So much depends upon what comes out of your mouth. Whether you are sitting in a sticky leather upholstered chair on a hot day being grilled by a chipper college admission counselor, or trying to impress the mom of your significant other with your knowledge of Phil Collins tunes, the way you turn a phrase – in one sentence or less – can send out all the right (or wrong) signals about who you are as a person and what your intentions are.
Fortunately, language is something you can work on, and everyone can improve somehow, whether it’s through diction, word choice, tone, or perhaps even more importantly – the ability to know when to stop talking and just listen.
Adjusting speech patterns, elocution and diction doesn’t happen overnight – but the more aware you are, the more likely you are to develop your speaking skills. Here are a few places to start.
1. Be conscious of how often you say ‘like.’ Like, always try to like notice when you say it. “Like” has become a flippant and often aggravating place holder for your thoughts when your brain needs a moment to catch up, which happens to us all. Even politicians stumble over their speech, but ‘like’ will never likely pass their lips – you’ll notice the more dignified and imperceptible “Ahh.” Or even better, just a slight pause. You may not be able to prevent saying “like” right off the bat, but just starting to notice how often you use it will help you to curb this speech hiccup.
2. Pronounce your letters, particularly ‘T.’ Be who you are, but do it with finesse. Having a colloquial accent (southern, Boston, so-cal…) is a beautiful, important part of who you are and your cultural identity. But we can all use a tune up for the sake of sounding like we know what we are talking about. It’s easy to fall into the “mumble” trap and blend our words all together, but not everyone will understand you if your pronunciation is off point. ‘T” is perhaps the most often consonant dropped or slurred in our speech, when it should in fact serve as the backbone in our statement. Practice saying words like “kitten” and “button” until it works for you. It may sound awkward at first if you aren’t used to pronouncing your T’s, but this is an important relationship you can build over time. Trust.
3. Don’t use overly complex words to show off. You may know what they mean, you might have aced the verbal section of your SATs, but communication should always trump complexity in your daily conversations. Unless a word truly adds to your sentence, save it for a rainy day (whatever that means.) The best speech writers and notable authors engage their mastery of language by painting vivid images using basic words for complex ideas. Know your audience, and use thoughtful, simple words to convey your thoughts. Everyone knows that guy in history class who throws down a lot of 6 syllable words without making an actual point. Always err on the side of being clear and concise – and dip into your killer vocabulary occasionally but sparingly in conversation when it illustrates your point. Then, be a verbal ninja and dominate the floor whenever you play Scrabble.
4. Gesticulate. (Speaking of complex words..) Gesticulation is the art of motioning with your hands, and can carry your words off into the sunset like a dove at the vatican. Using expression in your body language will captivate and engage your listener. Just watch how your favorite celebrities and public speakers talk (ok, maybe not K Stew,) and you’ll notice they are so damn charming because they emote not just with their eyes and words, but with their entire body. Who can look away when Chris Pratt is motioning toward you? Nobody. A little charm can infuse your words with importance, even if you are simply asking where the restroom is.
5. Let your posture do half the speaking for you. Chin up, shoulders back, feet pointed toward your audience, eye contact on point. It is so easy to tell when someone who is talking to you “is just not that into you.” One foot out of the door = I really don’t care to have this conversation right now, or with you. Your body language is critical to your speech. All suggestions above take a back seat to your level of enthusiasm – conveying interest, empathy, and attentiveness to the person you are speaking with will always win hearts, no matter how many times you say “like” or slur your “T.” And face it, you definitely want to win the heart of your crush’s mom. And sure, the admission counselor’s too. Because college.
Tl:dr; Speak up. So many women focus on saying the right thing in the right way that they often end up not saying anything at all. Utilize these tips to find your voice, and use it. Value your thoughts and others will, too.