Avoiding Monotone Mumble

Avoiding Monotone Mumble! How to Speak More Clearly

Avoiding Monotone Mumble

How public speakers can speak more clearly to be heard

Tips on making your speech sound less boring and monotone

I went to a seminar recently, and listened to three presenters speak on a truly interesting subject. 30 seconds into Speaker #2, my mind started wandering and I totally lost interest. When Speaker #3 took the podium, I was back on target, attentive and involved in the message. What was different? I couldn’t hear Speaker #2! His voice was soft, causing me to strain to hear him. He mumbled his words so his message was lost. Other times he spoke so fast that his words bumped into each other, making them unintelligible.

The speaker had Monotone Mumble! These 4 easy tips can help you avoid Monotone Mumble: 

Loosen Your Articulators

1. Loosen up your Articulators

Your tongue, lips and jaw are all part of the articulators, the physical structure that produces speech. It is important to keep them relaxed in order to produce clear speech sounds.

A tight jaw produces careless, sloppy speech.

Open your mouth. Keep your lips flexible. Be sure your tongue is positioned where it needs to be to produce the sound that you want. As you’re practicing your speech, spend some time relaxing these important speech articulators. Pay as much attention to the clarity of your words as you do to the structure of your text.

A good way to do this is to practice your speech out loud while slowly exaggerating the individual sounds of the words. Make sure you are well hydrated. Exaggerate your words, exercising your articulators into the optimum position for speech production.

Remember Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady? Henry Higgins had her repeat “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain” for hours at a time. It was only after endless repetition and exaggeration of the vowel sounds that she got it. 

It takes practice to develop clear articulation, but the results are well worth the effort.


Vary Your Rate

2. Vary Your Rate.

Some people speak so fast that it tires you out. Others plod along at such a slow pace that you fall asleep waiting for the next word. What’s a speaker to do?

If you speak too slowly your audience will be bored, their minds will wander and their thoughts will race ahead of your words. If you speak too fast, the audience doesn’t have enough time to absorb the impact of your message. They may still be trying to savor the implications of your story while you are rapidly moving on to another point. 

To be most effective and avoid a monotonous delivery, you need to vary the rate of your speech.  Achieving a perfect balance of rate of speech can be a challenge.

Generally, your pace will coincide directly with the mood of your message.

A slow rate conveys contemplation, nostalgia, and dreaminess.

A rapid rate conveys urgency, fear or excitement. You can change the meaning and importance of words by saying them quickly or drawing them out. For the greatest impact, vary your rate by slowing down and speeding up at critical points.

Slow down when you are making an important point or when you are about to deliver a punch line to a joke. Use a more rapid rate when you are relating something that happened quickly or listing minor, non essential elements to your message.

By varying your rate of speech your audience will stay awake, alert and attentive. Stop. Go. Slow down. Speed Up.


Speak Up!

3. Speak Up.

All that time you spent writing and practicing your speech, making sure your words are pronounced clearly, and matching your rate to your message will be wasted if your audience can’t hear you. Before you take the stage, make sure you can be heard throughout the room.

A good sound system is essential. I’m sure you’ve taken time to test the microphone, but a great deal of the volume of the vocal output depends on you. Breathing is necessary for producing and sustaining sounds. Failure to breath properly is the leading cause of poor volume.

Many speakers speak from their throats. The breath should start in the diaphragm with the air moving into the lungs and out of the throat where the sound is produced.  Many breathing exercises are available to help you regulate your breathing to produce a pleasant volume.

All of them start with a well hydrated throat and a relaxed jaw and body. Practice keeping the sound out of the throat to avoid vocal strain and hoarseness. 

Stand tall. Breathe and speak on the breath. Be sure to position the microphone in such a way that it does not pick up your breathing sounds. 


Record Yourself and Listen Objectively

4 Record & Listen to your Speech.

Your words sound very different to you than they do to an objective member of the audience. Read your presentation aloud. Record it. Then take a seat at the back of the room and listen to you as an objective observer. Pretend you had never met the speaker or heard the presentation. Be totally objective and honest.

Were there any boring sections? Did your mind wander? Did you understand each word? Were the words pronounced clearly and distinctly? Did the rate keep your mind interested? Did the rate of speech reflect the tone of the message? Was the volume appropriate?

By listening critically you can identify some of the weak areas in your speech, correct them, evaluate your delivery and avoid monotone mumble.

Remember: If your audience doesn’t understand what you are saying, your message is lost.


Uh…Goodbye. Eliminating Crutch Words.

Tips to eliminate ums, ahs, and other empty words to give your speech more power and impact and make you sound like a more confident speaker


You’ve all heard it before. What would otherwise be a great presentation becomes one interrupted jumble of ums, ahs, like, and you knows. Empty and meaningless words filling a gap by a speaker. Just as crutches support our body following an injury, Crutch Words often support our verbiage when we’re not sure what to say. Here’s an overview of crutch words and some tips we can use to eliminate them from our vocabulary.


