We talk a lot about spelling and grammar mistakes in written communication around here. Now, we’re going to talk about spoken communication.

The way you speak has a big impact on how people perceive you, and how people perceive you has a big impact on your career.

It’s a cold, hard fact of life that you’re more likely to be hired and move up the ladder in most industries – not all but most – if you don’t swear all the time and call people “Yooz guys.”

Just like how punctuation makes all the difference between “Hey, let’s eat, Grandma,” and “Hey, let’s eat Grandma,” speaking well makes all the difference between people thinking you’re smart and competent, and thinking you’re dumb and useless.

Besides not swearing and saying “Yooz guys,” here are some dos and don’ts for improving your speech in interviews and other professional situations.

Don’t mumble. Speak clearly. People don’t want to have to ask you to repeat yourself. It interrupts communication and gets very annoying.

Do slow down. If you trip all over yourself in a hurry to get your words out, people won’t understand what you’re saying, and you’ll lose yourself too. Breathe between sentences. There is no rush.

Do keep your tone even. Research suggests the tone of one’s voice has a big influence on people’s perception of that person. According to the Wall Street Journal, recent research has found evidence that people with “rough, weak, strained or breathy voices” are judged less favourably than those with “normal” voices. It’s not always possible to change your voice, of course, but do make an effort to speak clearly and without any affectation.

Don’t use vocal fry: It’s that weird crackly thing Kim Kardashian does with her voice. I’m not sure it’s as much of thing as the media has made it out to be, but one study suggests it can affect your chances of getting hired. The researchers subjected a very small sample to recordings of voices with and without fry. Participants said they were less likely to hire the person with fry, and that the fry voices sounded less “trustworthy.”

Don’t uptalk: A friend of mine who is in a hiring position commented on Facebook the other day about the amount of uptalk she hears. She wrote, “It is annoying and makes you sound less clever than you are.” It really does. If you are not asking a question do not raise your pitch at the end of a sentence.

My friend added, “It makes me nuts. I would never hire an up talker as I couldn’t handle the daily interaction.”

Do pause before you speak. Count to three before answering a question. Think before you speak, rather than just blurting out the first thing that pops into your head. The three-second silence isn’t nearly as long for the listener as it is for you. And three seconds is enough time to ad clarity to your communication. You won’t sound rushed or nervous and you will sound smarter and more composed.

Do learn to speak properly. A woman who is a family friend speaks in the colloquialisms of the town where she grew up. She lives in Toronto and has a Master’s degree and a respectable job, but she still says things like “I seen your mom the other day.”

We’re not such close friends that I feel I can tell her. So, I haven’t. But I wish someone who knows her better than I do would do so. One important takeaway here is that you can’t correct the mistakes you don’t catch yourself making, and you can’t rely on people to tell you. So, what can you do? I don’t actually have a good solution, except to suggest you pay attention to how you speak. If you graduated high school, if you interact in the world, and if you watch movies and TV, you do actually know how to speak. You just have to catch yourself. I say “like” all the time, and when I catch myself, I stop.

I’ve listed some common spoken grammatical errors below.

For all of these you can record yourself answering mock interview questions, then play it back. Of course it’s more difficult to catch yourself when you’re not paying attention. All you can do is your best.

I asked my Facebook friends: “What are some common spoken grammatical errors you hear around you?” Here’s what some of them said.


    “I can’t do that neither”


    Adding “eh?” at the end of every sentence


    “A whole nother…”



    “Can I axe you a question?”

    “How are you?” “I’m doing good.”

    “So and so and myself are…”



    “Please join Sandra and I in the boardroom.”

    “I could care less.”


What grammatical errors have you heard lately?

Seven resume grammar mistakes that make you look dumb
Seven more grammar (& spelling) mistakes that make you look dumb