If you have a message to deliver, you must remember that not everyone in the audience will have the same education as you. It is important to avoid detracting from your presentation by using words that are not understood or are pronounced poorly.
In everyday speech it is usually best to employ words with which you are well acquainted. Ordinarily, pronunciation will not be a problem in general conversation Many who have a problem with pronunciation are not aware of it. It would be good to have a close friend listen to your speech and give you an honest appraisal.
Once you know the problem, then you can make the necessary adjustments. The first thing to do is to consult a dictionary. The dictionary will show you where to place the primary stress in a word that is made up of more than one syllable and where to place the secondary stress in a longer word. It will show what sounds to use for the vowels and the consonants in a given word. In some instances, a word may be pronounced in more than one way, depending on the setting in which it is used. Whatever word you look up, say it aloud several times before you close the dictionary.
Another way to improve pronunciation is by listening carefully to good speakers. As you listen, take note of the words that are being pronounced differently from the way you would do it. Write these down, and practice them. In time, your speech will be free of the blemishes of mispronunciation, and this will greatly enhance your speaking.
When pronunciation is mastered you can then focus on the fluent delivery of your speech. Fluency is so important because when a speaker lacks fluency, the minds of the listeners may wander; wrong ideas may be conveyed. What is said may lack persuasiveness. A fluent person reads and speaks in such a manner that words and thoughts flow smoothly, with apparent ease. This does not mean that he is constantly talking, that he speaks very rapidly, or that he speaks without thinking. His speech is pleasingly graceful.
A variety of factors may contribute to lack of fluency.
1. Slight pauses in too many places may result in jerky delivery.
2. Lack of preparation may contribute to the problem.
3. In speaking before a group, a common factor in lack of fluency is failure to organize material in a logical manner.
4. A limited vocabulary may cause a person to hesitate as he gropes for the right words.
5. If too many words are emphasized, fluency may be impaired.
If you lack fluency, the audience may not literally walk out, but their minds may wander. As a result, much of what you say may be lost. On the other hand, care must be exercised so that speech that is meant to be forceful and fluent does not become embarrassing to the audience.
Many people have the mannerism of inserting such expressions as “and-uh” when they speak. Others frequently start a thought with “now,” or they tack a phrase, such as “you know” or “you see,” on to whatever they are saying. Perhaps you are unaware of the frequency with which you use such expressions. You might try a practice session in which someone listens to you and repeats these expressions each time you say them. You may be surprised.
Some people read and speak with numerous regressions. That is, they begin a sentence and then interrupt themselves midway and repeat at least a portion of what they already said.
Still others speak rapidly enough, but they start with one line of thought and then, mid-sentence, shift to something else. Though words flow freely, abrupt changes in thought impair fluency.
If your problem is that you often grope for the right word, you need to make a concerted effort to build up your vocabulary. Look these up in a dictionary, check their pronunciation and their meaning, and add some of these words to your vocabulary.
Making it a practice to read aloud regularly will contribute to improvement. Take note of difficult words, and say these aloud several times. Become familiar with the flow of thought. Then practice reading aloud. Read the paragraph repeatedly until you can do it without stumbling and without pausing in the wrong places.
Endeavor to express a complete thought without stopping or changing ideas in midstream. You may find it helpful to use short, simple sentences. Words should come naturally if you know exactly what you want to say.
Generally speaking, it is not necessary to select the words that you will use. In fact, for the sake of practice, it is better just to make certain that the idea is clear in your mind and then to think of the words as you go. If you do and if you keep your mind on the idea rather than on the words that you are speaking, the words will come more or less automatically, and your thoughts will be expressed as you really feel them. But as soon as you begin to think of words rather than ideas, your speech may become halting.
With practice, you can succeed in developing fluency, an important quality in effective speaking and reading.
I hope you found some value in this article.
In my next article I will focus on “Appropriate Pausing” and “Sense stress.”
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