More presentation training and a bit of the "rain in spain"!
“Poor Professor Higgins…” Whether or not you’ve seen it, chances are you are familiar with the story of MY FAIR LADY. Professor Higgins sets out to make Eliza Doolittle, a cockney flower girl in turn of the (last) century London, a lady of the highest order. As he toils away, he spends much of his time focusing on Eliza’s elocution and diction, and takes her from this to this. (As iconically portrayed by Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison.)
Eliza’s journey illustrates an interesting truth about vocal identity. We all identify so closely with the sound of our own voices- they are a huge part of who we are. Because of this, we often overlook issues with our own speech, including articulation. Many times, to our own ear it sounds like our pronunciation and articulation are perfect. It’s what we're used to! However, if we can identify what our speech and articulation issues may be (and yes, we all have them…) we can work towards fixing them. Here's how you can begin to find your own articulation issues:
1. Know the culprits! Before you start attacking your own articulation, familiarize yourself with some common articulation blunders:
Dropping word endings: Beware of traps like ing pronounced as in', and pronounced as an'.
Swallowing consonants: Hard consonants give form and shape to your words! Look for T's that become D's, J's that turn into CH, disappearing K's, mushy B's, P's and D's.
Jumbling words: This often occurs in strings of vowel- heavy words or when similar sounding consonants are placed together. For example, a phrase like ins and outs may become inzanous, what do you think? may become whadchewthinc?* and put that down! can turn into pudadown!
2. Listen to yourself: This is key. While being aware of some of the culprits can help you work on a daily basis, the only way to truly pinpoint your problems is to listen to a recording of yourself. If you have the luxury of owning a copy of a presentation or speech you gave, play it once through with your eyes closed. Observe only potential articulation issues. Don’t have any clips of yourself? Make a video at home. No camera? Technology has made the science of recording so much easier than it was in the past (mini tapes, anyone?). Most phones have a recording function or app. Record yourself practicing a presentation, reading from a book, reciting a recipe- anything that will get you talking. Should none of these be an option, be resourceful! Listen to the outgoing message on your voicemail, or ask a close friend or coworker to allow you to listen to a message you have left for them, all in the name of research. Whatever you choose, be sure to take notes- this will be your guideline for improvements.
3. Get your own Professor Higgins: Enlist the help of a friend or coworker. Tell them you are trying to work on improving your pronunciation and articulation. Give them the permission to police your speech for one week, and offer to make it a two way street. That way you can both benefit and help each other along. Check in with each other on your progress.
Once you’ve identified your own issues, you can work towards fixing them. Remember, this is not about completely altering your vocal identity or turning you into Eliza Doolittle- this is about making sure that your speech habits aren’t standing in the way of your MESSAGE being understood. In our final installment, we’ll discuss some exercises you can do to improve the issues you’ve identified.
*Bonus Fact: Directors and vocal coaches will often tell actors that they are chewing certain words, and they mean it in a bad way. Whatchew, didchew, wouldchew are all examples of lack of articulation sounding like a different word all together.