Perfecting articulation is a huge part of presentation training.
Remember the teachers on the Peanuts cartoons? (Charlie Brown and the gang had 2 main teachers- Miss Othmar and Miss Halverson…) When the kids would speak to her, all they would hear in response was, “Waaahhhhn WAH wahhn waah waah.”
Those sounds*- indistinct and unclear- turned the kids off pretty quickly. As a result of the lack articulation, it was the aural embodiment of boredom. (Be honest- how many of you have used those sounds to describe a co-worker?)
Or how about this- have you ever been on public transportation with a conductor who doesn’t articulate important information, like stops, updates, or safety procedures? Have you strained, full of frustration, to understand what it could possibly be that they are saying? Chances are at some point you surrendered to the fact that you would never be able to catch their message and tuned them out completely, hoping they weren’t announcing that your local bus was suddenly going express to another neighborhood.
Clarity of speech is vitally important, both in and out of a business setting. Without clear articulation, your audience will give up the fight to discern what you are saying. The impending boredom- or confusion- will cause their minds to wander to something they don’t need to work so hard to understand. Your message, no matter how important, becomes lost.
This is our kick-off to a series on articulation, offering some tips on how to avoid mumbling your audience away. Since knowledge and self -awareness are the keys to improving the clarity of your speech, let’s start by identifying the parts involved.
KNOW YOUR ARTICULATORS
There are four movable articulators in the mouth, and each one is responsible for a certain set of sounds. These are the tongue, lips, jaw and soft palette. (Can’t find your soft palette? Pretend you are putting a large hot potato in your mouth. The fleshy part that moves up at the top-back of your mouth? That's your soft palette.) Independently, they are responsible for sounds like:
Tongue: d, t, n, th
Lips: b, p, w, m
Jaw: ch, s, z, j
Soft Palette: g, k, ng
Warming up these different parts of your mouth is the first step to developing more clear articulation. Stretching the muscles of your face, tongue and jaw helps to relieve tension that often leads to mumbling, indistinct speech. Facial stretches can be done any time, any where, as long as you don't mind making some crazy faces!
In our next installment, we’ll talk about identifying and attacking your own articulation issues. Until then, work on “stretching it out”!
*Bonus Fact: Those “sounds” from Charlie Brown’s teachers? They’re made by trombones!