How To Improve the Way we Speak – “Talking and eloquence are not the same: to speak, and to speak well, are two things”, said the renowned English writer Ben Jonson.
Even though we learn to talk at a very young age, it takes us a lifetime to learn to speak, with chances being that we may never learn to speak well at all. There is always scope for us to improve our communication skills and the way we speak, no matter how good we are. Language and communication is a vast field with great scope for improvement throughout our life that is if we do not quit trying. All we need is commitment and will to practice.
When we speak, our voice and tone is as much important as the words we use. Our communication style, unbeknownst to us reveals quite a lot about us to the listeners. Anyone paying attention to our voice and tone of speech can understand our emotional state, our levels of confidence, the command we have over the language and also our geographical roots through the accent we may have acquired. We can be made or marred by what we say, so the way we speak is very important in our lives.
Power Of Saying It Right
We can never underestimate the power of speech. The speeches that changed the world like the Gettysburg Address, (1863) by Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill’s first speech as Britain’s Prime Minister or I Have a Dream, (1963), by Martin Luther King Jr. would not have been as effective if the speakers had not mastered what they have to say, how they have to say it and what passion should be induced in those words to drive the point home. Moreover the speech is made powerful by the belief those great men had in their words. Those same revolutionary words would be highly boring, unpleasant and uninspiring when told in grating, soft, low or fake voices. It is the ability to communicate with clarity, courage, belief and commitment that lead to great revolutions and movements in our world.
Besides the message and words itself, the emotions that affect our voice, the tone, the pitch and confidence of the messenger are equally important to make it revolutionary, motivational or even understood rightly.
Human race is blessed with the ability to communicate through language, which can be considered both a boon and curse. Boon since, we can communicate even abstract ideas and thoughts which has been crucial in the progress of our race. Information and data can be stored for access when required.
Curse, since we fail to communicate our emotions and feelings through the language as effectively as data and information. Even ideas and messages can be misleading when we do not pay attention to the right words being used and adopting right way of saying things.
Miscommunication is more prominent in human race than any species of animals. With the introduction of language and eloquence, we are losing our touch with observation of cues through body language. Since animals read the signs and signals quite clearly, they understand each other much better without any miscommunication taking place. We cannot say the same about ourselves.
Today, we have to make efforts and practice hard to avoid miscommunication which may lead to dire consequences; which is similar to a person running fast to be in the same place.
Hone Your Listening Skill
Our creator has given us two ears for listening which cannot be closed and one mouth to speak, which looks best when closed. That must be our clue as to the how important it is to listen. We can never improve the way we speak, until we learn how to listen, in fact the first step towards improving the way we speak would be hone up our listening skill.
Good communication involves listening with an open mind, being clear in our thoughts about the message we wish to convey and being ready to handle acceptance as well as disputes, arguments and rejection of the message we are conveying.
Remember, like talking is not speaking, hearing is not listening. Listen with our eyes and our ears. Understand the cues being sent out by audience about the words being said. Know when to start and when to stop a conversation. Listen actively, keeping prejudices and judgements aside. When we listen actively and show others that we have clearly understood what they want to convey to us, it creates mutual respect between both the parties.
Remember the view outside the window when the train is speeding away on the track? It is unclear and blurred, isn’t it? The effect of our speech will be same if we speak too fast. Slow down the pace so that the message will be clear to the listener.
Speaking quickly or at a faster pace will also show that we lack confidence and do not feel completely in control of the situation. It will also be taken as a sign of nervousness. Manage the pace well, because when we speak too slowly, the listener may feel that we think he/she is too dumb to understand us properly at regular pace. Moreover, it can get boring and monotonous after a while, causing distraction in the audience.
One of the tricks used by many experts to set a pace for speech is to follow the speed that would be required to write down the number that we are repeating. We can also record our voice and see if the rhythm or tempo is out of pace.
With enough practice we can learn to manage our pace and tempo of our speech with ease, without making any conscious effort.
Pay Attention To The Tone Of Our Voice
Remember Janice from the TV serial ‘Friends’ and her nasal tone? She gave enough proof that tones and pitch of voice can be quite irritating to listeners.
Often we concentrate so much on what we have to say and what are the right words to use, that we overlook our voice which plays an important role in conveying our message. Our tone will also have a great impact on the response of the listener.
We should speak with optimism in a voice which is clear, warm and meticulous so that we sound smart and confident. Avoid speaking in a harsh or high pitched voice which can be tasking on the listener. Do not hesitate or speak in a low voice, which can lead to confusion.
