Monday, March 9, 2009

Enunciation (1)

I promised that, from time to time, I would cover clear speaking in addition to clear writing.

Certainly you have noticed that we Americans have allowed our enunciation to slip. Some of us do not even know (or refuse to recognize) that good enunciation is important to communication. Here’s a remarkable example of poor enunciation:

My wife and I were hosting an open house (our house was on the market). While we were chatting with our guests, one guest told me she was a “spee theh.”

Me: I beg your pardon. I didn’t catch that.

Guest: I’m a spee thehpuh.

Me: I’m sorry – I still didn’t get it.

Guest: A spee thehpis.

Me: A speech therapist?

Guest: Vry. [Right.]

Me: So, you help people pronounce words more precisely and accurately?

Guest: Yeth. [Yes.]

Me: You’re not pulling my leg, are you?

Guest: No, no.

Me: So, if I came to you as a client and, for example, I was saying “spee theh” instead of “speech therapist,” could you teach me to pronounce it correctly?

Guest: Yeth.

Of course, this feckless speech therapist is an extreme case – and I chose this example for its dramatic effect. However, most of us are letting our enunciation slip to some extent. We are surrounded by bad examples (nowadays, even some TV newsreaders use poor enunciation), and we tend to “go along with the crowd” toward sloppier enunciation. For the most part, we do it unconsciously: we don’t even know how bad we sound.

The Takeaway: If you are worried that your enunciation may be slipping, make a habit of monitoring yourself. Professional public speakers do; they video-record their rehearsals and study the videos. They use video because video never lies; many people will lie to spare your feelings.* You can also audio-record yourself during a telephone call with a friend or a conference call in business (be careful not to violate any laws doing it). If you are like most of us, you will be surprised to hear how far your enunciation has slipped. After you get over that initial surprise, resolve to improve your enunciation. It’s not difficult; it’s mostly a matter of paying attention.

Free Offer: I’ve been keeping a running list of some of the more popular slurred and dropped consonants and syllables. For example, appoymin for appointment, assilly for absolutely, impornit for important, pah-cass for podcast, pry for probably, and roe for wrote. For a copy of the list, go here.

*Having coached hundreds of business speakers, I can tell you why most executives are poor speakers: they are surrounded by sycophants who tell them they do not need to rehearse.

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