Tip #5

Public Speaking Basics: Speaking Clearly

If your vowels and consonants sometimes lack clarity, this video will help you form beneficial habits.

It’s so easy to be ordinary, but if you seriously want to sharpen your skills as a speaker, you must learn to master the moment.  That means if you think at 300 words per minute, and your mouth operates at 150 wpm, you have to practice articulation; in other words, forming clear, distinct sound.

Listeners don’t like people who mumble.  It’s distracting.  Sure, we can figure out what you mean, but if you make too much guesswork for the audience, they’re not going to like it.

The root of the problem can be twofold.  One is speed, and the other is how you form your words.  Let’s take a look at the first problem.

If you’re in the habit of speaking quickly and your mouth can keep up with your brain, no problem.  Auctioneers do this for a living.  The problem is most of us trip over our words when we speed up.  Slow down consciously.  Do whatever you need to do to calm down, but if you regularly exceed 150 wpm, you’re asking for trouble.

That, however, may not be the only problem.  If you are Lieutenant Lazy Lips, you need to rethink how you produce sound.  Open your mouth.  Look in the mirror, and, on average, your upper and lower lips should be one finger-width open.

If you tend to be tight-lipped and want to learn to open up, sing in the shower.  You heard me.  Sing as though you are a prima donna at the Met.  Exaggerate your syllables until it becomes second nature to you.  Do you remember what I said in the video about volume?  It’s not a habit if you revert to your old ways.  Keep practicing until it sticks.

While you’re singing, play with your vowels.  That’s what’s going to help you reach the audience’s emotions.  Singers do it all the time, and speakers can, too.  Spend extra time accentuating your vowels until the sound is smooth, versus smooth.  The next time you listen to your favorite singer, pay attention.  The magic begins with the vowels.

What about consonants?  Basically, you have to use your lips mindfully.  Show some teeth.  Exaggerate when the situation calls for it.  Try a few tongue twisters for practice.  When they begin sliding off your tongue quickly, move on and try harder ones.

My favorite example of great articulation is Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Professor Snape.  In one scene, he tells Harry Potter, “Don’t lie to me.”  His facial expression and eye contact are superb, but it’s his extraordinary use of his lips to form the word “don’t” and use of his tongue to say the word “lie” that creates sharpness that suits the Professor’s character so well.

My final tip for you is to monitor your state of mind.  When you’re excited or tired, you’ll have a tendency to mumble or slur your words.  You need to make mental adjustments to think and speak clearly.  It takes practice.  For those of you who meditate, it will be easier.  If you don’t, please revisit my video about managing stage fright.  Breathing deeply and staying in the moment can help.

It’s so easy to be ordinary, it literally takes no effort.  If you want to improve, however, practice mindful choices.  Stay in the moment if you want to master it.

Last modified: July 2, 2020
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