Neels & Company - Strategic Business Communication
Trusted Advisor
Gretchen Neels
Gretchen Neels, President, Neels & Company

Dear Trusted Advisor

Can you recommend any books or programs for training young or new employees on voice image and sounding professional?
I work in a call center and don’t want to nag my staff, but the mumbling and overly casual tones make them sound indifferent to our clients.
C.S., Boston, MA

Dear C.S.,
There are many training organizations (including this one) that could help your staff speak more clearly and sound more professional, but I bet you could do a lot to improve things yourself. May I suggest you institute an improvement program?

Tell your staff that you are interested in eliminating verbal grafitti from the call center. Get two things across to them: the reason why (sounding more professional means increased customer satisfaction), and how (a game or contest will work wonders).

Take the steps in the article at right – record employees’ calls for 15 minutes, and have them identify their missteps, with your guidance, of course. Work together as a group to eliminate the excess “ums,” “ahs,” and “likes” and have them police themselves. Award the most improved with anything from silly stickers, balloons, and confetti to Starbucks cards, ITunes cards, time off, or the granddaddy of them all - cold hard cash. Stick with it for three or four months, and be sure to give lots of positive feedback, even for the smallest improvement. Keep us posted!



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She was like No Way

Have you had the opportunity to be in a spot lately, say on the bus or subway, or in a restaurant, where you overhear a conversation sprinkled with the same words and phrases, repeated so often you wonder if the speakers simply don’t have the same supply of verbs, nouns and adjectives the rest of us do?

I just finished Tim Koegel’s book, The Exceptional Presenter, where he spends a good deal of time talking about eliminating this verbal graffiti from conversations, presentations and voicemail messages. He is referring to the fillers between words and thoughts, such as “um,” “ah,” “sort of,” “you know,” and of course the classic, “like.” He also lists “to be honest with you,” “clearly,” “actually,” “I mean,” and “frankly” as words and phrases that mean nothing and should be eliminated post haste. I must add “at the end of the day” to Koegel’s list – ugh.

Filler is a distraction to your audience. When you speak clearly and concisely, your messages come through without static and you appear to be in total control of yourself and the situation at hand.

Nothing is worse, for example, than a long-winded, graffiti-filled voicemail message: “Hi Gretchen, um, I was wondering, ah, if, well, quite frankly, if you’ve managed to, um, hand my resume to Fred, ah, as we discussed, um, last Friday…” Huh? Any hope of my recommending this person to Fred has, um, you know, expired.

After listening to others (and myself) more closely, I was amazed to find how many use these fillers, diluting our messages and making us sound unprofessional at best. And it’s not just high school kids and young professionals struggling to sound intelligent!

In your next conversation with someone, count how many fillers you notice yourself using. I’ll bet there will be plenty. Next, try to eliminate the excess verbiage during your next meeting by pausing when you are about to pop an “um” or an “ah.” Both exercises are guaranteed to make you more aware of how you sound to others.

Greeting Card by Blue Barnhouse
(used with permission)

If you think you may sound a bit like the ladies above, take control of the image you are presenting to the world, in person and over the phone, with the following three-step intervention:

  1. Record yourself speaking the next time you are in a lengthy discussion (over 15 minutes). This could be a meeting at work or a casual conversation with friends. Leave the recorder on long enough so that you forget it’s there.
  2. Assess your graffiti level. If you use the occasional “um,” “ah,” and one or two “likes,” you’re probably fine. If, however, you find yourself using lots of fillers, as well as worn out phrases such as “to be honest,” “you know,” and “know what I mean?” you need some help.
  3. Vow to end the frivolous additions and be especially mindful of your speech for 30 to 40 minutes per day, trying hard to eliminate all fillers. If you stick to this for two to three weeks, you’ll see dramatic improvement.

Enlisting some help from a co-worker, spouse or friend can also have a positive effect on neatening one’s speech. For real, totally.

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We provide soft skills training and consulting to professional services firms covering all areas of business communication.

Neels & Company – Strategic Business Communication
P. O. Box 623, Boston, MA 02117
800-975-7031 ext. 701
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