative
Grow a garden
Be thankful
Spread joy
Live in the moment  
Be kind to animals
Follow your dreams