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A lot of us feel immediate stress when asked to speak in front of a group. We stress about the content, our appearance, and our ability to just get through the speech. We’re here to help you focus on making a big impact on your audience, and one of the first steps in doing that is learning how to speak clearly.
Why We Mumble
The dreaded mumble; people hide behind a mumble because we feel like, if our answer or comment is wrong, it won’t be noticed as much. Here’s the catch—if you mumble, the audience works harder to listen, and your words could have an even greater impact than you expect. Understanding why we mumble is a good first step to knowing how to speak clearly throughout a speech or just in everyday conversation.
We Don’t Know Our Subject
This is the biggest cause of mumbling. You think you have the right answer or turn of phrase, but you’re just not sure, so your volume lowers and your cadence runs all your words together. Inevitably someone will say “I can’t hear you” or ask you to repeat yourself. And then you feel even more stress of saying the wrong thing twice.
Our solution? For a speech, learn your subject. First, absorb it and then think about it from different perspectives. Ask yourself questions like:
- If I knew nothing about this subject, what kinds of questions would I ask?
- If I was listening to my speech, what would be the most difficult area to understand?
- If there’s an opposing view to my content, what is their major point?
When all else fails, just admit you don’t know the answer but that you’ll find out or will get back to the person. Be confident in what you do and don’t know.
We Lack Self-Confidence
Lack of confidence in speaking in front of people can wreak havoc on nerves and impact the clarity of our speech. Just like anything else, practice boosts self-confidence. The more you practice in front of groups, friends, or just the mirror, the more you’ll be able to give yourself feedback on what did and didn’t feel comfortable to you.
Make an audio recording of your speech and listen to it objectively. Where did you mumble? Can you pick out the areas you may feel less comfortable and where your knowledge of how to speak clearly took a dive? Replay and rehearse those areas. Take care to slow down, enunciate, and be in tune to those trouble spots. The more you rehearse them, the more muscle memory you’ll have when you’re giving your speech and will deliver those problem areas with clarity.
How to Speak Clearly | Tips & Exercises
This is the fun part; luckily, there are several tips that will teach you how to speak clearly and give you tools to fall back on if you panic in a rush of mumbled words. No great speaker started great. They used tips and tricks like these to learn how to speak clearly and go on, sometimes, to have illustrious careers in public speaking or at the very least, kill it every time they’re on stage.
Trust us–these work. Many times, our nervousness comes from a fear of failure, and a fear of failure comes from visualizing failing. What if you visualize success? People who tell themselves they will succeed, often do. Here’s how to make the most of positive affirmations:
- Visualize what giving a successful speech looks like and write those traits down
- Every day, tell yourself you have those traits
- Write a list of the traits you love about yourself and tape that list to your bathroom mirror or fridge
- Remind yourself daily of those traits
- When you think of your fears, write down the opposite—if you’re afraid you’ll forget your speech, write “I will remember every word I want to say”
Repeat these affirmations to yourself internally or out loud, preferably to a mirror so your brain can make the connection between what you’re saying and who you’re saying it about.
Read the Dictionary
Sounds weird, right? It’s effective. Grab a dictionary and an audio recorder. Read the dictionary for five minutes a day, paying attention to the pronunciation guides for each word. Play your recording back and make notes of when and where you could have been clearer. If you ace a particular day, move on. If you find areas where you missed the mark, re-do that section the next day.
Control Your Breathing
Stress can incite a fight-or-flight response, and both responses increase heart rate and breathing rate. Practice deep breaths to control your stress response and therefore improve your ability to speak in a managed and controlled way. When you find yourself feeling stress in everyday situations, take slow, deep breaths to reduce your stress response.
Another great trick is to walk briskly for a few minutes and practice your speech but in a controlled way through controlling your breath. Breathing exercises help you manage your nerves. When your nerves are managed, you are less likely to mumble, skip, or forget words or just blurt out sentences without clarity.
Choose Your Words Wisely
Audiences respond to words and phrases commonly used. Some speakers make the mistake of wanting to get fancy in their word choices and use a thesaurus to enhance their vocabulary. This can be a mistake. A word you rarely use can trip you—and the audience—up. You can unknowingly cause yourself stress and potentially lose the attention of those listening.
Go for the simplified version of whatever word you’re using. We’re not suggesting you use “good” instead of “beautiful,” but we are suggesting using “beautiful” over “picturesque” if the latter isn’t something you’re used to saying. Make yourself as comfortable as possible with your word choices.
Tips for the Fast Talkers
We all know this person or may even be this person. You have so many thoughts in your head your mouth can’t keep up, and you feel the need to get all the information out in a hurry to make room for all the new information that keeps coming in. Fast talkers can use these tips to learn better how to speak clearly.
Imagine an email where the sender never used the space bar. How long would it take you to decipher what they’re trying to say? A long time. That’s what happens when you speed talk. Your audience doesn’t have a chance to chew on what you’re saying. You may feel learning how to speak clearly is a lost cause because you’ve always been a fast talker, but you’d be wrong; we can help!
Be Mindful of Punctuation
As you’re reading your speech, actually pause, if only for a second after every period. This may be very difficult, but if you record yourself, you’ll see the benefit to the listener. You should always pause after every key point. Let it sink in for the audience. So, when you’re writing your speech, put a slash mark after every key point, reminding yourself to pause. You can even repeat the point in an even slower pentameter.
Slow It Way Down
Just for fun, record yourself at your normal fast-talking speed. Then make a second recording going incredibly—almost maddeningly—slowly. Though both may be difficult to listen to, which one gets the subject to the audience so they can understand it? Continue to make recordings, speeding up just a little until you reach a pace where the audience can follow, and you are breathing, pausing, and minding all punctuation in a way everyone will be comfortable with.
Once you’ve found your rhythm, make a recording every day, trying to hit that same pace. You can read different things into a recording to see if you can try folding this rhythm into your general way of speaking. Ask for feedback from family, friends, and co-workers. Chances are you’ve heard you’re a fast talker before, so ask if they’ve noticed a difference. A little positive reinforcement goes a long way. This is one of our favorite tips on how to speak clearly.
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Once you’ve decided you want to deliver a successful speech, you’ve opened the door to one of the most gratifying activities there is. Remember, visualize not what you dread will happen but how delivering the perfect speech would feel and what it would look like. Use our tips and tricks for how to speak clearly and practice them until you feel you can’t practice them anymore.
Whether you mumble, are a fast talker or anywhere in between—you can overcome these issues and most of the stress involved in public speaking. Remember, everyone feels nervous when putting themselves out there in front of an audience; a few nerves can be helpful and keep us on our toes. Your job is to calm yourself as much as possible so you can speak about your subject in an effective and attention-grabbing way. Learning how to speak clearly is the perfect first step on your journey to an amazing speech.