Conversational Tips for Your Admissions Interview

The following piece was written by Peggy Wallace. Peggy is the Founder of Making Conversation, LLC and a former regional alumna admissions interviewer for the University of Pennsylvania.

If there is a conflict between the content of what you are saying and your body language or the sound of your voice, the listener will first believe your body language (55%), then the tone of your voice (38%), and finally, your content (7%). Why spend so much time on content? Knowing what message you want to convey affects your confidence which is then shown in your body language and the sound of your voice.

How you speak

When you speak, speak from your diaphragm. Pretend you are Santa Clause belting out a full “HO HO HO!” Using a deep breath from your chest gives credibility, power, and strength to your words. When you speak with air emanating from just your head, your voice may not sound as full; indeed, it might even sound thin and reedy, unconvinced and unconvincing.

Tone, volume, emphasis, and phrasing

Consider how the tone, volume, and emphasis make a difference in the following meaning:

“You’re coming with me.” This can be is a simple statement of fact when said with equal emphasis on each word, no tonal changes, and spoken from the diaphragm.  

YOU’RE coming with me. This may startle the listener with the higher level of emphasis and it will get their ATTENTION! 

YOU, ARE coming WITH ME. The voice gets louder at the beginning and end, and the contraction is eliminated which adds emphasis and certainty.

You’re coming with me? Said with an upward inflection at the end, the statement becomes a question expressing your absolute disbelief in their decision to come with you. Starting with Valley Girl talk, some Americans have adopted a singsong speech pattern, now called uptalk, which projects uncertainty. Certain cultures or languages have native speech patterns which may be similar to uptalk, and if so, you may wish to consider modifying your inflections.

Always remember that you are speaking to be understood by the other person. Even if you are uncertain about what you are saying, say it in a volume that can be understood. Many older people are already worried that they are losing their hearing. There is nothing more off-putting to the listener (and more likely to cause you additional anxiety) than having to say “WHAT, WHAT…I can’t hear you…What?” If they have to ask you more than once to repeat yourself, your lack of consideration – by not speaking in an audible volume – might be construed as rude or even worse, not worth the effort expended in trying listening to you. 

Phrasing can affect meaning:

Woman, without her man, is nothing.

Woman, without her, man is nothing.

Alter your volume, tone, pitch, speed, and rhythm to meaningfully convey your message. Make it easy for them. Phrase your words so the pauses add meaning or serve as directional hints!

Habitual voice markers/filler or crutch words

Habitual voice markers include: umm; ah; like; you know; and whatever. They fill in the space left void by your thought process of what you want to say next. Or, you might abuse a word with overuse – e.g. actually; honestly

No matter how long you think the pause of utter silence may be, it is likely less than you think. Putting in a filler word draws attention to the pause; if you pause silently, the listener might think you want them to reflect upon the point you had just made. Silence brings the listener in; excess verbiage confuses the listener and may shut them out.

“Like” is a modern catchall – it implies that you’re not sure that what you are saying is the best way to express yourself. “Whatever” connotes a careless approach. It disassociates or creates a distance between you and what you are saying. “You know” just invites the unspoken, frustrated response, “If I knew, I would not be asking!”

“Like,” “whatever,” and “you know” are phrases commonly associated with inarticulate teens.

“Actually”/”Honestly” both put what you are now saying into question. Were you dishonest or fabricating before?

How do you get rid of these fillers? Notice if you use them. Ask others if they hear you doing it. If you do use them, ask your friends and family members to point them out to you (with a silent signal) each time you do it. Each time you use a filler word, put your fingernail into your thumb. This can disrupt you from saying it again. In any event, once you know you are regularly marking the word, as your finger starts to move to touch your thumb, take a breath rather than saying the word. You’ll suddenly make a much better impression. As an articulate person, you will be confidently Making Conversation!


Check out Making Conversation for more information.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.