9 Rock Solid Tips on How To Become Articulate

 

2004. Boston. The Democratic National Convention. A young state senator from Illinois was called to deliver the keynote address. By the time he was done, everyone was impressed. 

Although, no one thought that in less than 5 years, this promising gentleman will be taking the oath of office as the President of the United States. 

Can you guess who this person is? 

President Barack Obama is photographed during a presidential portrait sitting for an official photo in the Oval Office, Dec. 6, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Yes! It’s Barack Obama! And a huge part of his success is because of his ability to speak eloquently – to win the arguments with the opposition, to keep an entire nation motivated!

If we look at the current situation we are in – with work from home and virtual calls being the new normal – our ability to express ourselves well has become a key skill. 

With limited access to our body language, our voice and words have become paramount. 

In this post, we will look at what articulation is and how we can build it into our communication system. 

WHAT IS ARTICULATION

Articulation is the ability to speak with eloquence and fluency. “The gift of the gab” that some people are seem to possess. 

Articulation is being able to express your ideas in a clear and concise manner, the skill to choose apt words to lend more clarity to your thoughts.

It’s a unique combination of command over language, a rich vocabulary and appropriate choice of words and phrases. 

WHY SHOULD WE BE ARTICULATE

So what are the benefits of being articulate?

Where do I even begin! If the success of the President of the United States depends on it, you can only imagine, how important this is for people like you and me!

Here is a short list of reasons:

  • It helps us express our thoughts more clearly
  • It makes our thoughts easy to understand
  • Saves time during meetings
  • Avoids miscommunication
  • Cuts out verbosity
  • Demonstrates leadership skills
  • Works wonders for your communication skills
  • Gives you the confidence to speak up in meetings
  • Can open doors to new opportunities
  • Helps you perform better at interviews and meetings 
  • The listeners are more attentive when you speak because you make your point well
WHAT MAKES US INARTICULATE? 

There are many things that make us inarticulate. They should be avoided at all costs:

1. Mumbling or speaking softly: The absence of enunciation is a big reason for not being articulate. Since articulation is clarity in our thoughts and speech, mumbling is a no-no.

2. Language barriers: Limited vocabulary, long, winding sentences – affect articulation. It can confuse your listeners. So less than ideal level of language skills can deeply affect your ability to be articulate. And this is the most important aspect most people need work on.

3. Trailing off: Articulation is starting strong and ending the same way. Trailing off shows that you are unsure of your ideas. 

4. Upspeak: Women are more guilty of this than men. When you end your sentences on a high tone to sound like a question, it undermines your ability as a speaker.

HOW TO BE MORE ARTICULATE

And here comes a whole guide to becoming more articulate. 

I have tried to bundle the tips into 3 categories. I start with language skills move on to content and then finally cover tips on delivery. 

EXPAND YOUR VOCABULARY

People are most commonly stuck for want of the right words. They may have ideas but are unable to express them because of this. 

You will do yourself a great service by developing your word power. There are 2 main benefits of doing this apart from becoming more fluent. 

One, you will add variety to the words you use instead of repeating the same basic words. 

Two, a better vocab will give you more words to work with when you explain your ideas. 

Here are 6 more reasons why you should build a strong vocabulary

Building a full fledged vocabulary is time consuming and needs some effort. However, I can assure you that it will serve you well.

It’s a small price to pay to stop fumbling and get your ideas out there clearly and confidently. 

While you start working on your vocab, here is something simpler to get you started.

However, this doesn’t substitute the actual process of expanding your vocab. This will only add variety of words at the basic level. 

For this you will need:

  • A notebook
  • A pen
  • A dictionary (A what??) OR A website that gives you synonyms of words

Step 1: Make a list of words that you would commonly use at work

Step 2: Look up synonyms for those words 

Step 3: Make a note of them in your book

Step 4: Review them every day or a week till you feel confident you can easily use them the next time you need them

For instance: 

IMPORTANT

Significant, Crucial, Critical, Necessary, Paramount, Vital, Imperative, Essential, key, principle, salient, foremost, chief, main

Each word may not be the exact synonym but you now have a range of words you can use to emphasise something that’s important or significant.

Plus, these words are not exactly difficult to remember. We know these words. We just need to review them so they are at our beck and call when we need them. 

Similarly, BIG

Huge, Vast, Massive, Immense, Enormous, Considerable, Substantial, Sizeable, Tremendous, Humongous, momentous, far-reaching

Again, the list above does not have hard words or exact synonyms. But it has you covered for most ideas representing size and importance. 

