Overcoming common speaking mistakes

In the previous blog article I introduced the concept of speech bumps - mistakes or habits that adversely affect the effectiveness of our speaking.

We also discussed that these occur during conversations,  discussions and meetings and can have a negative effect on our communication.

in this blog I will discuss the next three speech bumps.

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

Speech Bump 4: Mumbling and mispronounced rather than crisp and well formulated

Probably one of the most annoying speech bumps is indistinct and sloppy speaking. You might experience people having to ask you to repeat what you have just said because they have not understood you the first time. In addition, we might swallow some of the words or sounds instead of formulating them well.

The effective shaping of the vowel sounds is called enunciation(the most common vowels being a, e, i, o, u) and is largely dependent on good breath control. In addition, it is important to ensure that we shape the vowel sounds in the mouth and not in the throat.

The shaping of consonant sounds is called articulation. For consonants to be pronounced clearly within words, they must be shaped with our speaking organs such as the lips, tongue, teeth, the gums, and the hard and soft palate. To be able to shape consonants well, you need to have good control of your tongue. Also, you need to ensure that you relax your lower jaw so that there is sufficient space in the oral cavity for your tongue to function properly.

Speech Bump 5: Pace –too fast or too slow

Are you a slow or a fast speaker? The rate of your speaking often reflects a part of your personality; it reflects how you think and behave. The speech bump in this area is either a speaking pace which is too fast or a speaking pace which is too slow to effectively convey a message.

Reflect for a moment. Do you have the feeling that your thoughts come faster than the pace at which you are able to speak? If you can identify with this, it is quite probable that you not only speak too fast but that you also do not speak your words entirely or complete your sentences.

If your speech bump is in the area of fast speaking, your audience might well become frustrated because it is difficult to follow you, either because you speak faster than what they can absorb or because you cut yourself off in the middle of a sentence prior to starting the next one. Fast speakers often fail to formulate words well, which adds to the difficulty of them being understood.

Speech Bump 6: Vocal Variety

Probably one of the most unpopular speech bumps is monotony. I am sure you know speakers who speak in a monotonous, emotionless or dull way.

We use vocal variety to express different emotions, to emphasise particular words or phrases and to create interest. Vocal variety adds colour and life to ordinary words. How is this achieved? You can achieve a pleasant, effective and varied way of speaking by varying pitch (as long as it is not too high or too low), volume (as long as it is not too loud or too soft), and pace (as long as it is not too fast or too slow). Another way to achieve vocal variation is by adding inflection to words and short phrases. You can do this by placing specific emphasis to these particular words or phrases in a sentence. It is important, therefore, that you know your content and spend time thinking about where and how you want to add variety.

Quick reference exercise to speak more clearly:

  • Yawn, open-mouthed. This widens your throat and nasal passages
  • Chew a large piece of chewing-gum, making sure to use your jaw thoroughly for this exercise
  • Focus on shaping your sounds crisply and clearly

Quick reference exerciseto slow down rapid speaking:

  • Choose any piece of text you prefer, read it out loud, formulating each word carefully
  • Pause briefly in-between each word.
  • Remember to keep breathing naturally

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