If you’ve ever had a conversation with someone and they couldn’t understand you, you know what it feels like to not speak articulately. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re always speaking inarticulately, but we all mumble and fumble our words from time.
I get a lot of questions from people about articulation and how to speak more articulately. It’s actually a lot easier than you think to speak more clearly so that others can better understand you. Here are some of tips about improving your articulation that I teach in my classes.
Most people that are difficult to understand are that way because they speak too quickly. Sometimes it’s due to excitement, other times due to nervousness. What happens here is that words and sounds end up running together causing a challenge for the listener. They simply hear too many sounds jumbled together and have a hard time separating them.
Slowing down will ensure that you both pronounce words fully and stop words and sounds from running together. This is the key to good articulation. When you catch yourself starting to mumble or run words together, simply slow down and pronounce every single sound separately. So if you were reciting the last word in the previous sentence, you would say it sep-a-rate-ly. One thing you may notice when you start doing this is that you’ve been skipping sounds when you say words. Many people pronounce “comfortable” as comft-able rather than com-fort-able. So try this right now with either a paragraph from this article or a few sentences from a book or speech or you need to give.
Speak in a consistent tone
Ever notice how some people tend to vary the volume of their voice when they speak? This can make it tricky for the listener to understand you as the variation in volume can cause them to miss sounds or even whole words. Most of us when we speak tend to start out strong but then our volume drops as we get deeper into the conversation. It then goes back up as the conversation starts winding down or the speaker notices the listener straining to hear them.
The best way to trap this is by recording yourself. In the old days, I’d tell you to grab a tape recorder but your computer, or even your phone, probably can record sound. If not, leave yourself a voice mail reading something and listen carefully to the tone of your voice throughout the recording. If you find that you do it, just being conscious of it is usually enough to help you stop. Practice recording yourself speaking three times a day in a consistent tone and within a couple weeks, the problem will go away.
Practice the tricky sounds
If you find that certain words, phrases or sounds give you trouble then practice them. I remember giving a talk with a friend and we each had trouble with the word “philanthropic.” There are lots of words like this that either come up speeches or conversations that can cause us to stumble.
The nice thing is that it’s easy to deal with this one — all you need is a few two-minute blocks to practice the word or sound each day. You can do it in the car, while walking, in the shower or whenever you have a few minutes to yourself — just try to do it at least four times per day for a week (more frequently per day if you don’t have a week to get it right). In these blocks, just practice saying the word clearly ten times. After a while, you’ll automatically start saying it correctly.
So there you go, three quick ways to speak with better articulation. Remember that all you really need to do here is identify the problem and then practice saying it correctly. If you’re not sure how a word is supposed to be pronounced, do a quick web search on the word and you’ll either find videos or a dictionary entries that tell you exactly how to pronounce it.