You can make networks of other common words and create a reference sheet. 

Here is a detailed post on creating networks of words – a method I am a huge fan of! Networks help you improve your vocab exponentially through connections.

If you wish to build a better vocabulary – which I already said is worth working for – here is a 4  step process to building your word power which I know works for sure. 

BANISH FILLER WORDS 

This is the most common go-to when we are stuck for words. What’s worse is that sometimes we don’t even realise that they’ve crept into our sentences. 

Umm…errr…You know…I mean! They completely ruin what you want to say and test the patience of the listeners. 

And finally, they undermine your ideas and your command over communication. 

These reasons provide sufficient ground to make sure that we work on eliminating fillers on our speech. 

The best way to eliminate fillers is self-monitoring

And here’s how you do it:

Step 1: Use the voice recorder on your phone

Step 2: Speak on any topic of your choice 

Step 3: Playback and listen to yourself

One important tip here is to put your phone down on a surface around you and speak freely. Holding your phone close to your mouth will only make you conscious and cramp your spontaneity. 

Once you play your recording back, you’ll hear how you sound to others. This is a great way to figure out your own areas of improvement. 

BONUS TIP: You can also switch your voice recorder on during meetings.

This will truly capture spontaneous speaking bytes and give you  a more realistic picture of your articulation. 

You can also enlist the help of a trusted colleague or family members to help you become aware of the fillers and eliminate them.

Filler words are so detrimental to one’s communication skills that Toastmasters has a role bearer called the ah-counter.

In every meeting, this person keeps track of filler words used by everyone who got on stage to speak. This is very helpful in improving one’s communication especially if you use filler words unconsciously. 

BE CONCISE   

Yes! It’s not just in writing that sentence length matters. It does when you speak to make your point too. 

Taking a long time to come to the point hugely impacts articulation. This, mixed with fillers, can totally derail your communication.

Actually one of the best ways to start with concision is to eliminate the filler words. With the non-words gone, your sentences become shorter instantly.

Apart from that, reading up on concision and practising shorter sentences will be a great help too. (You will learn more about this in the section on “structure”)

We’ll now look at some points to get the content right.

While sprucing up your language skills provide you with the building blocks of articulation, your content is the meat. Unless you make sense with your ideas, just being articulate won’t take you far.

So here are a few tips to ensure that your ideas are tied up neatly in an articulate bow! 🙂

Let’s take a minute here to understand the difference between speaking and writing

When you write an email, a proposal or a report, people can see the whole document. They can glance through the material and gauge the length, language, paragraph etc of the written matter .

When you speak, people need to listen. First of all, listening is hard! There are many internal and external barriers vying for their attention. So the onus to be interesting and make them listen lies with the speaker. 

Secondly, since people have no reference material before them about what you are going to say, it’s the skill of the speaker that needs to keep them interested.

If your ideas come out as a garbled mess, the audience also will be confused. Hence, how you present your ideas is key. Read on for tips on how to do it

STRUCTURE AND ARRANGEMENT 

Structure is the way you arrange your ideas. You have a few things to say at a meeting. But if you put them in a haphazard order, they may not be well received because it got all confusing. 

So it’s a good idea to prioritise them, think of supporting material and put them in a structure.

And the simplest structure is: 

Beginning

Middle

End

To further detail the structure, you could break that down into:

Introduction – this is where you clearly state your point of view (minus, the upspeak, remember)

Point 1 – this is where you elaborate what you stated in the introduction

Supporting point 1 –  this could be an example or an illustration to support your point (or a reason why you said what you said)

Point 2 – if you have another point to explain your introduction

Supporting point 2 – example or illustration for your second point

Conclusion – this is where you tie your points up and summarise your stand

Practicing to structure your thoughts quickly in this manner can do wonders to communication skills.

I learnt this concept in my course from the University of Washington and it became so easy to ace the impromptu round at Toastmasters! 🙂

How to develop skills to structure your ideas when you talk especially impromptu? For this, you will need

  • A list of simple topics
  • A timer
  • Practice time

Choose a topic from the list. Try to structure your points in the format given above.

For instance, if the topic is – my favourite movie, your points could be

Intro – What do you think about the movie

Reason 1

Reason 2

Conclude it

The points can be anything you like. You could also say one thing that you like about the film and another that you don’t.

