His father shook his head. He wondered what would ever become of his son who was not only frail and delicate, but who also stuttered so badly that you could scarcely understand a word he said. That lad was Demosthenes. He became one of the most renowned men of Athens, and the greatest orator of the ancient world. How did he do it? He put into action the principles of speech and voice culture, and set aside a few minutes each day to practice them. "Practice makes perfect." It worked two thousand years ago, it works today.
Everyone cannot become a Demosthenes, but any-one can improve his art of speaking. This may be accomplished through interest, conscious attention, patience, application and a few minutes' practice each day. A large percentage of our time is consumed in talking and possibly less time and thought are de-voted to the improvement of speech than almost any other activity in which one participates.
Speech has been defined as the faculty of uttering sounds, or words. It is the faculty of expressing thoughts by words. It is the power to speak. Good speech is merely trying to speak correctly so as to be understood. Speech is the quickest and most efficient means of getting your ideas over to others. It is the swiftest method to communicate an idea. By taking a little pains and exercising a little care, you can do this more effectively. By checking up on the little things, your speech will improve.
One of the greatest lessons in speech improvement may be gained from the simplicity of Lincoln. When questioned, Lincoln gave this account of how he gained his ability to put "things" so that they could be readily understood.
"I remember how, when a mere child, I used to get irritated when anybody talked to me in a way I could not understand. I don't think I ever got angry at anything else in my life. But that always disturbed my temper and has ever since. I can remember going to my little bedroom after hearing the neighbors talk during an evening with my father, and spending no small part of the night walking up and down, and trying to make out what was the exact meaning of some of their, to me, 'dark sayings.' I was not satisfied until I repeated these sayings over and over, until I had put it in language plain enough, as I thought, for anybody to comprehend. This was a kind of passion with me, and it has stuck by me, for I am never easy now, when I am handling a thought, till I have bounded it north, and bounded it south, and bounded it east, and bounded it west."
To be understood it is necessary to speak plainly.
There are three definite reasons why one should endeavor to speak correctly. Namely:
(1) People never judge you by what you don't say. They judge you by what you say, and if you can do this well, it will influence people to have confidence in you. Therefore, form the habit of pronouncing each word correctly, and to speak with care and dignity.
(2) Speech is the only means to make yourself understood. By not pronouncing your words correctly and by not speaking with the proper care, your listener may get the wrong meaning out of what you say.
(3) The correct pronunciation of each word, enunciating each syllable, will not only improve your speech, but will also enable you to spell correctly more easily.
Speech, Voice and Manner are all fundamental parts of our living. The use one makes of these reflects how he lives. The study of Speech, Voice and Manner develops social poise and a more desirable and pleasant personality.
The three personal attributes of character enumerated are all dependent to a large degree upon each other. The improvement and development of one means the improvement and development of all.
To understand Voice Production, it is essential to know the function of each organ by which it is produced. The organs to produce speech are (1) the lungs and diaphragm, which are the powers that move the breath, the substance of which the voice is made; (2) the larynx with the vocal cords, which are voice-producing powers and (3) the mouth, which includes the tongue, palate, lips and resonance chambers, which are the organs that amplify the voice and transform it into speech.
Deep breathing is very essential to speech. The quality and firmness of the voice to produce pitch, tone and inflection can be regulated and controlled by conscious, deep breathing. Stand up, inhale a deep breath of air. This presses the diaphragm down. Now slowly and gently draw the abdomen in. The diaphragm is now contracting. This forces air up through the larynx. The air passing through the larynx creates vibrations. The speed with which the air passes through the larynx vocal cords determines the sound of the voice. This sound passes into mouth where speech is formed. Conscious deep breathing helps to control the rhythm of the breath and makes it possible to give long thought phrases in one breath. It is the secret of a good firm voice. Practice it.
It matters not what your speech may be, you can improve it by using your voice a few minutes each day. Read a few pages aloud each day. Get a list of the states and their capitals--only ninety-six names. Pronounce the name of each state and capital aloud, and enunciate each syllable clearly and distinctly. Do this exercise three times each week. It only takes about three to four minutes.
To improve the sound, volume and resonance of the voice say the multiplication table aloud. It only takes about four minutes. Do this three times each week.
All words are formed from letters. The sound letters are the vowels. In English the written vowels are a, e, i, o, u and sometimes w and y. All the others are consonants. Practice aloud the alphabet, giving each letter the full use of the lungs and diaphragm, and note the different formation of the mouth as you say each letter aloud. You will notice that all the vowels seem to come out of the windpipe. To say the alpha-bet takes less than one minute. Do this exercise six times each week.
Stand before the mirror and see if you open your mouth wide enough when you speak. By observing yourself talk aloud and you will learn not to drag over your words. It will teach you not to drawl them out.
As an example to drawl words out, take the words "North Carolina." To pronounce the name of this state correctly you must say North Car-o-lina. You can drawl it out by saying North-K-lina. To drawl out a word is much easier on the speaker, but sometimes it works a hardship on the listener. He cannot understand what is being said.
Endeavor at all times to pronounce each word clearly, enunciate each syllable plainly, and articulate each letter fully. Use the diaphragm, not the throat. Be particularly careful of pitch, inflection, tone and volume. Form the habit of speaking distinctly, clearly and pleasantly. Make it easy for people to understand what you are talking about. The ability to express your ideas is one good way to turn them into cash. Clarity of speech is very important. Cultivate the habit of perfecting it.
Another suggestion that may prove profitable to cultivate is the habit of not hurrying. You have plenty of time. It is most essential to clear, distinct diction to speak unhurriedly. Speak slowly and deliberately. Know what you are going to say. By knowing your lines thoroughly and by speaking them in a relaxed mood, you discover that what you say is more persuasive, more effective and more convincing. When you speak calmly and distinctly, it is not necessary to repeat and this saves the other person's time and possibly your embarrassment.
