Updated June 29, 2023
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 the chances being that we may never learn to communicate well. No matter how good we are, there is always scope for us to improve our communication skills and how we speak. Language and communication is a vast field with great content for improvement throughout our life, that is, if we do not quit trying. All we need is commitment and the will to practice.
When we speak, our voice and tone are as important as our words. 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, our command over the language, and our geographical roots through the accent we may have acquired. We can be made or marred by what we say, so how we speak is very important in our lives.
Power Of Saying It Right
We can always appreciate 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 those great men’s belief in their comments. Those exact revolutionary words would be highly dull, unpleasant, and uninspiring when told in grating, soft, low, or fake voices. The ability to communicate with clarity, courage, belief, and commitment leads to great revolutions and movements in our world.
Besides the message and words themselves, the emotions that affect our voice, the tone, the pitch, and the confidence of the messenger are equally essential to make it revolutionary, motivational, or even understood rightly.
The human race can communicate through language, both a boon and a curse. Boon since we can share 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 ignore the right words and adopt a proper way of saying things.
Miscommunication is more prominent in the human race than in any animal species. With the introduction of language and eloquence, we are losing touch with observing cues through body language. Since animals read the signs and signals quite clearly, they understand each other much better without miscommunication. 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, 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 how important it is to listen. We can only improve how we talk once we learn how to listen; in fact, the first step towards improving how we speak would be honing our listening skills.
Good communication involves listening with an open mind, being transparent in our thoughts about the message we wish to convey, and being ready to handle acceptance, disputes, arguments, and rejection of the message we are saying.
Remember, like talking is not speaking, hearing is not listening. Listen with our eyes and our ears. Understand the cues from the audience about your words. Know when to start and when to stop a conversation. Listen actively, keeping prejudices and judgments aside. Listening actively and showing others that we have clearly understood what they want to convey to us creates mutual respect between both parties.
Remember the view outside the window when the train is speeding away on the track? It is unclear and blurred. The effect of our speech will be identical if we speak too fast. Slow down the pace so the message will be apparent to the listener.
Babbling or at a faster pace will also show that we need more confidence and feel more in control of the situation. It will be a sign of nervousness. Manage the speed well because when we speak too slowly, the listener may feel that we think they are too dumb to understand us properly at a 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 required to write down the number we are repeating. We can also record our voices and see if the rhythm or tempo is out of pace.
With enough practice, we can learn to manage the 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 the techniques and pitch of the voice can irritate listeners.
Often we concentrate so much on what we have to say and the right words to use that we overlook our voice which plays an essential role in conveying our message. Our tone will also have a significant impact on the response of the listener.
To sound competent and confident, we should speak optimistically in a clear, warm, and meticulous voice. Avoid speaking in a harsh or high-pitched voice that can be tasking the listener. Refrain from hesitation or speaking in a low voice, which can lead to confusion.
Pay attention to the loudness of voice, mainly 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 make adjustments to suit our requirements.
Making a statement, asking a question, or giving an order will require us to speak in different tones and pitches. We have to learn to match our voices to meet the requirement of our audience.
Breathe, Breathe, and Keep Breathing
Since we breathe automatically, we pay little attention to it. We must become aware of breathing to bring clarity to our spoken words. If we pay attention to breathing and keep inhaling and exhaling deeply, we will successfully relieve the nervous energy building up; moreover, in 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 also cause our voices to be fidgety and weak.
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Do Not Speak Only With Our Mouth
Before opening our mouths to spit out those irreversible words, we should pay attention to the person listening. If we don’t understand our audience, they will understand us.
We can use 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. Refrain from undermining the importance of thoughts in speaking well. Whether we desire it or not, what we think will be reflected in our words.
Everyone has once in a while choked on their words due to turbulent emotions raging in their heart. We must keep checking our feelings as we speak, predominantly negative emotions like jealousy, anger, hurt, or sadness, which can impact our voices and words.
Personal and Professional Communication
We may have to change the tone of our voice and even our words when interacting with our friends, children, or elderly family member. It can be creative and informal here, but they will appreciate it.
We must focus on the subject matter in a professional conversation since it can be imperative here. Accurate information, knowledge of the subject we are discussing, and an informal tone are qualities to expect in such a scenario.
Do Not Cast Confusion In Conversation
Avoid using words like ‘I will try,’ ‘I think I will,’ ‘May be,’ ‘around noon,’ and many more undefined phrases. Even if we are sure of doing what we intend, we will create confusion and doubt in the mind of the person we speak to.
Instead, we can use clear and specific phrases that make our intention clear to the listener. Vital 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 using erudite words or rarely used phrases and idioms that the listener may need help understanding. Only by being honest and trustworthy will we earn the attention and respect of our listeners and not by showing off what we have learned.
Tackle Barriers To Communication
We will face internal and external barriers that interfere with our composure, clarity, and meaning of the message. External factors like temperature, malfunction of communication equipment, interpersonal conflicts with listeners, interference from the audience, noise or disturbance, and time limit can be barriers to our speech.
Lack of trust and belief in our own words, stress, and anxiety, mood swings, the overwhelming personality of the listener, lack of clarity in our mind, wrong attitude, fear, lack of self-assurance and self-confidence, prejudice against the 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 hindering 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 the blame for our ineffectiveness.
Ignorance Is Not Bliss
Many people fumble in their communication and how they speak because they are unaware of their flaws. We should observe our communication and how we talk to find areas that need improvement.
Do we babble? Is there any need to focus on the topic of focus more often? Do we hesitate and make unwanted sounds before continuing with our sentence? Is our voice so low that we must repeat our sentences repeatedly?
We must find our strengths and weaknesses to fortify and work on them to correct them.
Here are a 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
- Refrain from hearing out the words. Listen actively
- Be clear about our intention of the conversation
- After speaking, take a break and allow your listener to respond
- At times throw open-ended questions to get others involved
- Do not be angry, irritable, or impatient with the 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 humor when appropriate
- Practice varying tone, volume, rhythm, and pitch of voice
- Relax the jaw
- And Finally SMILE