Chances are, the way you’ve been trying to improve your speaking skills has been doing more harm than good. You’ve always heard you’ve got to have good diction, right? But most people end up over-articulating as a result. The other downside is you end up sounding like a robot. Making all of your syllables the same length.
There are people out there who get their message across in a compelling and convincing way. How do they do it? Is it magic? Were they born as fantastic communicators?
They’ve worked on their speaking skills.
Maybe all their lives. They may still be working on them, and leaving you in the dust.
For 20 years, people have been telling me they want to be crystal clear, highly influential, and 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. They couldn’t be more wrong!
But that’s how they were doing it on their own. They’d been using YouTube and taking diction classes and their speech just got worse–not better!
How to Improve Your Speaking Skills
You can improve your speaking skills. It’s not rocket science; it’s pretty easy but requires technique + practice time.
Enhancing your speaking & communication skills merely takes some diligence and persistence.
- Don’t over-articulate.
- Use a varied intonation pattern.
- Use pauses. Stop, breathe in.
- Let your voice take a ride on your breath. (Speech is air molecules vibrating)
- Let the air vibrate in the back of the mouth.
- Keep your throat open for a smooth, warm sound.
- Reduce upspeak & glottal fry.
- Smile and use friendly eye contact.
Working on your pronunciation of sounds makes you sound less intelligible, significantly less exciting, and just plain old hard to follow. And maybe even a bit stuffy.
Why? One reason is that 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 learned 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.
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.
If you want to skip to the tricks because you don’t have time for the “why,” scroll down to the bottom. You can bookmark the page & go over the “why” when you have time. 🙂
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 emphasizing words and sentences. And when there’s a change in emphasis, they use an accent mark. Asian languages also follow rigid intonation patterns. Usually, those consonant and vowel patterns have an even emphasis on each syllable.
In SAE, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to where we place emphasis, but there is a 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.
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 vocal 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.
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. In an honest attempt to speak with great emphasis, it’s the fault of the speaker, 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 want 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 a chicken cutlet on a roll with mayo? Or should I be good and get a salad?
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.
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 gets the primary stress and only emphasize that vowel. There should be no more than 15% of your vowels considered important.
Next, reduce the other 85% of the syllables. 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 to your tympanic membrane (that’s a fancy word for eardrum. Cuz I’m fancy.) where it’s directed to your brain and processed as language. Isn’t that amazing! I’ve been helping people speak better for 24 years, and I still think it’s incredible!
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 hear on the recorder. It’s true. You can’t say, “I don’t really sound like that.” when you hear your recorded voice 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. Pauses are the real trick for slowing down.
When you speak, you stop, take a breath in, then use the air for your speech. You let your voice take a ride on the air.
These breaks allow your listener to process the information that you’ve just said & give you the chance to formulate your next utterance.
Use a Back Resonance to Improve Speaking Skills
Now that you’re using air for speech, focus the air’s vibration over the back of your tongue. Limit your lip movement.
Following my direction gives you control over your speech, yourself, and others.
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 you are communicating.
Every time someone hears the yes/no question intonation, their brain tells them to decide between yes & no. Upspeak immediately removes credibility from the speaker. The speaker is continually asking the listener 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 your 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 entirely false. Glottal fry is a result of too much tension in your throat.
- keep your throat completely relaxed,
- bring your tongue down in the back
- let a lot of air out
Wow! Was that too much information? It sounds like a lot. But take it small sections at a time. Let me know what you think & if you have any questions in the comment section.