Eliminate Crutch Words to be a Powerful Speaker

Eliminating crutch words is one of the fastest ways to improve yourself as a speaker.  Not only does it display confidence to your audience, but you become easier to understand as your message gets across. It isn’t easy to do, but if you can nuke those um’s and ah’s you are one step closer to winning over the crowd.


Don’t Fear the Silence

Um’s and ah’s come because as a speaker you naturally want to avoid silence.  You’ve been conditioned for two-way conversations. Not talking and the silence can be terrifying.  When you pause, you get feedback from the other person and the conversation continues. On the stage, it is only you.

The first way to combat crutch words is to realize silence is a good thing. Few speakers talk too slowly with too many pauses.  Pauses help emphasize points and give listeners time to understand and absorb what you are talking about.  Remember, although you may be an international expert and have a memorized speech, the audience needs more time to interpret what you plan to say.


How to Combat the Crutch

Here are some suggestions for becoming a pause artist and eliminating crutch words from your presentations:


Practice, practice, practice! 

You should know your presentation backwards and forwards before giving it. If you spend all your time thinking of what to say next, you can’t put emphasis on avoiding crutch words. Once you eliminate crutch words you can deliver unprepared speeches more effectively, but it is hard to cut the um’s if you aren’t prepared.


Breathe In, Not Out 

When you feel the temptation to ummm your way through a point, breathe in. This may add a pause to your presentation, but it will be far better than an ugly crutch word which blurs sentences together.


Avoid them in Conversation

You speak all the time. Watch your crutch words when chatting with friends and family. If it helps on stage it will help in a conversation. Plus you`ll get far more practice.


Get a Counter 

If your giving an important speech, get a friend to count the amount of times you utter an um or ah. Keeping numbers makes you highly aware of when your using these speech-killers.


Comma = 1 pause

Make a note whenever you are doing a presentation that every comma you encounter should have a pause attached. You might want to run through a list of ten items as if they were one thought. But force yourself to give a short count in between each item. Your audience will thank you for the added emphasis and clarity.


Period = 2 pauses

The end of a sentence requires twice as much pause. There is a time-delay between hearing your words and registering their meaning. Don`t cut over this step by blurring together your sentences.


Double Underline for Emphasis and Impact

Underline key words and phrases and double underline especially important ones. This is a technique I learned from a former radio broadcaster. It helps you understand where to slow down and emphasize an individual word. When you slow down to emphasize words, this reduces the temptation to inject crutch words in between.


If You’re Lost, Don’t Panic!

Um`s come in when you don`t have your next sentence ready. Your mind is still constructing what you want to say next, so you feel throwing a few um`s will fill the space until your ready. Don`t do this! Instead take a quick pause before moving on. The audience won`t notice and it will make your presentation smooth.


Enthusiasm Cuts Crunch

Imagine the presentation you have to give was the most critical information the audience needed to hear. When you engage emotionally with your speech topic, it becomes easier to emphasize points and avoid crutch words. If you aren`t engaged, you might feel the urge to preface statements with crutch words to downplay their importance.


Plan Tricky Parts

Know your conclusions and introductions word for word.  Also plan out any tricky parts of a presentation you might have difficulty explaining.  If you are preparing a business proposal and want to cover a sticky issue delicately, know that section word for word.


Quality over Quantity

Speaking is a fairly inefficient medium for delivering large volumes of information.  Emphasize only a few points in a speech, but emphasize them well and with repetition.  A good way to have a presentation filled with um`s and ah`s is to cram a five minute speech with twenty minutes of information.

Thanks to Scott Young @ howtochangeahabit@gmail.com for some text content and research.

Tailoring your talk when time is tight

10 Tips to Tailoring Your Talk when Time is Tight

Tips for public speakers and presenters when time is short

Tailoring your talk when time is tight

Talking is an art. Talking on time is a science. Polished delivery of a prepared speech of 5, 15, or 30 minutes takes verbal skill, rehearsal, and focus to stay within time.  But for someone whose time allotment has been slashed, trimming their prepared talk to fit the new time takes a blend of quick-thinking editing and amplified audience-engagement. The program is running overtime and you’ve been told you only have 5 minutes to deliver your beautiful 20 minute speech!  Here are some techniques to tailor your talk when time is tight.



#1. Keep it Focused On The Audience

Keep your speech focused on the audience

When time is tight, the focus should be on the audience.  Acknowledge their time constraint and assure them that you’ll keep your program in the new abbreviated time.  Keep your quick talk squarely focused on their interest and needs. More than ever, it’s not about you.  Trim-out any personal stories, humor, personality, or examples, and stick to the bottom line. You are just a messenger.  What value can you provide and what are you here to share that they need to know?  Visually “read the room” to see how much more information they can absorb.  Or simply maintain a brief dialogue with someone of leadership in the audience to help keep your message targeted and on-time. “Is this important to you?”  “Do we have time for me to share this?”  Their answers will help guide the flow, and show that you care about their needs.


#2: Have an Executive Summary with a Focused Key Message

Have an executive summary with a key message

Executive summaries are valuable because they consolidate complex information into a few paragraphs. They’re easy to read and digest. For your talk, focus on crafting an executive summary for your presentation that highlights your #1 overall key message. Aim to find a core statement or critical message that hits home. This core statement could become the foundation- even the introduction- to your talk. Whether it’s a sales or marketing presentation, an inspirational or informational talk, or a financial/analyst presentation, a ready-to-go pre-made executive summary can help you talk with focus without getting flustered.


