Few tools of business communication can equal an effective speaking voice. In fact, speech improvement is one of the areas of professional communication that can be implemented most successfully. (To discover how to speak with maximum confidence, clarity, and credibility, download our cheat sheet, "5 Key Tools of Vocal Dynamics.")
Overcoming Speech Problems for Effective Communication
Boost your influence by overcoming the common speech and vocal problems, listed below, that may be diminishing your effectiveness. These techniques are not only the foundation of good voice and diction. They're also part of key leadership skills for making yourself a powerful speaker.
- Nasality. Nasality occurs when the soft palate (the area at the very back and top of your mouth) doesn’t close off the route to the nasal passage. Resonation therefore escapes up into the nose, and the tell-tale nasal sound develops. The good news is that true nasality is rare. Most of the time, you may think you're being nasal, but that isn't really the case. If nasality is present, a good speech coach will show you exercises of the palate and tongue that will teach you new good vocal habits.
- Rapid speech. Breathing is the key here, for two reasons: (1) Slower deeper breathing that originates with the diaphragm will help slow your entire pace down. That's because it's your overall response to speaking anxiety that's probably causing things to get out of whack concerning your pacing. You also need (2) to get your breathing to match the rhythm of your speech. If you’re speaking too fast, chances are you’re gasping for breath, throwing both your rhythm and your sound off.
- Eliminating vocal fillers. You're familiar with these culprits: "um," "uh," "like," "you know," and "okay?" Do you suffer from these common speaking nuisances? If you do, you should get a handle on improving the situation. Learn these specific and effective techniques for eliminating vocal fillers. Although chances are, like nasality, vocal fillers may not be as big a problem as you think, there's no doubt that improving the clarity and impact of your speech will make you more effective . . . and much easier to listen to.
- Tight jaw. You may already be aware that each of us has an upper jaw (maxilla) and lower jaw (mandible). But did you realize that only the upper jaw is part of your skull? The lower jaw or mandible is attached to your upper jaw by muscles and tendons. That’s important information if you suffer from tightness in the jaw that inhibits your speech. It’s actually a common problem, but one that’s easily overcome. You need exercises to relax the muscles at the jaw “notch” so you can produce sound more effortlessly and clearly. You may have the best things in the world to say, but if the words aren’t getting very far past your lips, they won’t be very effective. Again, a theatrically trained speech coach will show you simple exercises for alleviating this problem.
- Weak voice or lack of assertiveness. It's easy to forget that the voice is physical—it’s the result of air activating vocal muscles in the larynx. When you can a) produce a sufficient reservoir of air; b) sustain vocal sound, and c) support the sound to the ends of phrases, you'll be much more successful at linking sound and sense. That's critical because in English the most important word or phrase usually comes at the end of a sentence. When your voice strongly supports your complete idea, you sound authoritative and worth listening to. If it's challenges that are rattling you while speaking, download our cheat sheet, "7 Tips for Overcoming Audience Resistance." Combine strong vocal production with assertive body language, and it’s amazing how powerful a speaker you can become!
- Speech anxiety. We’ve all heard that public speaking ranks above death as a fearful event in people’s minds. Whether that’s actually true or not (though people do report it that way on surveys), speech anxiety is not as difficult to overcome as may be believed. The best tools ever devised for reducing stage fright come from the theater. The Bard once said that "All the world's a stage"; and if you're avoiding or uncomfortable on the business stage, you'll suffer professionally and personally. Here's a cheat sheet on "How to Calm Your Nerves Before Speaking."
- Harsh or abrasive speech. If your voice has a harsh or abrasive quality, there’s a good chance you’re using too much “glottal attack.” The glottis is the opening between the folds of your vocal cords. When you inhale, the glottis is completely open; but when you speak it’s closed as the vocal cords rub together to produce speech. Too much force used in bringing the folds together creates an unpleasant sound, especially on words beginning in vowels. Voice coaches induce slightly more breathiness to overcome this problem. (It’s the opposite of limiting the amount of breath released by someone who has a breathy quality to their speech). Reducing a harsh speaking style can go a long way in making you sound friendly and more empathetic to your audiences. Fortunately, there's a simple yet powerful breathing technique for creating such a supported and pleasant sound.
Whether you work by yourself or with the help of a speech coach to overcome your speech problems, focus on practical hands-on techniques such as the ones mentioned above. Overcome those speech problems, and you'll be a leg up on realizing dramatic improvement in your ability to influence important business and professional audiences.
Key takeaways from this blog:
- Few tools of business communication can equal an effective speaking voice.
- Becoming a powerful speaker is a key leadership skill.
- Nasality and vocal fillers are probably less of a problem than you think.
- Rapid speech and a lack of vocal power do diminish your effectiveness.
- If anxiety is making you avoid speaking situations, you'll suffer professionally.