articulate voice mistakes

Why You Struggle to Sound Articulate When You Speak

Do you struggle to sound articulate when you speak? Are people confused as to what you’re saying? Do they ask you to repeat yourself often? These are all signs that you are not as articulate as you should be when you speak.

When you want to sound more articulate, you need to focus on the clarity of your speech. You need to ensure that the words you use to convey your message are pronounced clearly and distinctly so the other person can understand what you’re saying. 

But unfortunately, some people make mistakes in their speech that lead them to struggle to sound articulate at all. So in this article, I’m going to go through some of the more common articulation mistakes that you should avoid if you want to sound more articulate when you speak.

Articulate Mistake 1: You’re Monotone

The first reason you struggle to sound articulate when you speak is because you’re monotone. When you have a monotone voice, this means that your voice is at the same pitch, without intonation and without expressiveness.

A monotone voice can be very effective in comedies (think of Eugene Levy in American Pie). But in real life, when you’re trying to get your point across or make an impact when you speak, having a monotone voice does not help you.

How to avoid a monotone voice?

In order to avoid a monotone voice, try to vary the pitch, intonation and amount of expressiveness  in your voice when you speak.

Here is a method I’ve used to do this:

  • I listen to audio recordings, for example podcasts, of people who speak in a way that I admire. Usually the reason I admire the way they speak is because they use enough variety in their voice to hold my interest and attention.
  • I try to replicate the way they say sentences and the way they pronounce words. 
  • Over time, parts of their communication style becomes ingrained in my mind and without me knowing it, it becomes part of my natural speech.

Photo by cottonbro studio:

Articulation Mistake 2: You Omit or Distort Important Speech Sounds

The second reason you struggle to sound articulate when you speak is because you omit or distort important speech sounds. Speech sounds are incredibly important when you want to sound articulate. This means that every sound in the words that you use must be articulated clearly for your speech to be heard and understood.

Sometimes people omit or distort important sounds causing their speech to become inarticulate and misunderstood.

Examples of omitting or distorting speech sounds

Here are some common examples of how you can omit or distort speech sounds:

  • The /l/ sound in words such as, already, alright, and always. For example, instead of saying “already” with a clear /l/ sound, you say “awready” where the /l/ sounds more like a /w/. Instead of saying “alright”, you say “awright”. Instead of saying “always”, you say “orways”.
  • The /t/ sound in words such as it was, meeting, can’t, and a little bit. For example, instead of saying “meeting”, you eliminate the /t/ sound at the end of the word and say “meeding”. Instead of saying “can’t”, you say “caan”. Instead of saying “a little bit”, you say “a lil’bit”.
  • The /g/sound in words such as going, singing, and talking. For example, instead of saying “going”, you eliminate the /g/ sound at the end of the word and say, “goin”. Instead of saying “singing”, you say “singin”. Instead of saying “talking”, you say “talkin”. 

In these examples, you probably know what other person means, but does it make them sound articulate?

How do you know if you omit or distort speech sounds?

If you people ask you to repeat what you say often, that’s a sign you omit or distort speech sounds. If you record yourself, you can identify whether you omit or distort speech sounds, or not. 

Of course, you don’t want to overly pronounce words but by putting in a little bit of effort to make those important sounds more distinct, it will help you to sound more articulate when you speak.

Photo by fauxels:

Articulation Mistake 3:  You Speak Too Fast

The third reason you struggle to sound articulate when you speak is because you speak too fast. When you speak too fast, you don’t give yourself enough time to pronounce the words and syllables properly.

This results in your speech sounds meshing together and not being clear or distinct, which is what you need to sound articulate.

How do you know if you speak too fast?

To give you a guideline to follow, the average speaking rate for English speakers in the United States (“US”) is 150-160 words per minute. I believe a good range to aim for is between 140 – 170 words per minute.

Activity to test your speaking rate

Do you speak too fast or too slow? The reading passage below will help you test your speaking rate. It consists of 160 words. If you were to speak at an average rate of 140-170 words per minute, it should take you about 60 seconds (one minute) to read the passage out-loud.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Read the passage below out-loud three times in your usual speaking voice.
  • Time yourself for each reading session to see how long it takes you to read the passage.
  • Get an average of the three reading sessions to see what your normal speaking rate is.

Reading passage:

Leadership is all about communication. Your success as a leader depends on how well you communicate. It depends on how well you communicate to your coworkers, boss, and clients. It depends on how well you convey your ideas, opinions and thoughts. The way you communicate and the words that you use play a major role in your overall communication, and they can dictate whether your communication is effective, or not. In this episode we’re going to look at three phrases to help you communicate more effectively as a leader. And the first phrase is, “I like what you said about xyz”. This is an extremely helpful phrase to use in business meetings when you want to contribute something to the conversation. You see, sometimes in meetings, we don’t always have something to say.  There’s a lot of conversation going on around us and you might be sitting there feeling pressure to talk, but you have no idea what to contribute“.

Analyse the results of your reading session:

If the average of your three reading sessions is between 140 – 170 words per minute, then you have an average rate of speaking. If it’s less than 140 words per minute, then you speak too slow. If it’s more than 170 words per minute, then you speak to fast.

In the below YouTube video, I talk in much more detail about this activity and how you can test your speaking rate.

