Reputation Precedes Your Speech

Reputation Precedes Your Speech

        A few years ago, my wife with dismay realized her reputation for fender benders. When she walked into the Nissan body shop, immediately the manager smiled and said, “Hello, Mrs. Boyd.” 

        Your reputation often precedes your speech or your message. What do people perceive about you when they see you walk to the lectern, or enter a room, or hear your voice on the phone?  “This person does not look like he or she wants to be here.” Or “Oh, my, I’ve got to listen to this person complain again.”  Or “I’ve heard this person speak and she or he goes on forever.” 

        People will not have a positive mental set to listen to you if you have a less than stellar communication reputation. Each time you talk, do what you can to leave a positive impression so that person will be ready to listen the next time you call or speak. Here are some tips to make that happen.

  • Determine to have an upbeat tone of voice when you initiate conversation. You can do this by punching out key words and raising your voice as you finish a significant sentence. If you are talking by phone or preparing for a meeting, converse with a person in your office to warm up your voice before you go to the phone or to that important conference.
  • Look and sound pleasant to the person to whom you are talking. If the person you are communicating with seems a little uncomfortable, you may be making him or her feel ill at ease. Consider your tone of voice, your posture, and your facial expression. Sit up in your chair, lean forward, gesture toward the person, and smile to show that you want to hear what the other person has to contribute to the conversation.
  • Take a moment to prepare mentally before you make a phone call, deliver that speech, or moderate the meeting. Close the door and make a note about your opinion or position and what you anticipate will happen.
  • Keep learning new words and better ways of communicating an idea. Sometimes you create a wrong impression because you do not have good command of the language. Not finding the right word to express yourself is frustrating. Develop the habit of learning new words and using them. When you don’t know the meaning of a word, make note of it and look it up in a dictionary. Keep a grammar book nearby to check any sentence construction uncertainty. If you do this often enough, pretty soon your new skills will show up in your daily speech. Better command of the language will also eliminate unnecessary or trite words and lessen the need for the use of verbalized pauses.
  • When you are in public, look and dress for the image and reputation you want to portray. You never know who you will see at the grocery store or the service station. Think of that image as well when you answer the phone. I’ve heard people answer the phone as though they are in the throes of death. Once they start talking, their voice changes and they soon get an upbeat tone to their conversation.
    Certainly what you say is most important, but creating a reputation that makes people want to listen to you is crucial as well.  


Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor of Speech Communication in the College of Informatics at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, Kentucky. He works with organizations whose people want to speak and listen more effectively to increase professional and personal success. He can be reached at 800.727.6520, or visit for free articles and resources to improve your communication skills.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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