Updated: Feb 17, 2022
Many people try to improve their speaking skills and are frustrated when their efforts do not work. Here are three of the biggest reasons why their efforts are unsuccessful
Have you ever tried to improve one micro-skill in your speech, said it correctly once and then expected it would work perfectly in a conversation or when giving a presentation? For example, have you tried to give a better speech introduction or to say the sound of "r"? You were able to do it better once when you gave the speech to yourself or when you said "rrr", but when you had to give the presentation in front of an audience, or when you wanted to talk about something that had an "r" sound in it, the skill did not work right.
Improving speech skills requires considerable practice. You might have needed to have an expert public speaker or coach read the introduction to make sure it was powerful, and then practiced the speech many times by yourself before giving it in front of an audience. The more important the speech is to you, the more you need to practice it. Memorize the main ideas, not each individual word.
In the case of the "r" sound, there are steps such as practicing it in the beginning, middle and end of many words, saying it in many sentences, reading it in paragraphs and then in conversations of increasing complexity. Saying "r" and other sounds correctly requires muscle memory, and all those steps build the memory.
The second big myth in speech coaching is that it does not work as well in someone who is older. There is no truth to this. The relevant factor is how motivated someone is to improve his or her speech. Someone who is motivated will pay close attention to learning and practicing the new skill. That being said, naturally some people will learn any skill better than others will, but motivation is the crucial factor. To help someone else become more motivated to learn a new skill, explain how learning the skill will benefit him or her in his career or personal life.
The third big myth is that a person can easily teach himself or herself new speech skills. Speech improvement requires considerable feedback so a person can determine if he or she said the new word or gave the presentation correctly. As speech is an auditory skill, it is harder to give yourself accurate feedback than learning a new visual skill, such as drawing a bird correctly. Yes, you can record your efforts and listen to them again, but people often are unsure about whether the efforts are correct. Through the use of an expert qualified speech coach, people can get the feedback and also tips on appropriate exercises to do to maximize the value of the training time.
Speech coaching is most effective with plenty of practice, a motivated learner and an experienced speech coach. As Tony Robbins says, "It's what you practice in private that you will be rewarded for in public." Make others' first impression of you the same as your best impression!
Katie Schwartz, CCC-SLP is the director of Business Speech Improvement. A pioneer in combining business communication skills with speech-language pathology, she has been mentioned in the ASHA Leader, USA Today, Forbes and other publications. Her specialties include coaching in American English pronunciation improvement for bilingual professionals, public speaking, conversational/small talk skills, and communication techniques for leadership development. Schwartz is also the author of Sound Stories for Adults, Alternative Career Options for Speech-Language Pathologists, and Talking on the Job:TheWorld of Corporate Speech-Language Pathology (out of print).