If English is your second (or third or fourth) language and you want to know if your speech clarity is a problem for you at work, consider the following questions:
• Do people frequently ask you to repeat what you said?
• Do people frequently misunderstand what you tell them?
• Do people avoid having you make presentations or interface with customers?
• Do people go around you for information rather than coming directly to you?
• Do you avoid speaking out in group situations?
“Yes” answers may indicate a problem with speech clarity. For your future career development, accent improvement classes, systematic presentation strategies, and personal coaching will help assure that you are more easily understood.
Carol Fleming, PhD, author of It’s the Way You Say It, our colleague, and a specialist in working with business professionals in business speech communication, had a recent dialogue with a corporate training manager.
"Dr. Fleming, I have to deal with a difficult issue. A valued employee doesn't have clear speech because of his accent. He's smart and has great ideas, but when it comes to talking, people aren't understanding him. I get concerned about asking him to repeat again and again.”
"Have you mentioned this difficulty to him?"
"Oh, surely he must know! But, no, I don't think anybody has said anything to him directly."
"Have you done anything already to deal with this problem?"
"Well, in truth, we go around him when we really need information fast, and we ask someone else. We have to be careful about what customers we have him work with. But we need for him to be able to handle the phone with clients and represent us out in the field. We just can't afford to keep him in the back room in front of a computer like we've been doing."
In today's business world, competition has never been more intense. The workforce has never been more diverse. The demands for intelligibility have never been greater. Talking to people adds complexity. If you worry about your speech clarity, what are some immediate steps to take?
• Check your corporate training catalog. Does your company offer accent improvement classes?
• Speak up. Clarity is improved by projecting your voice with variation and resonance—not speaking in a low or monotone voice.
• Pronounce the ending sounds of words. Why? If you don’t, you’re more likely to make grammatical—as well as pronunciation—errors. Examples: When you leave off the /ed/ endings in words like play +ed, want + ed or help + ed, the past tense is missed. When you don’t add the s, you may not provide the speech clues to something being plural (computers), possessive (my company’s process), or third person singular (she drives).
• Slow down. Your audience gives up listening unless you slow down your pace, have mini-phrases in a sentence, and come to a complete stop at the end of sentences. Let the audience take the information in.
• Stress key words. Not all words are created equal. In each sentence, figure out the words of phrases that should be emphasized.
• Use pictures and provide context. Graphics are worth a thousand words. Help the audience understand context by using photos or bullet points to help provide information for understanding.
• Use gestures to tell the story. You get two advantages for the price of one. 1) Gestures are a language. Like someone “signing” to communicate, a picture is created; more visual clues are given. 2) Purposeful gestures slow your pace down. The result? The audience gets your content better.
• Count your syllables. There are many words that are difficult to say. In your rehearsal phase of the presentation, ask for help. Are there words the audience members might not understand? Ask a friend to break them down so that you may say the words deliberately and more clearly. Go to the dictionary for a pronunciation pattern to guide you.
The need for clear speech is too important an issue to be ignored-your career depends on it!
This month's Blog Post is written by:
Contact PowerSpeaking, Inc. at firstname.lastname@example.org or Dr. Carol Fleming for speech clarity help.
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Related Blog Post: Warm Up Your Voice For Credibility, Connection And Influence