While the content can be anything you like, structuring it well so that the listeners can easily follow your train of thought. (Of course, the more work on your language skills, the more interestingly you can present your ideas)

Your practice should be good enough so that you can quickly structure your thoughts in your mind even if you are called up to speak impromptu!

Trust me! People are usually all over the place when they speak on the spot.  And that’s when the ability to quickly structure your thoughts comes in the most handy!

DELIVERY TIPS

When it comes to delivery, some concepts are key in making your thoughts more presentable 

ENUNCIATION 

Enunciation is clearly pronouncing each word rather than rushing through it. 

When virtual meetings have become the norm, enunciation has acquired more importance since people may not essentially see your facial cues or body language. You need to bring in clarity of speech only through the way you say it. 

RATE OF SPEECH

I won’t venture into an ideal rate of speech since that would depend on the subject, context and the audience involved. 

But the ideal rate would be the one that keeps the above factors in mind. 

If you enunciate well and speak clearly, your rate of speech will anyways slow down. Mumbling can lead to a higher rate of speech affecting your articulateness. 

VOICE MODULATION

Modulation is the emotion in your speech. When you modulate your voice, your emphasis on certain words tells the audience what is important. Voice modulation is the tone used to convey your message more effectively. 

Consider the words in bold as emphasised – try to say them aloud

This is the most important problem in the shipping industry 

This is the most important problem in the shipping industry 

This is the most important problem in the shipping industry 

This is the most important problem in the shipping industry 

This is the most important problem in the shipping industry 

This is the most important problem in the shipping industry 

This is the most important problem in the shipping industry 

When you modulate the voice to highlight different words, the listeners know what you want them to know is important. 

One of the best ways to learn better delivery is to imitate the best! (more on this later)

MANAGE PAUSES

Fluency and articulateness is not about speaking non-stop. Pauses when used strategically can further enhance your message. 

Learn to be comfortable with silence. Pauses can help you breathe and gather your thoughts and also give your audience a second to digest what you finished saying.

Pauses can also be used to emphasise certain points – for instance when used after a rhetorical questions, a pause serves to further drive home the point.

Stand up comedy is such a great example of effective use of pauses. If you listen carefully, you’ll notice that a lot jokes land well due to pauses used at strategic places.

Sometimes a joke is delivered with pauses between each line, which helps them cash in on every line – instead of delivering all of them in one go.

Here are a few 7 more communication lessons we can learn from stand up comedy

PRACTICE TIPS

Listen to great speakers: Of course, my favourite is Obama and you’ll see how they clearly and patiently say each word of a sentence. 

Watch TED talks, speeches and presentations by greats like Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Obama and so many others.

You may want to watch a video a couple of times to get the most of the concepts discussed in this post. 

Read read read: This is going to supply the information you need to add content to your thoughts.

You can’t structure fluff, bolster it with variety of words and hope to make an impact. 

So read up on industry news, best selling books so that you can contribute when people talk about them.

Here are a few tips on starting your reading habit.

Here’s a video on the same topic.

Practice everyday till you improve: I’d say one should start with at least 30 minutes – 60 minutes is ideal, if you have separate time for reading. 

Work on your vocab, listen to a video, practice structuring on topics. Some of these things can also be done on the move – like knock off a video on the way to work or before you go to sleep.

To sum up, articulation is sum of these components:

Pitch variation

Voice projection

Use of pauses

Sentence length variation

Sound of your voice

Speed variations

Portrayal of confidence

Vocabulary

Rhythm of speaking

I hope this post has given you enough food for thought. Chalk out the steps you are going to begin with and start working on them. The tips on vocab and reading are from my personal experience, so I know that they work.

Please leave me a comment about what you like the most about the post. Which is the tip that you are looking forward to working on first. I look forward to your responses.

Comments

  1. Payal Khatri

    This is appreciable and indeed useful Suman, keep inspiring 🙂

    1. Suman

      Thank you for reading, Payal! It’s nice to hear from you!

  2. Shristi

    Most of the articles miss this HOW factor. They just tell what to do but not how to do it. Yours was just perfectly crafted from what, why, how, tips etc

    It was SUPER AWESOME😍

  3. Heena K Mehta

    Suman,
    Great detail and extremely good points on the importance of articulation! It is such an important part of oral speech. I am impressed by the way you have structured this note.

    1. Suman

      Thank you for the kind words, Heena! I appreciate you taking the time out to read my post! 🙂

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