Improve Your Communication Skills
By Gwendolyn E. Talbot, M.A.
One of the biggest problems with audible pauses such as “um, ah, you know, ok, and so forth,” is that they tend to reduce the speaker’s credibility. They are just filler words and carry no information. They are often used because the individual is thinking about what he or she is going to say next. The individual believes that something is better than a pause. These “um, er, and ahs” interfere with the delivery of a message and become annoying to the listener.
On the other hand, a well-placed pause can enhance the effectiveness of the message and give the listener time to process or reflect on the information. Inflection and vocal variety also enhance the message and convey significant information. Imagine trying to use sarcasm without good vocal variety and inflection. It would not make any sense.
Audible pauses and over-used phrases can be eliminated. First, the individual has to become aware that he or she is doing them. Awareness is always the first step to correction and elimination of bad habits.
A supportive environment is extremely helpful to make the corrective process motivating and pleasant for the speaker. These habits can be eliminated when the improvement in speech is recognized by both the speaker and listener in a supportive environment. A Toastmasters Club is such an environment. To find one near you, call 1 800 9WESPEAK (1 800 993-7732) or visit their web site: http://www.toastmasters.org.
Another annoying speech pattern is stuttering or stammering. There are numerous theories about stuttering, but no one knows what causes it. It is a disorder of rhythm characterized by repetitions, prolongations, or blocks which interrupt the normal rhythm of speech. Everyone has some moments of dysfluency. The biggest difference between normal dysfluency and stuttering is the way it is perceived by the individual. Stutterers see the event as something out of their control. Nonstutterers know that they just need to concentrate and organize their thoughts to control their momentary dysfluency. Just asking stutterers to slow down their rate of speech is usually not helpful. The problem is more complicated than that. Usually the services of a speech pathologist are needed.
The interruption of this behavior is the first area that needs to be addressed. Increasing eye contact of the stutterer to the listener is imperative. Good eye contact shows confidence, integrity, and is a sign of respect to the listener. This is also a key to improving self-confidence, the beginning of control and fluency.
Expressive inflection of voice gives variety and emphasis to the spoken word. One technique for increasing fluency is to exaggerate inflection patterns.
It is important to know how the articulators (lips, tongue, soft palate) are placed to produce each sound, so that there is movement from one sound to the next. Some exercises used for improvement of articulatory movement and elocution are tongue twisters, nursery rhymes, prayers, days of the week (said as many times as possible on one breath), months of the year, alphabet, and counting. These exercises are effective because they do not require thought to repeat. Therefore, the individual can focus on a clear, smooth, easy production of fluent speech with inflection and rhythm, while controlling airflow.
The answer to controlling stuttering is monitoring one’s own speech, organizing thoughts, taking control of breathing and articulation, and pacing appropriately. However, the most important ingredient for success is a motivated and willing participant who will recognize that stuttering is a learned behavior that can be changed. It takes effort, commitment, and constant monitoring, but the stuttering behavior can be eliminated.
_____Gwendolyn E. Talbot, M.A., C.C.C.-SLP, Speech-Language Pathologist, Speech Pathology Consultant Services, P.C. (703)368-7357