O.K.? You with me? Verbal Validation Markers in Oral Communication.

Scared presenter

Many people, including presenters and trainers, appear to subconsciously use “Verbal validation markers” (a sub-set of discourse markers) when speaking to formal or informal groups in meetings, presentations & similar communicative activities. These Verbal Validation Markers normally occur at the end of statements. Some examples of these are:
– O.K.?
– You with me?
– See what I mean?
– You know what I mean?
– You understand?
– Clear?
– …like.
– and many others.

The speaker is often unaware that they are using these phrases, however the audience frequently notice, and become distracted by, their excessive use which then prevents them from paying full attention to the topic being discussed.

In addition, these phrase can often be interpreted subconsciously by the listener(s) as the speaker looking for acceptance or validation of their communication both on the content level and also on the communicative level. This, in turn, has an effect on their own self-esteem and can create and reinforce a Negative Bias about communicating in public. This need for validation may be based on the speaker’s real or perceived lack of their own:
– Self confidence
– Public speaking experience &/or training.
– Linguistic skills
– Knowledge of the topic
– Information about the audience
– Many other factors.

For an objective appraisal of your own use of “Verbal validation markers”, the next time you are making a presentation, teaching or training a group or participating in a meeting, consider asking a friend or colleague to make a list of the “Validation markers” you think that you might be using and want to eliminate. Also ask them to identify the markers that you actually use at the same time. In both cases, have them count how times each one occurs. All too often the results can be disconcerting! NOTE: Videotaping yourself is not usually as effective as being videotaped in a real communicative event. Bear in mind that it you don’t have confidence in yourself, how can you expect the audience to have confidence in you and what you are talking about?

Remember that in many contexts you are NOT “you”, per se, and you are, in fact, perceived as the voice of your “role” in the communicative event: Trainer, Presenter, Product Manager, Researcher, Financial expert or whatever your role is perceived to be by the audience.

These phrases are different from “Verbal Tics” or “Fillers” such as “Ehhh”, “Um” “Uh”, “Er” , which appear to be used to fill-in a potential silence while the speaker is thinking of what next to say. Our experience indicates that it often appears in presentations and training when the presenter/trainer is NOT a native speaker of the language being used or, with both non-native and native speakers:
– when they have not prepared / rehearsed their material sufficiently.
– are using a presentation prepared by/for someone else
– when the presentation / material has been changed since they last saw it.
– when they are interrupted by (possibly unexpected) questions or comments.

Occasional verbal tics are not normally a problem and often appear with even the most experienced speaker. However, when they are used by non-native speakers of the language, audience members often make allowances (subconsciously) for these elements and they apparently tend to distract less than those of native speakers.

If you do have to communicate in a language that you do not dominate complete, bear the following in mind.” If people really want to understand you, they will! And if they don’t want to understand you, it doesn’t matter how well you speak the language – they won’t!”

What can we do about it?
1. Consciously become aware that you may be using filler words too much. Frequently record yourself practising a presentation or speech and count how many filler words you use.

2. Consciously substitute a brief pause…yes, silence…for each filler word. This not only eliminates the offending fillers, it helps the audience absorb your message.

Silence often makes us feel uncomfortable. Martin Tupper, a 19th century English writer and poet put it well when he said “Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech”. Or in other words, silence makes you more eloquent by allowing your listener to reflect on, or interpret what you just said. Nowadays, Ericksonian hypnosis also uses silence elegantly and effectively with patients.

I would like to suggest that you:
Identify your own verbal fillers
Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
– This reduces stress and relaxes you.
– Build this style of breathing into your normal speech patterns
– Ensure your shoulders are down and not raised. (Raised = stress marker)
– Keep your head straight and erect. The head at an angle can signal submission or subordination.
– Avoid walking around: this produces more testosterone and adrenaline which can be prejudicial to the reception of your message.

I hope this short article is useful to you and all constructive feedback would be appreciated.

© Ian Brownlee, Madrid, Spain, 28011. 11th December, 2018

Richard J.Watts, “Taking the pitcher to the ‘well’: Native speakers’ perception of their use of discourse markers in conversation,” Journal of Pragmatics, Volume 13, Issue 2, April 1989, Pages 203-237

S. Keerstock & Rajka Smiljanic, “How clear speech equates to clear memory”, Acoustical Society of America’s 176th Meeting, Nov. 5-9. 2018

Richard J. Watts, “Taking the pitcher to the ‘well’: Native speakers’ perception of their use of discourse markers in conversation”, Journal of Pragmatics, April 1989.

Andrea Tyler, “Discourse Structure and the Perception of Incoherence in International Teaching Assistants’ Spoken Discourse”, TESOL Quarterly, Volume 26,Winter 1992, Pages 713-729

Flowerdew, J., & Tauroza, S. (1995). The Effect of Discourse Markers on Second Language Lecture Comprehension. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 17(4), 435-458.

Krause, M. S., & Pilisuk, M. (1961). Anxiety in verbal behavior: A validation study. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 25(5), 414-419.

About ianbrownlee

Ian Brownlee, the founder of Brownlee & Associates has been actively involved in the field of interpersonal & transcultural communication since 1977. He has worked in universities and companies in the following countries: Laos, Thailand, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, France, Italy, England, The United States of America & Spain, as a teacher, university lecturer, trainer, researcher & consultant. In addition, his experience in living in these countries, and studying the language & communication and interaction styles of each has aided him in reaching a real understanding of intercultural and transcultural differences and how to resolve them. Ian Brownlee has various masters degrees from British Universities: One in Linguistics & Teaching English Overseas from Manchester University, one in Training & Development with a specialization in the area of Communication and Adult learning awarded by the University of Sheffield. He has also gained professional qualifications in Psychotherapy & Hypnotherapy from various professional organizations. During his university career he has also studied elements of Sociology, Organizational psychology, Educational psychology, Psycholinguistics and Kinesics. He is a licensed Practitioner, Master Practitioner, and Master Trainer in NLP. as well as being a trainer in Ericksonian Hypnosis. He is a member of a wide range of professional organizations involved in Training, Applied Psychology, Hypnotherapy & Ericksonian Hypnosis, Psychotherapy, Interpersonal Communication & Cross-cultural Communication. He is also recognized by the Program on Negotiation, Harvard University, as a Negotiation Skills Trainer & Mediator and has been a collaborator on various projects with the program, and as such is in great demand as a negotiation consultant for some of the largest multinationals operating worldwide. His wide experience gained in multinational organizations in positions such as Director of Training, Communications Consultant and Negotiator / Mediator has helped many people to learn and apply new methods of negotiating skills and advanced communication techniques both in their private and professional lives. He has published various articles & books related to the field of interpersonal communication and he is the author of all the courses taught by Brownlee & Associates. He has lived and worked in Spain since 1985, initially as a trainer / Special Assistant in a multinational pharmaceutical company and then as the Training Manager for a multinational company involved in Clinical Analysis & Nuclear Medicine. Brownlee & Associates was formed in 1991 and currently has a small, highly-trained staff. While based in Madrid, courses are given world-wide either in English or Spanish. Brownlee & Associates currently work with leading international companies in the areas of pharmaceuticals , Information systems, luxury products, food & beverages, etc.
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