Successful Public Speaking Series – Part 2 of 3

This post is #2 in a three-part series on Successful Public Speaking. The impression you make as a speaker is based on what you say and how you say it.

When clients come to me, they often know their speaking skills need improvement, but they’re not sure where to begin. I help them become aware of the many interrelated components that make up effective communication, and they’re able to improve their public speaking skills.

I say, if your audience can
(1) hear you,
(2) understand you, and
(3) become engaged by your enthusiasm,
you are on your way to being a successful speaker.

In this post, we’ll discuss strategies to make sure your audience can understand you.

Part 2: Be understood!

After making sure your audience can hear you, you next want to be sure the audience can understand you…

  • Do you speak at an appropriate rate?
  • Do you pronounce each word clearly and distinctly?
  • Do you produce the sounds in each word with precision and accuracy?

A few techniques for developing better rate and pronunciation can help your audience understand you during a presentation or speech.

SLOW DOWN!: Work on your rate of speech

Rate of speech refers to how fast or slow you speak.

If you speak too fast, you may not be completing each word, making the words more difficult to understand. You also don’t give your listener or your audience time to process what you’re saying, which undermines the impact of your message.

On the other hand, if your speech is too slow, the listener may become frustrated and distracted, and the power of your message is reduced.

If you tend to speak too fast…
“Nerves” are usually the culprit. The underlying feeling is, “The faster I say what I have to say, the sooner I can sit down!”

Slow your rate of speech by utilizing the power of the pause. Pausing not only helps you slow down, it increases the impact of your words by drawing attention to the important components of the message.

Use the punctuation of the sentence as a first step. Whether it’s a comma, period, or question mark, let it remind you to take a break. Your listeners will appreciate it!

If you tend to speak too slow…
It might be because you use a lot of verbal fillers. These are essentially an audible verbal pause (uh, um, like). They slow the rate of speech and distract from your message.

First, become aware of the use of fillers in your own and others’ speech. When you start to pay attention, you’ll be amazed at their prevalence.

Once you are aware of the fillers you use, make a conscious effort to eliminate them from your speech. Your speech rate will improve, and you’ll appear more prepared and confident to your listener.


How we articulate the sounds in words directly affects how they’re understood. Foreign accents and U.S. regional dialects may affect word pronunciation, rhythm, and intonation patterns in their speech.

If your accent is a result of the region of the U.S. you’re from…
The region of the country we live in influences our pronunciation. For example:
•    sounds may be left off the end of words – goin’ vs. going
•    syllables may be omitted – ’member vs. remember
•    several words may be combined into one – Idonwanna vs. I don’t want to

This type of pronunciation is not acceptable in the business setting. It can be difficult to understand, especially over the telephone. Become aware of the words you’re using and make it a point to give each word the attention it deserves.

If you speak English as a second language…
Just one sound substitution can result in an entirely different word (e.g., then vs. thinfacevs. vase), making it difficult for the listener to understand the meaning of the message.

Accent modification, which is a systematic approach used to change speech pronunciation, is an effective method for correcting these challenges. By identifying the sound changes you need, through training and practice, you can improve pronunciation. Over some time, your frustration will be reduced, your speech will be readily understood, and your message will be clear.

* * *

Put these techniques to use during your next presentation

When you (1) adjust your rate of speech and (2) pay careful attention to your pronunciation, you will be understood and you’ll convey your message to your audience.

Spend some time practicing these techniques before your next presentation. Decide if they worked for you, or if you need a little more practice. Then send me an email to let me know how it went!

Watch for Part 3 of this series on Successful Public Speaking — or start with Part 1 here.

The other steps to successful public speaking are to to be sure your audience can hear youand to engage your listener.  I will continue to discuss these topics in my blog and newsletters.