Imagine you are eating at a restaurant, and when the meal arrives the waiter doesn’t even bother coming to your table, he just stands about half way across the room and sort of tosses the plate in the general direction of your table. That would be an interesting dining experience. Or let’s say when the food does arrive the waiter comes to your table, but just as he is about to place the food in front of you, he lets his hand drop and the food hits the floor. Again, that would be a memorable dining experience, but not in a good way. Many, many of the speakers I coach are doing with their words what our imaginary waiter is doing with the food.
I call it dropping phrases. It’s commonly referred to as trailing off, and what we mean by that is when the speaker allows the last few words of a phrase or a sentence to diminish to the point that it becomes hard to hear or even inaudible. Dropping phrases has a number of significant consequences for you as a speaker. There’s a loss of clarity, a loss of credibility, and a loss of impact.
A loss of clarity because, at least in English, we very often have important words occurring right at the end of the phrase or right at the end of a sentence, so if we’re dropping phrases, if we’re trailing off, our listeners are missing important information, so it becomes hard to understand. There’s a loss of credibility because when you’re dropping phrases you’re essentially pulling back at the end of your phrase. So there’s a decreased amount of commitment and engagement in your delivery. You come across as less authoritative, less strong. And finally there is a loss of impact because when you allow yourself to trail off at the end of a phrase, there’s less energy carrying that message to your listeners and so they’re not as affected by what you have to say.
So, what’s the solution? What are the skills that we can bring to bear that will help us avoid trailing off and dropping phrases? Well, four things. The first one would be learning how to breathe through the end of the phrase. Here is what I mean by that. When you make sound you are exhaling. Speaking is essentially an exhale of breath. So make sure as much breath is flowing out on the last word as you had flowing out on the first word. Right? “One, two, three, four, five. Five.” Lots of breath is flowing out.
The second thing you can do: make sure you start the phrase on a pitch that’s high enough it will allow you to drop down a little bit and still end up in your natural range. So instead of, “One, two, three, four, five.” Right? That’s too low, your voice can’t vibrate that well by the time it gets to the end. Start just a little bit higher. “One, two, three, four, five.” See? “Five.” That’s still in the easy range of my voice. So just learn how to move everything up a little bit so that you’re staying more in the middle of your speaking range and not trying to work down to the very bottom of your range.
The third thing you can do is make sure the last word is vibrating just as fully as the first word was. Make sure that the tone of the last few words is just as clear and just as full as the first words in the phrase. “One, two, three, four, five. Five.” So, you can hear the tone of my voice very clearly on five whereas if I am dropping the phrase, “One, two, three, four, five, five, five.” You can hear the tone of that is not clear at all. It’s all scratchy and raspy. It’s not clear.
The fourth thing that you can do to counteract the tendency to trail off and drop phrases is imagine yourself opening toward the end of the phrase instead of closing up as you get toward the end of the phrase. So, “One, two, three, four, five.” I consciously thought of myself as getting more open as I got closer to the end instead of allowing everything to collapse and close up. “One, two, three, four, five, five.” See that’s not open. Open toward the end of the phrase. “One, two, three, four, five.”
If you learn to cultivate these skills of breathing through the end of the phrase, of making sure that the last word vibrates just as fully as the first one did. If you make sure that you’re starting on a pitch that keeps you in your natural speaking range, and if you work with the sense of opening toward the end of the phrase instead of allowing yourself to collapse and close up, you are going to speak with enhanced clarity. People will get what you’re saying very easily. You will be more fully engaged as a speaker and because of that, your listeners will be more fully engaged with what you’re saying and your message will land, boom! With a lot more impact.
If you’d like a few exercises that will help you counteract the tendency to trail off and drop phrases, go to voiceandspeech.com and download the free report The Sound of Success.