Here’s how to be more articulate when speaking in everyday conversation. This guide will help you formulate your thoughts and improve your vocabulary. I’ve geared the advice in this guide toward adults who want to be better at expressing themselves.
1. Think through the broad strokes of the story before you start talking
Storytelling has three main components: a beginning, middle, and end. Think about how each section fits into the whole before you start telling the story.
Imagine you just got a promotion at work and you want to let your friends know. These would be the broad strokes:
- Say how long you’ve had the job – gives context.
- Was being promoted a goal of yours? If it was, this tells us if it was hard-earned or not.
- Tell them how you found out about the promotion and your reaction.
They want to know how you felt and to relive the event as you tell it.
Knowing how you want to tell a story before you begin will make it better.
2. Try telling a story in a mirror
Joe Biden used to have problems being articulate when he was a child. He attributes overcoming it to reading poetry in the mirror. This technique is excellent to practice telling stories and also to see how you look and sound. If you worry that you’re too quiet or you don’t command attention, try being animated and enunciating your words. It’s a practice run, see what works.
3. Read fiction books to improve your vocabulary
Reading is a must to become a great communicator. When you read you:
- Improve your vocabulary
- Become better at writing and speaking
- Learn from experts how to tell a good story
Have a look at these books for inspiration.
4. Join Toastmasters
You’ll meet regularly, give a speech, and then get feedback from others on that speech. I was intimidated by Toastmasters at first because I thought everyone there would be amazing speakers. Instead, they’re people just like us – they want to be more articulate and conquer their fear of public speaking.
5. Ask yourself what the audience may not know or what might be unclear
Include the critical parts of the story when you tell it, making sure to fill in all the necessary plot lines. The Who, What, Why, Where and When:
- Who are the people involved?
- What are the important things that happened?
- Why did it happen?
- Where did it take place? (If relevant)
- When did this happen (If required for understanding)
6. Add excitement to the delivery of your story
Add drama by telling the story with excitement and suspense. It’s all about the delivery. Things like, “You wouldn’t believe what happened to me today.” “I turned the corner, and then Bam! I ran right into my boss.”
7. Speak slower and use pauses
If you tend to talk fast when you’re nervous, try slowing down and taking a breath for two seconds at the end of each sentence. Doing this helps you gather your thoughts. It also projects confidence, which is a nice bonus.
A quick hint: I look away from the person I’m talking to when I pause. It helps focus my mind and avoids the distraction of wondering what the other person is thinking.
8. Journal daily events to practice your narration
Try journaling to practice formulating your thoughts. Pick out the things that made you laugh or get angry. Try describing an event. Fill the page with the details of the story and how it made you feel. Then read it back to yourself, both that day and a week later. See what works and what doesn’t. When you’re happy with how you wrote it, try saying it out loud in a mirror. If you want, read it aloud to a friend.
9. Seek out chances to talk rather than avoiding it
The only way to master something is to do it over and over again. Like Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Fear is paralyzing – do it anyway. Go out to that party where you only know a few people. Keep making conversation for a few more minutes rather than ending it prematurely, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Speak louder than you’re used to so everyone can hear you. Tell a story regardless of whether you think you’ll mess it up.
10. Read the classic “Plain Words”
This time-honored style guide will help you get your ideas across effectively. Get it here. (Not an affiliate link. I recommend the book because I think it’s worth reading.) Here is a preview of what you’ll find in this book:
- How to use the right words to say what you mean.
- When writing and speaking, think about others first. Be brief, precise and human.
- Tips on how to make your sentences and vocabulary more efficient.
- The essential parts of grammar.
11. Read books out loud if you find pronunciation hard and record it
I have a friend who’s a soft talker. She reads books out loud and makes sure to project and enunciate her words. She also records herself.
You can do this too. See how you sound at the beginning of your sentence and the end. Those are the parts where soft talkers tend to begin too quietly, or they trail off and disappear. Also, pay attention to your pronunciation. Use the recording to see what you could do to speak more clearly. Then take a look at our advice below on emphasizing the last part of each word as you say it.
12. Omit what doesn’t add to the story
If you love detail and pride yourself on your extensive memory, this is where you need to be brutal. Avoid information dumping. Think of your audience, just like a writer does. They won’t mention how someone coughs unless it’s a sign of a plot-affecting illness. In the same way, you only want to say things that are important to your story.
