My mother was born and raised in a small town in Indiana. My dad was brought up in Queens, New York. One parent would drop the letter "R" in certain words, and the other would put "R's" in where they shouldn't be. It's a wonder I can speak and be understood at all.
My mother used to have a southern accent. When she was younger, she worked for a doctor. One day he told her, "Geraldine, you're a brilliant woman, but when you speak, you sound like a dumb hick. Take your time and learn to enunciate your words." She took his advice. She worked very hard to smooth out her speech and articulate her words carefully. Her southern drawl only came out when she talked to her mother or when she was very mad. I loved the sound of her voice and how beautifully she spoke. She told me that speaking well was essential, and a way to be taken seriously. It gave her confidence. It motivated me to work on my communication skills and to want to help others become better speakers.
Growing up, our speech template is created by the voices we hear. As we get older, we pick up the slang of our peers, along with their verbal patterns. We use the same filler words and expressions, "like, ya know, oh my gawd, fuggedaboutit." Eventually, we need to take stock of our verbiage and clean it up. A polished, self-assured speaker always makes a great impression.
Here are five tips to be a more eloquent orator.
- The problem: Ending sentences that sound like a question even though we're not asking one. This happens when we raise the pitch of our voice when we finish speaking. "Hi, I'm so happy to be here?" The listener wonders if we're undecided about how we feel. The solution: Keep the tone even from beginning to end. Take a breath before speaking. This will help the voice stay sharp and reduce any nervousness. Start and end sentences with the same emphasis. Statements will have a better impact. If you're concerned that your remarks still sound like a question, record yourself speaking. Ask family and friends how you're coming across in conversation. Listen to the feedback with an open mind, and you'll find your speech improves.
- The problem: Running out of breath, before our comment ends, leaves the listener struggling to hear our complete thought. The solution: Pause between words and take a breath. Don't worry that someone will jump in before finishing a statement. It's more important that the message is clear. If someone does break into your flow, take a beat and let the person know you want to complete your thought. Try not to give that person a nasty look while you do it. (I'm still working on that myself.)
- The problem: Speaking too slow or too fast. The solution: Find the pacing. When being careful with words, we tend to take it slow, and we come across as hesitant. Take a moment and form the ideas in your mind. We all worry that we won't get a chance to voice our thoughts that we rush in before being prepared. The same happens when we talk too fast. We sound like one long run-on sentence. When we present our message to an audience, organization, and practice are required. When talking to our friends, relax and enjoy the conversation. Be present and listening. When it's your turn, your voice will come across with an even tempo.
- The problem: Volume control, either speaking too soft or too loud. The solution: If we talk and it's hard for people to hear us, we'll sound anxious and insecure. We'll lose the audience's engagement because people will tune us out completely. Speaking too loud sounds like we're yelling at our listeners. There's a difference between projecting our voice and raising it to an uncomfortable level. The solution: Learn to breathe correctly. When we breathe from our chest and throat, it tightens up our vocal cords. When we speak from our diaphragm, we can easily modulate our tone. Fill your stomach up with air. As you talk, push the air out from your belly. You'll notice your words come out more energetic without any tension from your neck or chest. This will take practice, but you'll enjoy a rounder, more robust, and unshakeable voice with time.
- The problem: Stumbling over or mispronouncing words makes us sound lazy or inarticulate. The solution: Tongue twisters. The beauty of these silly sentences helps exercise our mouths. It's a warm-up that allows our words to come across clearly. It gives us a chance to practice our pronunciation and articulation of different words and combinations. You'll find that you'll trip less over your tongue, and your meaning will be crystal clear. To get you started, here's a link to 50 tongue twisters. 50 Tongue Twisters. Try doing a few in the morning. You'll be surprised at how fluid your speech will sound for the rest of the day.
Everyone notices a person who is fit and trim. We all want to know what that person has done to be in great shape. We also notice a person who speaks with a sense of pride and self-assurance. We all want to know where that confidence comes from. Diet and exercise keep our bodies healthy. Practicing our breathing, listening, and being prepared keeps our conversations engaging.
My mother's smile was always an open invitation to anyone who needed encouragement. Her words of support were a lifeline to everyone who heard them. Her diligence has always been my inspiration. Live well, speak with passion, and love your life.