Speaking can be a challenge when you’re still learning English. Building your vocabulary and improving your grammar and accent require a lot of work. But did you know that there are simple strategies that you can do right now to help you become the kind of speaker everyone wants to listen to?
Try these five tips to help you speak more clearly and with greater impact:
Start by listening actively
Famous author Stephen Covey said that “most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”. This can lead to misunderstandings because we base our reply on assumptions, not the whole picture. Avoid this trap by being an active listener. When you’re in a conversation, don’t interrupt and form quick judgements. Instead, focus and fully listen. Pay attention to the content, intent and the emotions behind the message. Practising this will make you a respectful, clear and helpful communicator. It will also make you more approachable and trustworthy.
Determine the specific areas where you can improve in your speech. A good way to do this is to listen to yourself speak. Record a simple conversation in English then listen carefully. You may need to listen to it a few times to carefully analyze it. Are there aspects of your speech that make you hard to understand? For example, do you speak too fast, is your voice high-pitched, or do you often use fillers like uhm or ahh? List down these points so you’ll be conscious of them when you speak. Work on improving each one.
The more you do it, the better you’ll become. A great way to learn to speak clearly is to read aloud. Find a document to read (for example, one to two pages of a book) and go through it silently to understand the text. Next, read it out loud and don’t mind if you make mistakes. On your third try, record yourself and remember three things: slow down, keep your head up (don’t tuck your chin into the book so you can project your voice better), and pause occasionally. Listen to your recording and see if you need to adjust your pace, volume and tone. Better yet, ask another person to listen and give you feedback.
If you need materials to practice, the following video has simple phrases to help strengthen the muscles in your face and mouth. These will improve your pronunciation especially if you’re working on your accent:
Mouth exercises for clear speech, Learn English with Benjamin (engVid)
Adopt good body language
Body language is how you stand (posture)and move your face (show expression) and hands. These movements enhance your words and reinforce your meaning. For example:
- Eye contact – Hold your gaze a few seconds at a time when you’re speaking to someone. Look at other parts of the person’s face to avoid staring.
- Hand gestures – Use hand gestures every now and then to emphasize a point. Experts say that movements that show your palm facing up make you look trustworthy and open.
- Nodding and leaning in – Use these gestures together with good eye contact to show attentiveness.
- Good posture – Stand straight with shoulders back and avoid slouching or crossing your arms. Good posture conveys openness and confidence. It also allows good breathing which helps you sound better.
Have impeccable content
Impactful speech has two elements – content (what you are saying) and delivery (how you say it). Content involves more than the actual words. It also includes relevance and intent (or purpose). A person who shares accurate information and provides meaningful content will always be someone people would love to talk to.
According to communication expert Julian Treasure, there are four important foundations that make our speech powerful:
- Honesty – Being true, straight and clear.
- Authenticity –Being yourself.
- Integrity – Doing what you say. Being trustworthy.
- Love – Wishing people well.
Watch Julian Treasure’s impeccable TED Talk below.
Sources: Effective speaking, Skills you need; How to speak so that people want to listen, Sinem Gunel, Mind Café; and Body language, Mind Tools. Accessed March 4, 2021.
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