#3. Print Handouts & Share Where to get More Info

Print Handouts & Share Where to get More Info

When talking time is tight, support it with handouts. Either as a digital file link, email, or printout, slide handouts can have notes, links, and supporting documentation to help fortify your high-level statements. By offering hyperlinks in your notes (to both internal and external resources), you can showcase your sources, and offer the audience a chance to dive-in deeper to learn about your topic and message. You can also post your full presentation online at SlideShare.net or convert it into a narrated movie to be uploaded on YouTube.


#4. Reschedule! Offer a Full Program at a Working-Lunch or After-Hours

Reschedule! Offer a Full Program at a Working-Lunch or After-Hours

No time now? Let’s do it later. Depending on the genre of your presentation and audience interest, you maybe able to reschedule your full talk for another time/day or after-hours. Short on time for your critical finance presentation to the COO? Get on his schedule after hours or during lunch next week. How about that training presentation of yours that nobody seems to have time for during work hours? Tell the gang to join you after for a happy hour in the local brewery’s back meeting room, and get them trained on the big-screen at the bar. Bottom’s Up!


#5. Learn to Recover From Distractions

Learn to Recover From Distractions

One of the most frustrating and challenging situations for a speaker is to be distracted from the topic. Bouncing back after being thrown-off topic takes practice and craft. By practicing to recover from distractions, you’ll gain agility in thinking on your feet and tailoring your talk to various lengths. If someone rudely looks at the clock and then commands you to, “just jump to the end!” don’t be flustered that your big talk must now be small. As a speaker, you want to appear calm, poised and in-command. You may be upset by the loss of information and creative time/effort- but it’s essential that you roll with the punches. Practice your material in various settings with different audiences, so that you can adapt and react to whatever is thrown your way…or whatever is cut from your timetable.


#6. Just the Facts

Present just the facts

Stories, photos/videos, statistics, and examples can be the spice of a speech, adding depth and dimension. But when time is tight, we must eliminate this speech spicing. Talk to the meat of the matter, presenting just the facts to your audience. Like a journalist, focus on Who, What, When, Why, Where, and How. Maintain your persona, but stay brief, and make sure your points support the key message, and fit in with the general tone and style of your meeting or venue.


#7. Memorize your Intro and Closing

Memorize your Intro and Closing

Within the first 30 seconds of a typical speech, most audiences have already created a holistic judgment of the speaker. Appearance…style…message: judged and rated fast and furiously by the audience. Despite how much may have been sacked from your speech, having a compelling and memorized introduction and closing can create a more meaningful presentation to your audience. With or without visuals (PowerPoint/Keynote), you should be comfortable commanding the platform and talking from the heart and mind about your topic. Even if it’s just a dull topic, a short sharp memorized intro that touches on your key points and jumps to a brief but bland conclusion, your audience will be far more captivated than with a scattered meandering through your message.


#8. Structure Your Speech as an Expandable Outline 

Structure Your Speech as an Expandable Outline

Structuring your speech in an outline format is a great way to organize your key messages while adding flexibility to the depth of your supporting ideas and messages. With your key topics in the top level, you can integrate your supporting points, samples, and related topics in lower-level points (level 1a, 1b, 1bi, 1bii, etc.). If time is tight, you can simply speak from the top topics from your outline. As you talk, pay careful attention to the time; you can expand upon- or skip-past- each of the key points as needed. You can also share the outline with your audience to show you’ve done your homework, and there’s more if they want it.


#9. Hyperlink in PowerPoint 

Hyperlink in PowerPoint

Presenters using PowerPoint or Keynote can make their presentations interactive, making it easy to jump across high-level sections…or drill down deeply into detail thanks to hyperlinks. Adding a main menu featuring your speech’s key sections- in graphics and/or text- is a great place to begin. Each topic can have an embedded hyperlink that, on mouse-click, will jump to that specific topic’s slide. The topic slides can have additional supporting detail slides, also accessed by hyperlinks. And to return to the main menu- build-in an invisible hyperlink on the master slide (on the logo or bottom corner). Presentations with hyperlinks can add an image of professionalism, while helping you respond to crushing chronological circumstances.


#10.  Don’t rush. Talk calmly but naturally. End with purpose.

Don’t rush. Talk calmly but naturally. End with purpose.

If told that they need to “wrap it up,” most people will talk faster, get more nervous, and race to cram it all in. Consciously or not, the audience will notice…negatively. Don’t rush. If you know your time is tight, talk calmly but naturally. Take a deep breath, and make a conscious note to react with calmness and confidence. Assuming you know the material, calm extemporaneously delivery will give your mind more flexibility to determine what parts to edit-out and keep-in. End on a poignant and purposeful note; sometimes less is more.

The artful balance of information, time, and talk demands focus and flexibility. By integrating these strategies into your speaking practice, you’ll be better prepared to tailor your talk the next time that time is tight.

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