(Contributed by Katie Nash, Student at UNC Chapel Hill School of Media and Journalism)
What, like, happened?! As a student, I walk through campus every day and hear all types of conversations, and in class, a variety of presentations. I find myself increasingly distracted by my classmates’ poor speech habits and the flurry of filler words. From the constant use of “like” and “literally” to poor enunciation and projection, my fellow students’ speech habits take away from their message and give the impression of a lack of confidence and competence.
I wondered…how do communication habits carry over into the corporate world?
Luckily, I had the opportunity to sit down with Lynn Owens, Ph.D., a former broadcast news anchor and my current professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Media and Journalism. Dr. Owens had plenty to say about how communication skills can make or break you in today’s corporate world, and how apps, such as LikeSo: Your Personal Speech Coach, can have a real and positive impact.
KN: Hi Professor Owens! I would love to hear about how you became a media enthusiast and advocate for confident communication. Can you tell me a bit about your background and your experience in communications and broadcasting?
LO: Hi Katie. I started off majoring in International Relations but then got a college internship with a T.V. news station. I fell in love with broadcast news and the way that it allows you to incorporate video and voice to tell a story. After college, I worked as a technical producer at Reuters Television in London. Then, I came back to the U.S. and got a job as a T.V. reporter at a CBS affiliate in Eastern North Carolina, and then I went back to college for my Ph.D. in Mass Communication. And now I’ve been teaching since 2006.
KN: What kind of influence does clear and confident communication have in the workforce, academia, or just everyday conversation?
LO: Clear and confident communication is everything. You can have two people with equivalent resumes, or I’d even say somebody who maybe is a little less qualified. The more confident communicator and the more effective communicator will have the edge. Your voice expresses confidence, self-assurance, and also credibility. All of those things are tied to your voice. It is crucial that we all communicate the best that we can.
In my Voice and Diction class, sometimes students are concerned about the pitch. “Oh, my voice is too high!” You’re born with your pitch and you really shouldn’t change that, but you can use the pitch that you were born with in the best way possible to communicate the best way that you can.
KN: Absolutely, and that goes right into my next question. What challenges do students usually face when it comes to verbal communications, and what are some of the tips, advice, and tools that you recommend?
LO: It is a lack of confidence and nerves that get to students, whether they’re presenting a paper in front of the class or they’re learning broadcast journalism. Nerves are where you start to hear a lot of the filler words; that’s where their voice changes or they become very soft-spoken and not confident anymore. It’s all an obstacle in your head, and you have to train yourself to use your voice effectively to be a good communicator. For broadcast journalism especially. I tell them, “Take a few deep breaths, calm down, and really pretend like you’re communicating with somebody with whom you are comfortable. When I was a reporter, I always used to picture the camera as my mother – my little, short mother – and when you’re relaxed and confident, that is when you can communicate at your best.
KN: And do you think the Internet and social media is helping or hurting our ability to be confident and brave communicators?
LO: Overall, I think our devices and screens may be hurtful. I think we’re very confident through texting and what not, but I feel the face-to-face communication, and even the simple act of picking up the phone and ordering a pizza, no longer exists. People are verbally communicating less and relying on technology to do their communication for them, and that’s bad. Communication, in a way, is really becoming a bit of a lost art. I see the difference in students I taught in 2006 until now. So, I think in a way technology hinders, but it’s great to hear that companies are developing apps like the voice-driven speech app LikeSo that can help by encouraging practice and preparation.
KN: Do you have any other general anecdotes or tips, or anything you’re really passionate about when it comes to the world of communication?
LO: I have just seen time and time again people who on paper may not be as strong or qualified, but because they are just so good at communicating, they are afforded opportunities that a more qualified person who is not such a good communicator was not able to land. I think it really is very important how you talk and present yourself. It says a lot about your knowledge base and your credibility.
Many social commentators lament how the art of conversation is being lost as people prefer to use email, texts and tweets to communicate. But, as BBC Newsnight’s Stephen Smith reports, spoken word enthusiasts are fighting back. But it’s no longer just a rhetorical question. “Can we talk?” has become one of the most pressing social, cultural – even philosophical – issues of our day to some social commentators.
Yes, agreed. We have to put down our phones, stop texting and restart talking. We are losing empathy. My mission is to create apps that humanize our experience.