When talking at an ordinary rate, a person averages about three hundred and fifty words in three minutes. Therefore, take your time and speak in a decided way and with a forceful manner. To speak clearly and distinctly prevents you from speaking too quickly. Your voice is carried most clearly when you speak directly to the person whom you are addressing. If you change this direction or widen this distance, the sound that ought to reach the listener will stray away elsewhere instead of going into the ear of the listener. When you do this, no shouting or loud talk is necessary. Speak clearly, distinctly, and directly to your listener.
Another suggestion to follow is to train yourself to speak in a conversational tone. Breathe regularly and observe proper pause at intervals. Don't try to carry on a complete conversation in one breath. Exercises to follow:
(1) Read aloud a few pages every day. At least three minutes.
(2) Say the states and capitals aloud at least three times each week. This takes about three minutes.
(3) Go over the multiplication table aloud at least three times each week. This takes about four minutes.
(4) Say the alphabet aloud every day. This takes about one minute.
(5) Stand before the mirror and speak words aloud for at least two minutes three times each week.
To follow through on these exercises will take only fifty-five minutes each week, less than eight minutes per day. Practice these exercises one month and you will notice a decided improvement. People will pay attention to what you say.
These exercises will also help you.
(1) Practice controlled breathing while reading aloud.
(2) Open your mouth and let your jaw relax when you speak.
(3) Articulate sounds, vowels and consonants clearly and distinctly with your tongue, teeth and palate.
(4) Pronounce every syllable in every word.
(5) Refrain from running your words together. You finish each word by articulating clearly the final letter.
(6) Keep all vowels, sounds, open, full and rounded.
Manner is the way you appear to others. It is that intangible quality of character that makes you interesting to other people. It is the way you conduct your relationship with others. It is an inward feeling of being happy. You know what pleases you when someone talks to you. It is those nice little things-it's courtesy, appreciation, kindness and thoughtfulness. It is those little things that please and put others in a receptive mood to listen to what you have to say. It is these little things that make a whale of a difference. It is these that help you to turn your ability into cash.
Another great asset to enrich and purify your manner of speech is to learn to smile while you talk. Your speech intercepted with a real smile tells your listener a lot. It tells him that you like him, that you want to please, that you want to co-operate, and that you are willing to serve and do your best at all times. People can feel your smile and it encourages them to believe in you. A smile in your voice unlocks the door and lets you in. It creates friendships and opens wide the doors of business and social relationships. Everyone responds to a friendly smile, so practice it in your speech.
Being absolutely natural in your manner of speech distinguishes more than all other virtues. People are human and like to be treated accordingly. People are like bees, if you treat them right they will fill your comb full of honey. If you do not treat them right, they will sting you.
One man said: "He observes others and their acts and demeanors teach him what to do, and what not to do."
Don't get the idea that you are too old to improve your Speech, Voice and Manner. Anything you possess in personal characteristics can always be improved. Take an objective view. Study your attitude and behavior. Experiment, observe and then eliminate all those little affected habits that keep people away from you. Cultivate those habits that build and cement friendships.
It requires energy to put into practice the principles outlined in this chapter. Read "How to Double Your Energy" and you will realize how closely allied Speech, Voice and Manner are with energy. That chapter will also help you to relax, and this means freedom and ease while speaking.
Walls and barriers of resistance in dealing with others are built by tense thoughts and rigid feelings. Relax and get rid of these. At all times cultivate the habit of speaking only when in a state of relaxation. It makes what you say stick, it establishes understanding, and a spirit of confidence prevails. You speak with freedom and sincerity and what you say impresses. It rings with authority.
It takes two to make a conversation. Try to cultivate the habit of becoming a good listener. Encourage the listener to talk about himself and try to make him feel important, and do it sincerely. Pay strict attention to what he says. Try not to interrupt him in the middle of a sentence. When he wants to talk, give him the right of way. Give him full sway. He may give you a clue to some very valuable situation that might turn into cash. By listening to what he says, you compliment him. You please him. Praise his point of view and be hearty in your approbation. On the other hand, if he says something you do not like, don't tell him. Agree with him. His opinion may only be temporary, but respect it. Try to be considerate of his feelings. A kind word gently spoken is a quick means of relieving strain and tension. "A soft answer turneth away wrath." Answer all his questions. Don't ignore them. He likes explanations, and not exclamations. By all means avoid an argument, and if you find you are wrong, admit it quickly and gracefully. This reveals to him that you are a good fellow. Harmonize but by no means antagonize.
You may apply for a position, you may seek a better job, you may offer a suggestion to improve business, you may ask for a raise in salary, you may endeavor to sell a product or a service, but regardless of the purpose and object you want to influence the listener. You want him to do your bidding, you want him to do the thing you are seeking. Then approach him with a spirit of humbleness and kindness. Feel grateful for the opportunity you have to serve him. Make him feel that any idea you are giving him is his own.
The power in a large dam of water is made available only when channeled in the right direction by the proper equipment. Speech, Voice and Manner are the equipment to express your ability and to turn it into cash.
Words, like music, when harmonized, convey not only meaning but feeling. Spoken softly and gently, they render a good influence and a lasting impression. The good, the joy they will bring, no one can tell.
Courtesy, graciousness, appreciation and consideration are very valuable assets in dealing with people. Use them, and remember that your Speech, your Voice and your Manner are You. They are the vital qualities of your personality. They are You in action. You can make them mechanical with no personal interest and with little effect. On the other hand, you can make them human, brimful of personal interests and charm. You can express thoughts and ideas that will persuade and motivate. Dramatize your Speech, Voice and Manner with imagination, enthusiasm and color.