Monday Mornings with Madison


Have you ever listened to a voice-mail message only to be left wondering who called and what they wanted?  Not because your phone was acting erratically, but because the message simply was unclear.  Or have you ever gone to hear a speech or a presentation only to find that you could not understand what the speaker was saying?  Perhaps worst of all, have you ever interviewed someone for a job and had to ask the person to repeat what they said because you could not understand what he said? 

Communication is more than the act of putting words together to convey a thought. Communication includes delivering those words in a way that can be both heard and understood by the recipient.  Whether you are delivering a passionate speech or just leaving a message on someone’s voice mail, the person must be able to understand your speech – your physical speech – before they can respond.  Yet many people mumble and speak so softly that they are inaudible. 

Miscommunication can hold you back in today’s fast-paced, international business environment. Some people hide their gifts, talents and knowledge from the world due to a fear of speaking up and being misunderstood.  Others are simply unaware that they are not being heard and understood.  Is this you or someone you know?  If so, here are some simple tips to improve speech clarity.

Tip 1:  Slow down
Common sense dictates that the faster you speak, the harder it is for your listener to understand. The easiest way to instantly increase the clarity of your speech is to simply slow down.  But note that speaking slowly does not mean speaking softly.

Tip 2:  Speak up
If you want to say something, say it with gusto! Stand up straight, take a deep breath and speak on the exhale. Don’t cover your mouth with your hands, a book or your notes. Expand your diaphragm.  If you are leaving a voice-mail message, then speak directly and closely into the phone.  Make sure there is minimum of ambient noise while you leave your message.

Tip 3:  Pause and breathe
Pauses are effective little tools that can be employed in a number of situations. Use them to clearly separate sentences.  Use pregnant pauses – slightly longer pauses – when changing topics. 

Breathing is also fundamental for all speaking. Think of your breath as being released in a steady, constant stream. That stream continues steadily during the tiny silences between words, connecting one word to the following word. The goal is for your breath to be on-going and easy.  Avoid giving an explosion of breath for a few words, then letting the breath drop before the next little explosion of breath. You lose a great deal of breath by breathing too frequently and too shallowly, and it causes the sound of your voice to rise and fall.

Tip 4:  Speak simply
Never use a long word where a short one will do. This is a common rule most people have heard, but unfortunately few put into practice. Your main goal in every spoken interaction should be to have your message understood.  Simplifying your vocabulary and using common English words will help keep messages clear and easy to understand.

Tip 5:  Articulate word endings
Haste makes waste.  In our haste to get our message out, we often fail to enunciate word endings.  These are the grammatical markers at the ends of words, such as the plural ‘s’ or past tense ‘ed.’  If you don’t articulate these sounds, it will sound as if you’re making basic grammatical errors.

Tip 6:  Use clear consonants
Here are a few examples of commonly confused consonant sounds: b & p, such as in best and pest; d & t, such as in dip and tip; g & k, such as in gate and Kate; and v & f, such as in view and few. The first sound in each pair is voiced, whereas the second sound is voiceless.  For example, place your hand in front of your mouth while you say game and came.  If you are articulating the g and k (or hard c) sounds correctly, you should feel an explosion of air when you make the k (or hard c) sound.

Tip 7:  Enunciate vowels
Vowels should be given the true vowel sounds. Americans are becoming increasingly lax in differentiating between the vowel sounds–so much so that “uh” has become the vowel of choice for A, E, I, O and U!  It is a blend of pure laziness and a cultural deficit of actual listening to sounds. Because we are bombarded with noise of all sorts, we turn off our active hearing.

Tip 8:  Speak every syllable
Here are some words to help you practice.  Say definitely (all four syllables)   Say accessible (ak sess i buhl).   Say Antarctic (ant ark tik).  Say residing (Make the “s” a definite “Z” sound.)

Now speak the sentence below, breaking it up into smaller segments until you can say the entire sentence very clearly at a normal pace.

“The treatise on the Antarctic was definitely not accessible to the non-native speakers residing in Washington.”  Did run out of breath before you said the whole sentence?  If not, congratulations! If so, mark a place or two where you can sneak a breath without interrupting the flow.

Try this:  “The treatise on the Antarctic (breath) was definitely not accessible (breathe here only if you absolutely must) to the non-native speakers (breath) residing in Washington.”

By following these tips, your voice will be heard clearly and audibly…. And your message can then be received. 

“Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall.” Oliver Wendell Holmes

© 2010 – 2011, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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