When people first contact me they often say, “I’d like to learn how to improve my diction.” They want to learn to pronounce their speech better.
(Spoiler alert: The answer isn’t in over-articulation.)
The first question I ask is, “Why?” They invariably tell me that they want people to listen to them, really hear them.
I get that.
We need people to understand our message.
We want to be like those people who can make a quick witted comment and everyone laughs. You know the people who just open their mouths and they can articulate their thoughts into well crafted sentences?
They can take complex ideas and convey them in a way that the whole team understands. And they do it concisely and at the perfect pace. Not too fast, not too slow. They’re authoritative yet warm. And they just sound smart.
They didn’t get there by magic or by worm-hole. They learned the techniques to be magnificent communicators and they practiced them.
Diction is over-rated.
The first part of this article addresses the fact that over-articulation, 5-dollar words & choppy speech doesn’t make you sound smart. Boy, did I get a bit of negative feedback from that article!
Some people took the title literally and told me just how much they love the oxford comma! Keep the love! I love the oxford comma! But the Oxford comma can’t be used in speech anyway; I was just inspired by the song’s general attitude towards pretentious diction and stuffy speech! 🙂
Down with conjunctions in speech.
They cause run-on sentences in speech. You know when you just keep on talking and talking and you never stop and you have no idea where you should end your verbal concept and you’re still looking at blank faces?
Side note: I love semicolons! I love them in writing & I love them in speech. A semicolon creates a mindful pause that works much better than unnecessary conjunctions in your speech.
Anyway, my point is that what most people consider to be good speech is not the equivalent of being an incredible communicator. No! How to be an amazing communicator follows:
How to Improve Your Diction
Many people I’ve met equate good speech with having good pronunciation. It’s often the first thing people say to me. They want me to help them communicate better & they think improving their pronunciation is going to solve their problems.
What crimes are actually causing their problems? Over-articulation, 5 dollar words, choppy speech? They’re just going to jumble up your message & make it harder for people to follow your call to action.
Over-articulated speech causes stiffness in the room. Listen to your colleagues. Listen to how they sound when they’re just talking to you during casual conversation, and compare that to how they speak when presenting to the team.
You’ll hear the difference. Record yourself doing the same. You’ll hear it.
Don’t pop your “t”s
I want you all to stop popping your “t”s! It doesn’t help people to understand your message. In fact, it’s just the opposite; it prevents people from understanding your message.
Contrary to internet wisdom, do not emphasize your letters or move your mouth too much. That’s ridiculous! Here’s a video of Leonardo DiCaprio being interviewed by Ellen. Please take note that neither of them is moving their mouths like crazy people.
So when you are searching for “improve your diction” online and come across someone telling you to open your mouth more and make crazy faces for certain sounds, navigate away!
There’s also the other side of the coin. Of course, improving your communication skills is essential to progressing in life. But please stop randomly and publicly making fun of others for their speech.
Criticizing people for their speech is just mean.
When the lovely Ashley Milne-Tyte approached me about doing a podcast on how women are being criticized for the use of “upspeak,” “glottal fry,” and “filler words,” I was appalled.
I guess I had my head in the sand because I just help people who come to me to improve their ability to get their message across. I didn’t know that for YEARS there’s been an ongoing, polarized debate about whether people like or dislike upspeak and glottal fry.
It’s a bit tedious, isn’t it? Talking about whether you like someone else’s speech or not?
It also sounds like a way to make a person feel better about themselves. If I criticize you I look better.
In the article Speech “Improvement” Apps Like Ummo Are Sexist, Racist, and Generally Bad for Humanity, Nora Caplan-Bricker was publicly insulted for using the word, “like” in her speech by some jerk who was friends with her parents.
The “friend” of her parents? He has terrible communication skills!
Speech Apps are Not Racist or Bad for Humanity.
Improving our speech & ability to communicate is necessary for our success. Your communication skills are equal to your ability to persuade others. I’m not the “filler word police.”
But if you’re spending too much time on your filler words and not enough time on your content words, the words that deliver your message, people have a harder time processing your information.
Speech apps are not the end-all but they are a good place to start. I want to make one myself 🙂
Speech is about Relationships
I was at a family party once. A bunch of us were sitting around and my cousin Spence was reminiscing with me about our childhood days.
I used the word, “badminton” /badmin?n/ and a new member of the family started cracking up! She repeated the way I said “badminton” and then proceeded to spell it for me: “B! A! D! M! I! N! T! O! N! There’s a “t ” in the word! It’s pronounced. “badminTONE!” she said.
Everyone was silent for a bit and my sister quietly said, “I say /badmin?n/, too” (Thank you, Kel.)
I’m still upset by the public beating. Being publicly laughed at & insulted is horrifying! I’d like to start a petition to get people to stop criticizing other people’s speech!
It’s silly, superficial, & a waste of time! But I also need to get over it. She’s just under the pervasive misconception that we pronounce each letter the same in each position in a word.
And I need to not care what other people say about me. Hard to do but a mission, nonetheless!
Do You Say Reydiyeider or Raediyeider?
The funny part is: when I was a kid my cousin Spence used to crack me up by saying, “Don’t put the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLAble.” It still cracks me up.
Making fun of someone’s pronunciation reminds me of 4th grade when my friends and I used to discuss whether we said, “reydiator” or “raediator.”
In Standard American English we say: sen?ns for sentence. We don’t say: senTENCE. We say moun?n instead of mounTAIN. And we say /badmin?n/. (The question mark represents a glottal stop which replaces the letter “t.”)
How we pronounce our “t”s and our vowels are impacted by intonation. It’s about where we place emphasis.
This type of relaxed, flowing speech that’s not constantly interrupted by harsh consonants puts people at ease and makes them better able to understand your message.
Communication Skills Need to be Continuously Improved
Our bodies go into fight or flight when we’re in challenging situations like job interviews, giving speeches, first dates, etc. This needs to stop, don’t you think?
Our Neanderthal selves need to stop taking over our brains with imaginary saber tooth tigers when we really just need to have a good conversation.
We need to actively evolve our communication skills. As our world changes so must our ability to get what we need out of life. It’s evolution.
Confession: I use the word, “like.” It happens! These days we’re using it to replace, “about.” As in, “I walked for, like, 2 hours.” I don’t do it much, mind you, but I do use it.
Nobody’s perfect, and we should all invest in making ourselves better. So stop criticizing others’ speech (or anything else for that matter) unless it’s done privately and with love.
Improve Your Diction
People who mumble their words can benefit from using more air in their speech. Not from over-articulation. Being articulate means getting your message across. It doesn’t mean pronouncing every letter you see in the word!
I’m feeling like this article was more of a rant. But at least I feel better now!
Tell me about your communiques with others. Has anyone ever criticized you for your speech? Do you beat yourself up for filler words & “like”s?
Watch this video of Ita Olsen: Why am I Not Automatically an Incredible Speaker