Articulate Mistake 4: You Speak Too Quietly

The fourth reason you struggle to sound articulate when you speak is because you speak too quietly. When you don’t have enough volume in your voice, the listener will only be able to hear parts of what you say, or none of what you say.

They’ll miss out on hearing important sounds in your words. They’ll miss out on hearing emphasis in your sentences. These are things that we rely on to decipher, hear and understand what someone is saying.

In a quiet room or in a one-on-one conversation, being heard generally isn’t a problem. But as the number of people in the room increase or the size of the room increases, you have to adapt your voice to be heard and to sound articulate.

How to increase the volume of your voice?

There are a number of things you can do to speak louder and to project your voice:

  • Relax your throat, neck and shoulders. These areas need to be relaxed so you can breath in more oxygen and use that to push out a stronger voice.
  • Take deep breaths. Aim to breath into your diaphragm instead of your chest.
  • Speak to the back of the room. If people at the back of the room can hear you, others will be able to hear you too.
  • Know your content. Sometimes we speak quietly because we’re unsure of our content. We don’t want people to ask us questions or say the wrong thing.
  • Start your sentence with increased volume. If you use a louder voice at the start of your sentence, the rest of your sentence will likely follow through at the same volume.  

I have another blog post about how to overcome a soft voice which you can read here.

Articulation Mistake 5: You Talk to Your Chin

The fifth reason you struggle to sound articulate when you speak is because you speak to your chin. This means that you position your head toward the ground and talk down to your chin. This stops free movement and flow of oxygen in your throat area, causing your speech to come out mumbled and unclear.

Talking to your chin, or mumbling, is common when you are speaking to people you see all of the time, for example your spouse, friends or family. Because you have a high level of familiarity with them, you don’t feel the need to put in a lot of effort when you speak to them. But, even your close family and friends deserve to understand what you’re saying!

Talking to your chin can also happen:

  • when you’re tired because you don’t have enough energy to draw in enough oxygen for clear speech sounds, or
  • when you’re nervous because you don’t want to project your voice for fear people will hear you.

But none of these situations will help you sound articulate when you speak.

How to avoid speaking to your chin?

To avoid speaking to you chin, I recommend you 

  • lift your chin so you have free movement in your throat area to produce the speech sounds that you need,
  • take the time to pronounce and articulate words fully so you can produce speech sounds properly,
  • take in more oxygen so you can produce a loud enough voice and not run out of air, and
  • get confident speaking to people.

A little bit of effort will go a long way when it comes to good articulation.

Photo by Oliver Mussiett:

Articulation Mistake 6: You Use the Same Vocabulary

The sixth reason you struggle to sound articulate when you speak is because you use the same vocabulary, all of the time. Or you use a low-level of vocabulary when you speak. In either case, these mistakes can make you sound inarticulate when you speak.

You see, when we think of people who are articulate, we imagine them to be educated and cultured. And as such, we expect them to have a developed level of vocabulary. We expect them to be able to express themselves in an eloquent and meaningful way.

People who use the same vocabulary all the time or a low-level of vocabulary to express themselves, don’t match the image we have of someone who is articulate.

How to expand your vocabulary?

To improve your vocabulary and thereby sound more articulate, I recommend you start to expand your vocabulary. 

  • Read more and read from different resources to fill your mind with new and varied vocabulary.
  • Memorise new adjectives, nouns and verbs to replace those that you commonly use.
  • Learn new phrases to express yourself clearly and to create a connection from thought to thought.
  • Start to incorporate those new vocabulary and phrases in your everyday speech.

You can also use the three-step, read-write-speak method that I talk about in this blog post and below YouTube video.

Articulation Mistake 7: You Don’t Finish Your Sentences

The seventh reason you struggle to sound articulate when you speak is because you don’t finish your sentences. This might happen when you lack confidence in what you’re saying or you might just be a lazy speaker. Either way, not finishing your sentences leaves the listener with an incomplete thought. And it robs you of the opportunity to sound articulate in that moment.

Even if the other person is nodding their head to indicate they know what you’re going to say next, try to embrace this speaking opportunity and impress them with a strong finish.

How to make sure you finish your sentences?

Here are some tips to help you finish your sentences.

  • Don’t trail off at the end of your sentence. 
  • Don’t reduce the volume of your voice at the end of your sentence.
  • Don’t be lazy and expect others to compete your sentence for you.

I know in social conversations when you have a good exchange with someone, this can happen. But in important business conversations at work, you’re only doing yourself a disservice and opening up the opportunity for someone else to steal your thought.

I encourage you to finish your thoughts and sentences completely.

If you liked what you learned in this article, then check out the YouTube video above where I delve into these articulation mistakes in more detail.

About Kara

Kara Ronin is the founder of Executive Impressions. She is an executive coach who specialises in leadership presence, social skills and business etiquette. She is also the creator of Bestselling Udemy course, Business Etiquette 101. Kara’s advice and unique perspectives have been featured in Time Inc., Business Insider, Ignites Europe (a Financial Times Service), The Muse, The Local France, The West Australian, and more. Kara works regularly with lawyers, investment bankers, and finance professionals to help them build presence, authority and influence in business. Get Kara's insights delivered straight to your inbox