Tips for Speaking More Clearly

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Underlying this tip is the idea that clearly communicating with others is hard work.  Contrary to popular thought, it is not a natural process.  Instead, it is one that takes learning and practice.  Here are three of the biggest clarity culprits – along with some simple things you can do to rid yourselves of them.

Failing to get or hold the attention of others.  When this happens, it means your audience isn’t fully engaged and focused on what you’re saying.  You’ve lost the competition for their attention.  The result is less of their time spent actively listening to you, and more of it drifting off to other things.  The first remedy is making eye contact, whether conversing one-on-one, in small groups, or in large formal meetings.  Although eye contact is a simple thing, it’s surprising how often speakers miss it, making eye contact with everything but the eyes of those they wish to engage.  Don’t let this happen to you.  Consciously pick someone in your audience and make eye contact, before you start to speak.  Then hold that eye contact until you have finished your thought.  Pick another member of the audience and do the same thing, moving through the group or room as you speak.  When you do this, your audience will feel the engagement.  The result will be more attention to you and more focus on understanding what you are saying and the points you are making. 

Using more words than needed to make your point.  The most common form of this is “beating around the bush.”  Don’t do it.  Use simple words that have the most shared meaning among the members of your audience, and use only enough of them to get your point across.  Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of this advice, though.  Reducing the number of words we use to improve clarity of meaning is hard work.  It requires conscious attention and practice to get it right, but it is well worth the effort.  When coupled with good eye contact, it improves clarity dramatically.

Not speaking persuasively.  This is a big one, with three typical issues.  One is speaking too fast, a second is speaking without emphasis, and a third is jumping from thought-to-thought.  Begin by slowing down.  Most people speak too fast, whatever their reason for doing it.  Speaking fast will never improve clarity of expression, or for that matter, your executive presence.  What it does, instead, is tell your audience that what you have to say is not that important, which is read by them as permission to drift on to other things while you continue to speak.  If they’re not paying attention to what you’re saying, it will be difficult for them to perceive you as a clear speaker.

Speaking too fast also feeds the second issue, which is speaking without emphasis.  It does this by foreclosing your opportunities to use vocal intonation, changes of pace, vocal inflection, volume changes, and pausing to help your audience understand how they should respond to what you are saying.  Without that help they won’t be clear on what you think is important, what deserves their attention, how much urgency there is, or how much energy they should put into what you want them to do.  Pausing, especially, needs emphasis here, since it’s the silence your audience uses to digest what you have said.  If you want them to think about something, pause and give them time to do it. 

Finally there is the problem of jumping from thought to thought, which is often fueled by undisciplined enthusiasm.  While enthusiasm is good, failing to control it is not, and will destroy the most persuasively crafted message.  It does this by causing you to discard your message architecture.  So instead of demonstrating the coherence in your thinking, you race your audience around in circles of unfinished thought until they finally give up and move their attention elsewhere.  Don’t let this happen.  Keep your enthusiasm and let it show, but control it.  Use it to support your message through enriching your non-verbal communication without clouding the architecture underlying the communication itself.

Keep these simple tips in mind, and practice them on a daily basis.  If you do, you’ll be surprised at how soon they become second nature and positively affect the clarity of your communications.  



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