Archive for the ‘Voice’ Category

Service of a Cheery “Hello”

Monday, September 29th, 2014

smiling cashier 4

Wall Street Journal columnist Joe Queenan doesn’t like friendly employees. If he returns to his local drugstore in a day, he resents it when cashiers wish him “a good one” for the fifth time. He expects them to remember that he’d been there recently.

And he wants greetings to be genuine. In “Save That ‘Hello’ for the Next Customer,” he wrote: “Not everyone at the drugstore is equally adept at being ‘spontaneously’ hospitable. A couple of staffers had not said hello to me or anyone else since the Clinton administration, but then one day some manager obviously cracked the whip. Suddenly, they started saying ‘Good morning’ in an android-like fashion, as if they had a gun cocked to their heads.”

smiling cashier 3Some of the cashiers admitted, when he asked, that they’d been instructed to be “extra nice to customers.” He observed that their tone especially grated when he went to the store after a funeral.

He complained that supermarkets give similar instructions to their cashiers who must tell a customer to have “‘a good one’ even if they look like they might smack you.” In addition to insincere employees who are cheery because they are told to be, he dislikes strangers who say “hello.”

He continued, “There are several issues here. Misanthropes—and there are a lot of us out here—think of hyper-effusive greetings as an invasion of privacy, almost as a casus belli. That’s why we like to vacation in France, where you hardly ever run the risk of encountering belligerent conviviality at the retail level.”

Smiling cashiers 1So he could be left alone he wishes that a store’s rewards card could be programmed to indicate to staff that this customer doesn’t like to be greeted with a smile.

I wasn’t able to tell how much of Queenan’s tongue was in his cheek. I complained to management at an upstate gas station convenience store about its belligerent staff because they ignored not only my greeting but me. One of the things I resented was the total silence in reaction to my “hello,” or “good morning,” as well as “might I pay for this please?

Do you like it when retail staff greets you with a smile and happy word or does it rub you the wrong way? How can you tell if a greeting is genuine? Does it matter? Should a cashier be expected to remember that a customer has been to the store several times in a day?

smiling cashier 2

Service of Can You Hear Me?

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

 Can you hear me

I’ve been watching an increasingly wonderful selection of  BBC period dramas and comedies on PBS, some repeats of 20th century programs such as “All Creatures Great and Small” and others that are new–“Call the Midwife” [below, right] for example. Whether it’s the 85 year old pig farmer in an episode of the former or, in the latter, some of the patients in a depiction of London’s East End in the 1950s, I have a terrible if not impossible time understanding them. [In no way does this fact diminish my enjoyment of the programs.]

Call the midwifeI always thought that I should be good at deciphering what people speaking English with various accents had to say as I grew up with my father’s French one. Not so. Similarly, someone from across the pond might need to strain to catch the meaning of quickly articulated Brooklyn or southern American accents.

I’ll be curious whether we’ll pick up some of the language from these imported shows. I recently discovered British comedy “The Cafe,” also on PBS, where characters repeatedly say “laters,” instead of “see you later.”

Blocking earsI read with interest Sue Shellenbarger’s Wall Street Journal article “Is This How You Really Talk?” which while about voice, not accent, nevertheless covers what comes out of a mouth. I’ve previously written extensively about those that irritate me in “Service of Voice,” focusing most on the little girl high pitch some mature women hold on to–in hopes of appearing young perhaps? Shellenbarger, who calls it “the immature voice,” notes, “The problem often starts in puberty and is usually treatable in voice therapy.” Who knew? I always thought it was treatable by not speaking like that anymore.

Wrote Shellenbarger, “A strong, smooth voice can enhance your chances of rising to CEO. And a nasal whine, a raspy tone or strident volume can drive colleagues to distraction. ‘People may be tempted to say, ‘Would you shut up?’ But they dance around the issue because they don’t want to hurt somebody’s feelings,’ says Phyllis Hartman, an Ingomar, Pa., human-resources consultant.”

The reporter continued, “The sound of a speaker’s voice matters twice as much as the content of the message, according to a study last year of 120 executives’ speeches by Quantified Impressions, an Austin, Texas, communications analytics company.”

Fran FineWho needs studies to prove this? Even fiction supports the study. The nasal New York accent of Fran Drescher [right] as Fran Fine in “The Nanny” [1993-1999], the TV program she created, compared to her boss’s English one, was the most obvious element of the comedy. While Miss Fine was depicted as smarter than the Mr. Sheffield character, he was the billionaire, she the servant.

Shellenbarger writes that people with distractingly irritating voices are unaware. I wonder if all their parents were deaf? My father, no speech therapist, rid me of a violent case of the “um’s” by pointing out each time I said it until I caught it myself.

One fun way to help children hear how they speak and learn to achieve a radio quality voice is through Radio Camp, at UnionDocsCenter for Documentary Art in Brooklyn. Staffed by Sally Herships and Ann Heppermann, the website promises: “At Radio Camp kids take the mic to document the people, places and things around them, all while exploring the key ingredients of great storytelling.” Herships is an award winning journalist who has produced or reported for BBC World Service, NPR, WNYC, The New York Times and Studio 360. Heppermann has reported and produced shows from This American Life, Radiolab and Marketplace to Studio360.

Do you have tips on how to understand regional English accents? Do you believe that people who screech, whisper, whine, turn statements into questions, speak in a monotone, incessantly repeat “like,” um” and “you know” or boom/lecture are unaware?

Say what


Service of Voice

Thursday, February 10th, 2011


I’ve addressed “Tone of Voice” before, but the impact of a voice’s timbre is the focus here. I was inspired to do so by PR pro Elaine Siegel’s description of the presenter at an event she recently attended. She called her “a squeaker, not a speaker.”

sopranoFull disclosure: I am not a soprano fan-I prefer low singing voices so that my comments and reaction to sound are pitched toward my preference. If I feel stressed and my husband is listening to opera and I hear trilling, I clear out [so I don’t start screaming, too].

For starters, two female politician’s voices drive me nuts-a senator and former governor. I cringe when I hear their shrill, little girl voices. It matters to me that they know what they are talking about but I doubt whatever comes out of either mouth because of the childish, whiney sound. I can’t help using the overused “gravitas” word. Their voices give them none. Doesn’t seem to affect how other people rate them. Both have tons of supporters and I’ve never heard them criticized for their voices.

paris1It occurred to me while walking in Paris a few years ago that French women must force their voices up so as to sound feminine and cute. A whole population can’t possibly be born with the collective high pitch. And I wonder if the Valley girl up flip at the end of sentences isn’t related.

I once had a bright, accomplished client, a product manager with umpteen graduate degrees. Her boss asked her a question at the end of my first verbal report at headquarters. The room was full. He said: “How do you think Jeanne is doing?” I hope that my face didn’t reflect my reaction when this woman turned into a squirmy little girl with voice to match. She liked my performance and report, she said, but she shocked me as I witnessed an accomplished businesswoman transform into a little girl in front of the big, bad, all-male bosses.

I’ve met people who, with help, have successfully dropped regional accents and if you saw the wonderful movie, “King’s Speech,” many get over stuttering. You’d think that women could correct their strident, childish tone, except I doubt most want to.

I don’t have the same trouble with men’s voices. Do you? Does a speaker’s voice affect her message? Do you find women with little girl voices off-putting or doesn’t it bother you at all?


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