Overcoming common speaking mistakes

Just as speed bumps slow down traffic, as public speakers we also sometimes tend to have “bumps” along the way –those unmindful mistakes or habits that adversely affect the effectiveness of our speaking.

Speech bumps is a term I use to refer to common mistakes we make when we speak to an audience. Of course, speech bumps can also occur during everyday conversations and discussions around the boardroom table.

Some speech bumps happen because of the way we use our voices and speaking organs, and others have to do with the way we breathe and manage our breath.

Fortunately, there are exercises you do can do that will address these.

I will discuss the first three of the speech bumps in this blog and the last three in the next blog.

I have added two quick-reference exercises for you at the end of the article.

Speech Bump One: Volume: Too loud or too soft

I am sure you have experienced the following: A speaker with a booming loud voice. This can be really unpleasant, especially if the speaker is also using a microphone. Or, perhaps you can identify with the opposite: Someone’s voice is too quiet, hardly audible or flat –especially shy speakers battle with this. The loudness of your voice should be appropriate in strength and intensity so that everybody in the audience can easily hear what you are saying.

To overcome this speech bump, here are two keys: (see exercise at the end)

  • Practice deep abdominal breathing
  • Harness the power of your breath to project your voice

Speech Bump Two: Pitch: Too high or too low

Speech bumps in this area occur when the voice is too high, shrill and squeaky or too low and thundering. Speakers with a high or shrill pitch are generally not taken seriously. Effective speakers learn how to use a pitch that sounds lower-pitched, clear and full.

Key to overcome a pitch which is too high:

  • Gradually lowering your voice by just half a tone during conversations
  • Practice deep, abdominal breathing
  • Keep your throat relaxed and open
  • Warm up your voice

Speech Bump Three: Voice Quality: Dull, breathy or nasal

If you want to positively influence your audience, vocal quality is extremely important. A speech bump in this area occurs when the voice sounds lifeless rather than colourful, breathy and harsh rather than clear, or nasal instead of open.

The causes of this could be that you simply suffer from congested sinuses or a stuffy nose. Another cause is tension, either physical or emotional, which tends to constrict the throat, resulting in the inability to breathe effectively and this produces poor quality sound.

Here is a key to overcome this speech bump:

  • Become aware of stress and tension and do stretching and relaxation exercises to release tension (exercises available in my book, see reference at the end of the article.)

A quick-reference exercise for deep abdominal breathing

Stand tall and straight, shoulders relaxed. Place your hands on your sides. Breathe in deeply through your nose. Feel the expansion at your ribs. Breathe out deeply through your mouth. Feel the ribs moving inwards again. Repeat 5 times.

A quick-reference exercise to control your breath

Stand tall and straight, shoulders relaxed. Place your hands across your midriff. Imagine that the breathing process takes place at your navel. Breathe in, while you slowly count to 3. Breathe out, while you count to 3. Repeat 5 times.


You can find more exercises in my e-book Public Speaking –From Preparation to Preparation, available on Amazon.com.