A common obstacle that many people who speak face is being able to speak clearly. This is more of an issue for those who speak infrequently as opposed to those who speak regularly — those in the former category are often unaware of the issue.

You can have a well written speech, practice it until you know it cold and then deliver it with confidence. But if your audience can’t understand what you’re saying, it’ll have minimal impact. You’ve probably seen speakers like this. So what are some of the things that can interfere with the clarity of your speech and what can you do about it? Let’s start with some of the reasons an audience doesn’t understand your talk:

  • You’re speaking too softly or too fast.
  • You’re using language that the audience doesn’t understand.
  • You have a thick or heavy accent.
  • English is not your first language.
  • Your grammar usage or pronunciation is unusual.
  • Your ideas are presented in a confusing or hard to follow manner.

There are many other reasons, but these are the most common. Again, many of us are unaware of these issues so I highly recommend recording one of your presentations so you can get a more realistic view of your presentation abilities. A video recording is best because you can also evaluate the visual aspects of your presentation style, but audio is adequate for improving your speech clarity. If you have friends that will provide you with honest feedback, you can ask them about your clarity when you speak. Another great option is a Toastmasters club – just make sure you don’t choose a club that only gives softball evaluations.

Once you know what the issued you need to work on are, you can start addressing them. So here are some ways that you can improve your clarity.

Watch your voice:

Do you speak too fast or too slow? Are you speaking loud enough or into the microphone so people can hear you? More often than not, people tend to speak faster when presenting to a group — this is often caused by nervous energy. If you catch yourself speaking too fast, practice slowing down. A recorder (again, audio is all you need) can help you see if you’re improving. If you’re one of that rare breed that speaks too slow, practice your talk at varying speeds to see if there’s any improvement. Regardless of your pace, make sure that you sound natural.

Speaking too softly is a common problem as is not speaking directly into the microphone. There’s nothing wrong with asking people in the back of the room if they can hear you — in fact, I recommend this. It allows you to adjust your volume at the beginning. However, many speakers tend to dip their volume in the middle of their talks, so periodically checking with your audience can help you (just don’t ask them every few minutes if they can hear you).

Watch your language:

Are you using words, terms or acronyms that the audience is not familiar with? Are you mispronouncing words? One of the biggest mistakes that people make in all forms of communication is to use language that others many not understand. Some people do it to show off their powerful vocabulary while others are completely oblivious of the issue.

Try to use words that are appropriate for your audience. A college educated audience can tolerate your verbal artistry more so than an audience made up of folks who barely graduated from high school. Likewise, if your audience is made up of people in the same industry, then it’s okay to use technical terms from that industry. Otherwise, you may want to explain acronyms, jargon and technical terms to help those members of the audience that may not be familiar with them.

Mispronunciation and word misuse are common problems that can negatively impact your speech. Some people get really hung up on them and will find you less credible if you mix up affect and effect or pronounce the word “produce” as “per-deuce.” There are several audio programs out there to help you improve your vocabulary. Many of which also will help you with pronunciation and grammar.

Improve your English:

In a prior article, I went into detail about how people can succeed at public speaking when English is not their primary language. In general, you want to get feedback from others who are native English speakers as to what parts of your speaking need attention. Many people have problems with certain sounds such as “b”, “ch” or “k” so practicing these sounds can definitely help. There’s nothing wrong with adults using the same techniques that children use to learn to speak English.

Organize your speech:

When you jump around from idea to idea, it’s difficult for people to follow you. Putting in the effort upfront when you’re creating your speech will improve its overall clarity. Make sure that thoughts and ideas flow neatly and naturally. If a point, thought or fact doesn’t fit in with the rest of your talk, leave it out. Many speakers make the mistake of trying to interject a funny quote or story into their speech that just doesn’t fit and all it does is make the speech less comprehensive.

Take the time to create an outline and only include the things that fit with your topic in your speech. Make sure your transitions are smooth or use pauses to move from one thought to another.

So there are a number of things that you can do to improve the clarity of your speech and improve your audience’s retention. Figure out what you need to improve and experiment with some of these solutions. Read your audience to see whether or not they’re following you. If they’re not, take some of these actions to fix the situation.

Public Speaking Success: How to Speak with Clarity

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