Seattle Community

Anna Bernstein
Speech and communication coach
Burien, Washington
Generally helpful
out of 10
10 votes

Top Five Speaking Sins

A list of five speaking sins from a voice expert with more than ten years of experience helping professionals improve how they communicate.

Written Jan 17, 2008, read 1945 times since then.


As a voice expert, I help business professionals learn to use their voices to become more successful. Essentially, I teach tips and techniques so they have many vocal and speech choices.

After more than ten years of experience, I have identified some areas of improvement when it comes to business communications. Some of these may seem subtle, but they make a powerful impact on your audience.

1. Speaking more than anyone else in the conversation.
You may think you have a lot of important information to share. But if you speak more than other folks, the impression they will be left with is you just go on and on and on. People appreciate pithy speakers who get to the point and then let others speak.

2. Beginning to speak before you know what you are going to say.
If you don’t know where you are headed, you won’t know when you have arrived. Understand what you want to contribute before you open your mouth. This will make you popular – you will be known as the person who gets to the point and does not waste anyone’s time.

3. Saying your name and phone number too quickly.
I admit it; this is a pet peeve of mine. But I have a technique to help you: say each syllable of your name and number on a different pitch. This forces you to slow down, and the different pitches make it easy for the listener to understand what you are saying.

4. Interrupting other speakers.
If you have this habit, please STOP! The message you are sending to others is that are you not listening to them. You only hurt your own reputation with this technique. On the other hand, if someone interrupts you, it is acceptable to say, “Excuse me; I just want to finish what I am saying.”

5. Speaking without breathing first.
You may be shaking your head about this sin, but it is very important. When you speak without breathing first, you strain your voice to be heard. That is because your voice needs breathe support to travel out of your mouth and into people’s ears. This straining quality results in many vocal problems, and it signals to the listener that you are tense. This can make the listener tense, and create a distance that is hard to overcome.

This is not a sin, but I always let my clients know first thing that everything their voice does occurs due to brain impulses. You cannot “feel” your own voice! When you think you are feeling it, you are really feeling your throat. Try to speak with as little “feeling” in your neck as possible. This means you are using your voice naturally, and the result is a natural, relaxed sound.

For my next article, I would love your questions regarding any voice or speaking issues that you want to solve. Sharing these tips and techniques is a wonderful way to awaken you to the instrument inside you that is your voice. You can learn to play it just as you play any other instrument. The results can be better communication skills, increased confidence, and the ability to project a professional image.

Learn more about the author, Anna Bernstein.

Comment on this article

  • Seattle Printing, Mailing Services, Fulfillment Services 
Bellingham, Washington 
Jess Robinson
    Posted by Jess Robinson, Bellingham, Washington | Jan 18, 2008

    Anna, thanks for the great article. Above all else, this is a reminder to me to listen, listen, listen! Even when I'm cognizant of sins #1 and #4, I have to remind myself to shut up and listen. I think it's a discipline more than anything.

    Any suggestions on how to stay aware of my place in the conversation?

  • Speech and communication coach 
Burien, Washington 
Anna Bernstein
    Posted by Anna Bernstein, Burien, Washington | Jan 18, 2008

    Hi Jess, thanks for the comment. Try to imagine the conversation as a ping-pong match. You need to keep returning the ball -- i.e., giving the other player(s) a chance to speak -- to keep the game going.

    Also, if you can focus on the idea that you are there to learn as much as possible about the other people and not talk about yourself, not only will you tend to listen more, but you will send a nonverbal message that you are a great listener. That is what people will remember about you 5 days later, not the words you said.

  • Seattle Printing, Mailing Services, Fulfillment Services 
Bellingham, Washington 
Jess Robinson
    Posted by Jess Robinson, Bellingham, Washington | Jan 18, 2008

    Ping pong.....that's good! I'll use it. Thanks!

  • Bowenwork, MLT (manual ligament therapy), I-AM (Integral-Awareness Modality), Mind-Body-Being integration, bodywork, massage therapy 
Seattle, Washington 
Michelle Basey
    Posted by Michelle Basey, Seattle, Washington | Jan 19, 2008

    Thank you, Anna. I was wondering about the other side of the coin on the "no interrupting" rule.

    Are there polite ways to interrupt someone who has a very long train of thought, speaks without pausing and doesn't seem to pong back?

  • Speech and communication coach 
Burien, Washington 
Anna Bernstein
    Posted by Anna Bernstein, Burien, Washington | Jan 19, 2008

    Hi Michelle, It is still acceptable to say, "Excuse me for interrupting," and then make your comment. You can also add that you wanted to get back to something they said earlier. Most speakers with these long trains of thought are not bothered by your interruptions.

  • Business Coaching for Entrepreneurs 
Seattle, Washington 
David Prindle
    Posted by David Prindle, Seattle, Washington | Jan 25, 2008

    Hi Anna,

    I used to go to Toastmasters, but the whole experience was so hideously painful I could never go back more than twice. I'm sure it works for people - bunches of friends swear by it - but it seemed contrived, and oh so dull.

    I still have to speak in front of large and small groups though, and while I think I muddle through OK, I have challenges.

    I did have a question for you, when I started this rant, and I apologize if you've answered it before somewhere, but I didn't see it. When you are talking (presenting) to a group of folks, say 10 or more, is there a good tactic for checking to see if you're doing the human Sominex thing to them? I personally hate it when someone says "are you still with me?" or the ever popular "now are we all together?" It seems as though, if you have to ask, you've already lost them.

    Thanks for any suggestions you might have.

    • David
  • Speech and communication coach 
Burien, Washington 
Anna Bernstein
    Posted by Anna Bernstein, Burien, Washington | Feb 15, 2008

    Hi David, I apologize for taking so long to answer. Obviously, I have not been checking this site!

    Yes, there is a way to check to see if you have given Sominex to your audience - ask them a question. In fact, I like to open my presentations with audience participation as quickly as possible, then keep it up. People get antsy just listening, so letting them talk makes them happier and more likely to listen to you.

    Hope this helps, Anna

  • Linked:Seattle Community Chairperson 
Seattle, Washington 
Joe Hage
    Posted by Joe Hage, Seattle, Washington | Feb 18, 2008

    An old colleague used to say, "Never miss an opportunity to say nothing at all."

    It's a great habit to develop for meetings: Speak only when you have something significant to contribute, and be terse. You'll get a reputation for being thoughtful and respectful of other people's time.

  • Co-Founder, Koinonia Business Women 
Olympia, Washington 
Krista Dunk
    Posted by Krista Dunk, Olympia, Washington | Jul 04, 2008

    During inspirational, informational and persuasive speaking and presenting, what are a couple examples of bad habits to avoid? Are too many analogies bad? Are too many bullet points bad? Is throwing in some humor good if the topic allows (although I think most every topic could get away with a bit of humor in my opinion :-)). Is no audience participation bad? Thanks! Krista Dunk

  • Non-Profit Development  
Bellevue, Washington 
Christine Addison
    Posted by Christine Addison, Bellevue, Washington | Jan 27, 2009

    Anna I appreciated your tips. You are 5x right.

    How long should a listener wait to make sure others are finished speaking before he/she is free to add to a conversation?

    Thanks, Christine Addison Security Consultant Sonitrol Pacific