TodayIwanttorelayanimportantmessage. Thisrequiresyourfullattentionandinput. Allearsplease.
Ok, you can’t hear this. So imagine this stretch of fleeting real-time speech in a continuous fast rate, low volume, and unclear diction. You’re in a virtual meeting where information and creative solutions are brought to the table. The clock is ticking, and you and other team participants are under the gun to coordinate details for a project deadline. The pressure is on!
All too often, speakers concentrate solely on the words and content, and don’t pay attention to how they are speaking to the listener(s). They may be sharing the most brilliant idea, but do so by mumbling on for 5-10 minutes. They forget to take into consideration how their listeners are processing the information; they’re focused only on the information or idea.
Speech clarity in business communication is absolutely critical. I tell my clients (foreign-born professionals in Chicago and abroad) that I’m not here to eliminate or remove their accents, but to simply help them modify their speech so that speakers of other languages can better understand them.
The following tips are useful for anyone—native and non-native speaker alike—who needs to communicate clearly in today’s business lingua franca, English.
Pace & Volume
· Concentrate on speaking from the diaphragm, rather than the upper chest. This immediately slows you down and increases your volume. Remember, the listener isn’t as familiar with the information or ideas as you are.
· Use short holds and pauses. These (short hold, a.k.a. verbal comma) verbal punctuation marks (short hold) help you slow down. (pause, longer hold, a.k.a. verbal period) They also help the listener(s) process what you are strategically emphasizing in real-time speech.
· Maintain your volume from the beginning to end of your sentences. It’s critical that the listener hears the new information, which is typically at the end of each sentence in English.
· If you’re tired and find it difficult to project your voice, stand up and walk around. Breathe deeply and concentrate on releasing your breath from your abdomen.
· Drink water! This helps the vocal cords produce better sound quality.
· Do mouth movement exercises. For example, read out loud the previous sentence word by word. Pay careful attention to how your jaw, lips, and mouth muscles move to exaggerate the stressed vowel sound of each word:
o dO (round lips and push them forward)
o mOUth (open your mouth and round the “ou” sound. C’mon, exaggerate the “bow wow” sound!)
o mOvement (round lips and push them forward again)
o exER (purse your lips and move them forward) cIses (drop your jaw)
· Make a conscious effort to articulate your final consonant sounds. Realistically, in everyday conversational speech, people drop these sounds. Language is fluid like that. If you’re in a teleconference call, though, articulating these sounds improves your speech clarity. (Arthur Lessac calls them the spine of speech in his book, The Use and Training of the Human Voice: A Bio-Dynamic Approach to Vocal Life.)
· Record yourself daily and self monitor to your vocal presence. It’s so easy with the smart phone!
· Find public speakers whose voices you admire. You might want to explore one of the following resources:
o All Things Considered on NPR
o A free app called Stitcher. This has an excellent collection of online radio shows and podcasts
Whatever idea or information comes out of your mouth, you know well. Your listener(s), on the other hand… Be kind and give them time to process the information in real-time speech.
Do you have any additional recommendations or speech habits to add? I’d love to hear from you at email@example.com