How to Speak Better--You May be Doing it Totally Wrong

How to Speak Better: Is the Way You’re Doing it Now Totally Wrong?

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Chances are the way you’ve been trying to improve your speaking skills has been doing more harm than good. For 20 years, people have been coming to me to learn how to speak better.  Their goals are to be crystal clear, highly influential and very confident during speaking situations. That makes sense, right?

Most often people think the solution to better speaking is to improve their articulation and the pronunciation of sounds.


How to Improve Your Speaking Skills

You can improve your speaking skills. It’s not rocket science, it’s pretty easy. Improving your speaking & communication skills just takes some diligence and persistence.

  1. Don’t over-articulate
  2. Use a varied intonation pattern
  3. Use pauses. Stop, breathe in.
  4. Let your voice take a ride on your breath. (Speech is air molecules vibrating)
  5. Let the air vibrate in the back of the mouth
  6. Keep your throat open for a smooth, warm sound
  7. Reduce upspeak & glottal fry
  8. Smile and use warm eye-contact

Don’t Over-Articulate

Working on your pronunciation of sounds makes you sound less intelligible, significantly less interesting and just plain old hard to follow.  And maybe even a bit pompous. Why? One reason is because your speech becomes staccato and even-steven. Our brains have evolved to process information based on intonation, not specific sounds.

Another reason is that in English we use what’s called “coarticulation” meaning that each sound within an utterance is impacted by the sounds surrounding it. It becomes a different sound than you were taught in phonics class. Yup. A rose may always be a rose but a “t” is not always a “t.”

There are many moving parts when you’re learning to speak better, but your focus should be on intonation.

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What is intonation?

Good question, thanks for asking. Intonation is the placement of emphasis in the form of volume and duration of a vowel within a syllable.

How to Improve Your Communication Skills at Work

If you just want to skip to the tricks because you don’t have time for the “why” just scroll down to the bottom. You can bookmark the page & go over the “why” when you have time. 🙂

Working on your pronunciation of sounds makes you sound less intelligible, significantly less interesting and just plain old hard to follow. And maybe even a bit pompous. Click To Tweet

Using a Varied Intonation Pattern to Improve Speaking

Let me explain. The use of intonation in Standard American English (SAE) is a mystery to most. Romance languages have strict rules for placing emphasis on words and sentences. And when there’s a change in emphasis, they use an accent mark. Asian languages also follow strict intonation patterns. Usually, those consonant and vowel patterns have an even emphasis on each syllable.

The voice that you hear in your head when you speak is conducted by bone. So it sounds deeper & richer. But that's not what others hear. They hear what's conducted by air. Click To Tweet

In SAE, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to where we place emphasis, but there is reason — and it’s a real reason as to why we place emphasis where we do. We use intonation to convey information that goes beyond the words we speak. If you want to learn how to improve your speaking skills you must understand intonation.

Lots of information is dispersed using just emphasis alone.

Say it like this: T’day I’d like t' discuss th' bizness practices f’th’green monkey. #IntonationMatters Click To Tweet

How Your Brain Processes Speech

Have you ever had a television program on where the volume was too low to hear what the actors were saying but you could still make out their speaking cadence and sound? You still got the gist of what was going on, right? That’s because our American brains are programmed to process intonation as information.

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Have you ever gone to a conference with great interest in the subject matter only to start dreaming about what you’re going to have for lunch five minutes after the speaker starts? Well, most likely it’s not your fault. It’s the fault of the speaker who, in an honest attempt to speak with great emphasis, is using staccato speech with no intonation. So if you want to learn how to speak better, you’ll need to start using a varied intonation pattern, not a monotone one.

Why Poor Intonation = Poor Speech

I’d like to show you what even emphasis on each syllable looks like. If you could hear me speaking right now, that would be great. But let’s settle for font formatting.

“Thank you all for coming. Today I’d like to discuss the business practices of the green monkey.”

Say the above sentence out loud. I bolded the vowels. When you come across a vowel, make it louder and longer. You hear how it sounds staccato and even? It’s how most people try to improve their speech.

Listening to someone speak in a staccato tone makes me think about lunch. Should I get chicken cutlet on a roll with mayo? Or should I be really good and get a salad?

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It’s not that we don’t want to listen, we do. It’s just our brains unable to process the spoken information. We are physically unable to understand what the speaker is saying.

Our brains process information much easier when we listen to a varied intonation pattern.

Improving speaking skills is necessary for getting ahead in life.

You can make what you consider to be the most boring topic in the world interesting. #presentationskills #communicate Click To Tweet

I’m here to help.

Using Varied Intonation to Sound Amazing

Let’s try that sentence again the right way. Here’s what you do:

First, determine which words provide the most information and emphasize them and only them. Ok? Good start. It gets a little trickier.

Now determine which syllable in those words get the main stress and only emphasize that vowel. There should be no more than 15% of your vowels considered important.

The other 85% of vowels should be reduced. I mean crazy-reduced to the point that they may not exist. Let’s try it together.

“Thank you all fr coming. T’day I’d like t’ discuss th’ bizness practices f’th’green monkey.”

How exciting is that?! Hello! That is so much more interesting. You can make what you consider to be the most boring topic in the world interesting.

Using Air For Speech to Speak Better

Another thing you’ll want to do to sound amazing is to use air for speech. Speech is air molecules that vibrate. That’s what sound is. molecules vibrating all the way to your tympanic membrane (that’s a fancy word for ear drum. Cuz I’m fancy.) where it’s directed to your brain to be processed as language. Isn’t that amazing! I’ve been helping people to speak better for 20 years and I still think it’s amazing!

The voice that you hear in your head when you speak, by the way, is conducted by bone. So it sounds deeper & richer. But that’s not what others hear. They hear the voice you ear on the recorder. It’s true. You can’t say, “I don’t really sound like that.” when you hear your voice on the recorder. Because you do.

The more air you use when speaking the better you’ll sound. Resulting in a voice that sounds ultra confident, authoritative & warm.

Using Pauses for Clearer Speech

Place pauses into your speech. This is the real trick for slowing down your speech.

When you are in the midst of speaking you stop, take a breath in, then use the air for your speech. You let your voice take a ride on the air.

This gives your listener the opportunity to process the information that you’ve just said & gives you the chance to formulate your next utterance.

Use a Back Resonance to Improve Speaking Skills

Now that you’re using air for speech, try to focus the vibration of that air over the back of your tongue. Limit your lip movement.

Following my direction gives you control over your speech, yourself and others. This is how to work on improving speaking skills.

Reduce Upspeak for Amazing Speech

You know what “upspeak” is, right? It’s when you use an upward inflection (pitch) at the end of a declarative sentence.  A rising pitch at the end of an utterance indicates a yes/no question. The biggest problem with this is not that it’s annoying to some people. The problem with upspeak is that it makes it very difficult for your listener to process the information that you are communicating.

Every time someone hears the yes/no question intonation their brain tells them to decide between yes & no. This immediately removes credibility from the speaker. The listener is constantly being asked by the speaker if what she’s saying is correct or incorrect. It’s as if the upspeaker is saying, “Am I right? Am I right? You decide.”

To improve speaking skills get rid of upspeak. I did. 🙂

How to Eliminate Glottal Fry

What they say out there about glottal fry being your lowest register or that you’re too relaxed is completely false. Glottal fry is a result of too much tension in your throat.

  1. keep your throat completely relaxed,
  2. bring your tongue down in the back
  3.  let a lot of air out

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