Speak clearly if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall.
Oliver Wendell Holmes
When making a presentation, the clarity of your diction, or lack of it, affects how you're perceived. Slurred consonants, words tumbling on top of each other and endings dropped off words all compromise your credibility and likely make you difficult to understand.
WHAT IS POOR DICTION?
Poor diction is not enunciating all the appropriate letters in a word [think Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady] or mashing them together in a way that deviates from the proper pronunciation of the word. Examples include:
~~ doin instead of doing
~~ probly instead of probably
~~ gonna instead of going to
~~ wanna instead of want to
~~ shoulda instead of should have
Unfortunately it isn't just the novice or occasional presenter who makes these mistakes. Listen to public figures -- athletes, movie stars, politicians -- and you'll hear many of them make the same errors.
WHAT CAUSES THESE SHORT CUTS IN OUR SPEECH?
Mostly it's laziness and getting into the habit of not being articulate. And then we don't even think about it. Other things that compromise clear diction are speaking fast; the familiarity that comes with giving a presentation or talk over and over [which can cause us to speed up our rate of speech, thus impacting our diction]; and certain regional patterns of speech which tend to be less crisp and more casual.
HOW DO WE CORRECT THIS PROBLEM OF SLOPPY DICTION?
Luckily there are some simple things which can improve enunciation:
- Become aware of how clearly you articulate your words by recording yourself speaking [a regular conversation or reading from a newspaper or practicing a presentation] and then listen objectively for words that are sloppily spoken. Awareness is the most critical step in making a change.
- Practice opening your mouth wider as you read something outloud and focus on crisply ending each word [pronouncing the ng or t or d at the end] before beginning the next word. Record yourself and see if you can notice a difference from the first recording. If you are having trouble assessing yourself, ask someone else to listen.
- Try some tongue twisters to loosen up your mouth and jaw. Listen to yourself reciting tongue twisters and it will be very evident if your words are running together.
Hold the image in your mind of carving each word, as if you had a sharp knife, before you let that word fall from your lips. Because if you can't be heard and understood, if your speaking runs together sloppily, you won't be able to communicate your ideas effectively. And isn't that what a presentation is all about?
flickr/Initials Carved Into a Tree C.C.2.0