Pay attention to the loudness of voice, especially when driven by anger. Apart from being loud, we may become too harsh or curt and hurt the listener. We do not have a volume button like our smartphones, hence we cannot control our voice modulation all the time. But being aware of the quality of our voice will help us in making adjustments to make it suit our requirement.
Making a statement, asking a question or giving an order will require us to speak in different tone and pitch. We have to learn to match our voice to meet the requirement of our audience.
Breathe, Breathe and Keep Breathing
Since we breathe automatically, we never pay any attention to it. Unfortunately, unless we become aware of breathing, we can never bring in clarity in our spoken words. If we pay attention to breathing and keep inhaling and exhaling deeply, we will successfully relieve the nervous energy building up in, moreover in due course of time we can develop a strong voice and increase the impact and intensity of our words.
Proper breathing will ensure we have enough oxygen to keep our mind alert. Shallow breaths will not only steal our alertness, but will also be the cause of our voice being fidgety and weak.
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Do Not Speak Only With Our Mouth
Before we open our mouth to spit out those irreversible words, we should pay some attention to the person who is listening to us. If we don’t understand our audience, there is very chance that they will understand us.
We can make use of all our senses and body to communicate for our speech to be highly effective. Our body posture, eye contact, gestures and facial expressions make a world of difference to the message being conveyed. Do not undermine the importance of thoughts in speaking well. What we think will be reflected in our words, whether we desire or not.
Everyone has once in a while choked on their words due to turbulent emotions raging in their heart. It is highly important that we keep check on our emotions as we speak, especially the negative emotions like jealousy, anger, hurt or sadness which can impact our voice and words.
Personal and Professional Communication
We may have to change the tone of our voice and even the words when we are having interaction with our friends, children or elderly member of our family. We are not only free to be creative and informal here, it will be appreciated as well.
When we are having a professional conversation, we have to focus on the subject matter since it can be of high importance here. Accurate information, knowledge of the subject we are talking about and an informal tone is expected in such a scenario.
Do Not Cast Confusion In Conversation
Avoid using words like ‘I will try’, ‘I think I will’, ‘May be’, ‘around 12 p.m.’ and many more undefined phrases. Even if we are sure of doing what we intend to do, we will create confusion and doubt in the mind of the person we are speaking to.
Instead, we can use clear and specific phrases that make our intention clear to the listener. Strong phrases will add credibility to our personality as well.
We have to keep the knowledge and language skills of the listener in our mind. We can avoid the use erudite words or rarely used phrases and idioms which may not be understood by listener. It is only by being honest and trustworthy will we earn the attention and respect of our listener and not by showing off what we have learned.
Tackle Barriers To Communication
We will face both internal and external barriers which will interfere with our composure, clarity and meaning of the message. External factors like temperature, mal-function of communication equipment, interpersonal conflicts with listener, interference from audience, noise or disturbance and time limit can act as barriers to our speech.
Lack of trust and belief in our own words, stress and anxiety, mood swings, overwhelming personality of the listener, lack of clarity in our mind, wrong attitude, fear, lack of self- assurance and self-confidence, prejudice against audience and being judgemental are few of the internal barriers which can be detrimental to our communication skills.
We may not have control over barriers that may hinder our communication, but we can learn to manage and handle them efficiently. We should make sure that we do not use these barriers to toss blame for our own ineffectiveness.
Ignorance Is Not Bliss
Many people fumble in their communication and the way they speak, because they are not aware of their flaws. We should observe our communication and the way we speak to find areas which needs improvement.
Do we speak quickly? Do we get distracted from the topic of focus too often? Do we hesitate and make unwanted sounds before continuing with our sentence? Is our voice so low that we have to repeat our sentences again and again?
We have to find out our strengths and weaknesses so that we can fortify our strength and work on our weakness to correct it.
Here are few more tips to improve the way we speak:
- Make eye contact but do not stare
- Put away our electronic devices
- Breathe easily
- Pace our words right
- Manage our pitch and tone
- Be aware of body language, our own and that of our listener
- Do not hear out the words, listen actively
- Be clear about our intention of the conversation
- After speaking, take a break and allow our listener to respond
- At times throw open ended questions to get others involved
- Do not be angry, irritable or impatient with listener
- Do not sound moralizing
- Avoid rolling eyes, pulling up shoulders, critical facial expressions and undesirable comments
- Develop tolerance and patience
- Paraphrase for clarity
- Feel our words
- Do not use ‘should’ ‘ought’ and ‘don’t’
- Use dollops of humour when appropriate
- Practice varying tone, volume, rhythm and pitch of voice
- Relax the jaw
- And Finally SMILE
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