Tips for Speaking Clearly

When we deliver a talk, speech or presentation, we want to make sure people understand clearly what we are saying.

It’s not only about the words we use but also about the way we use our voice to deliver those words and the confidence with which we deliver them.

How aware are you about the way you generally speak?

Are you more likely to speak slow or fast?

Are you sometimes tripping over your own words because you’re trying to talk as fast as you think (which can really get us into a muddle)?

Are you pronouncing your words clearly and correctly?

Here are some “Do and Don’t” tips for speaking clearly and how to improve your awareness and skill.

Avoid skipping words.

Skipping or slurring words may lead to confusion among the audience ad they might miss or misunderstand the context.

Speak long phrases or full sentences.

This is ok as long as the full sentences are not too long-winded and complex. Keep sentences and phrases simple.

Make sure you pronounce even small words like “a” and “the.”

But pronounce them as you naturally do and don’t change them into something odd, like from your usual pronunciation of “a” as “uh,” to “ay,” as in “hay.”

Avoid running words together.

The little pause between sounds helps to distinguish one word from another.

Enunciate.

If you’re speaking every word and still have problems, work on your enunciation of words themselves. Pay attention to spelling and emphasize all the consonant and vowel sounds, especially those at the beginning and end of a word. Try this, unless it makes sound some words rather wonky as a result, like “Psychology”, for example

Don’t speak too rapidly.

Speaking too show could send people to sleep, but the opposite isn’t great either. In today’s high-pressure environment, many people sound a bit like “a chipmunk with a Starbucks habit”, you don’t need to speak as fast as you can read or think, it could be exhaustive for the audience

Be well hydrated

Keep some water or warm tea at hand for a quick sip in case your voice dries up or gets scratchy.  

Keep in mind how creamy, cheesy, or overly sweet foods or drinks can cause mucus to gather at the back of your throat or nose. This can cause your voice to sound unclear and you may have to cough and clear your throat more often, which is not healthy for your vocal cords.

Talk to a voice trainer or singing instructor.

A single session with a professional can give you a lot of tips about speaking more clearly.

You may also consider a bit more training, if you have a cold or allergies, or any other long-term change to your voice.

For Speakers doing a lot of online work

Position the microphone appropriately and check the sound

It is very wise to check your microphone and sound before a talk so you can adjust microphone positioning and sounds settings.

The reliability of internet connections, however, can be well out of our control.  

Sit with good posture, not bent over.

Relax, breathe freely and think peaceful thoughts.

And here are some tips if you are tripping over your words:

Tongue twisters

You wouldn’t start exercising without a warm-up. The same is true for public speaking, and tongue twisters are a great warm-up They can really help with your articulators:

(Try saying them with a pencil between your teeth).

  • She sells seashells by the seashore.
  • Rubber baby buggy bumpers.
  • Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers
  • Betty Botter bought some butter

 

Vocal Drills

Do lip trills to get your lips vibrating with sounds like brrr or trrrr.

Say syllables like “ puh tuh kuh, puh tuh kuh , puh tuh kuh” rapidly.

Do voice exercises like some singers with “ma ma ma, mi mi mi” etc., you may get some good tips from a singing coach.

Memorize

Memorizing a script may prevent presenters from tripping over their words. Not knowing or not being sure of what to say may cause gaps in your talk.

Self Edit

It sometimes happens that we mispronounce a word or phrase. If you noticed you did, apologise, stop and correct yourself in the moment. Doing this with confidence and a bit of humour helps in such situations.

Keep Going

If you get stuck on a word, don’t stay stuck and continue speaking. Describe what you meant to say or ask the audience to help you out. Ask, “What’s the word I’m looking for?” Then thank them. It will humanize you.

Pause before the word

This could be handy for multi-language speakers. Difficult or multisyllabic words can be a real challenge, especially if you’re not the native speaker of the language you are presenting with. Speakers may swallow the syllables.

A remedy can be to rehearse the word several times or write it out phonetically if it’s a proper name and pause for a beat before you come to the word. Try your best to memorise the difficult words.

Visualize the words

See your mind’s eye before pronouncing a word, visualize the spelling as you do during rehearsal. Highlight it in your notes (if you use any), use larger font or bold print, or write it out in syllables.

Swap them out for simple words

Rather than anxiously anticipating that challenging word, use a substitute. Why use a longer word when a simple one will do?

Elke Wallace

Elke Wallace

The Speakers Index