13. Write in discussion forums online to practice conveying a point
Write answers in the subreddits Explainlikeimfive and NeutralPolitics. Doing this will give you practice getting your idea across, and you’ll get instant feedback in the comments. Also, the top comment is usually so well written and explained you can learn a lot about getting your point across from it alone.
14. Record yourself talking in everyday situations
Put your phone on record when you’re talking with friends and have your headset in so you can hear yourself. What do you sound like when you play yourself back? Do you sound pleasing or annoying? Alarming or boring? Odds are, how you feel will be the same as those listening to you. Now you know where you need to make changes.
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15. Use simple rather than complicated language
I tried using more complicated words to sound more articulate. That backfired because it made it more difficult to talk, and I just seemed like a try-hard. Use the words that come to you first. Your sentences will flow better than if you are continuously searching for words to appear smart. One study even found that using overly complicated language makes us come off as less intelligent.
Conversely, if you love words, do what comes naturally. Talk like you write. If you find you’re talking ‘over the head’ of your audience, use more accessible words.
16. Omit filler words and sounds
You know those words and sounds we use when we’re thinking like: ah, uhm, ya, like, kinda, hmmm. They make it harder for us to be understood. Instead of defaulting to those filler words, take a second and collect your thoughts, then proceed. People will wait while you think, and they will be interested to hear the rest of your thoughts.
Think of it as an unintentional dramatic pause. It’s human nature to want to know what comes next.
17.Project your voice
When needed, can you make yourself heard from 15-20 feet (5-6 meters) away? If not, work at projecting your voice, so people have no problem hearing you. In noisy environments, a loud voice will make you appear more articulate. When you talk with your full vocal range, you speak from your chest rather than your throat. Try “moving down” your voice to your belly. It’s louder, but you aren’t straining or yelling.
Have a look at this article for more tips on how to make your quiet voice heard.
18. Use high & low pitch
Alternate your pitch from high to low and back again to keep people interested. This adds drama to your stories. If you have a hard time imagining it, the opposite is speaking in a monotone. Try listening to great speakers like Barack Obama and actors like Cillian Murphy to see what we mean by high and low pitches drawing you into the story.
19. Use short and long sentences alternately
This allows you to provide impressive detail in long sentences and emotions in short sentences. Try to avoid several long sentences in a row. It can overwhelm people with information, which may confuse them, causing them to check out of the conversation.
20. Talk with assurance and confidence
Project confidence with your body language and your tone of voice. Try not to use qualifying words like maybe, perhaps, sometimes etc. Even if you second guess yourself internally, speak with conviction. People are wired to discern when others are believable. You can achieve that with your delivery.
21. Slow down and pause
When you want to emphasize a point or a word, slow your pace down and take a breath. People will notice the change and will follow you more closely. You can speed up your pace when you are covering things your audience already knows.
22. Emphasize the last letter of each word
I know this sounds weird, but give it a go. You will see how it makes you enunciate every word. Try saying this out loud: Talking slower and emphasizing the last letter of each word makes you a more impactful speaker. If you’d like to hear an example, listen to Winston Churchill’s speeches. He was a master of this technique.
23. Vocabulary do’s & don’ts
Meet your audience where they are. Use words that are accessible to everyone, and you’ll reach more people. Using big words can get you in trouble if you’re trying to impress others, and the words don’t come naturally to you. You’ll feel uncomfortable, and your audience will lose faith in you, or they’ll move on because it’s above their pay grade.
24. Visualize being great at speaking to a group of people
If you’re like me, you’re uncomfortable being the center of attention, and when you are, you’re probably worried you’ll screw up. Remember what you heard about self-fulfilling prophecies. Use that knowledge to imagine talking to a group of people and killing it. Those are the images you want in your head. We fear the unknown, but if you beat fear to the punch, and think about what you do want, you’re halfway to making it happen.
25. Speak with harmony
You know you’ve mastered public speaking when you’ve perfected this habit. To speak with harmony, you must combine what you learned about short and long sentences with high and low pitches. Doing this will create a natural, mellifluous flow that draws people in. It’s almost like music. Go back to speakers like Barack Obama, and you’ll see why he’s so effective. It’s because he punctuates his speech with high/low pitches, short, impactful sentences and long, detailed ones. His addresses are mesmerizing as a result.
See what’s considered the speech that made Obama here.
- Oppenheimer, D. M. (2006). Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: Problems with using long words needlessly. Applied Cognitive Psychology: The Official Journal of the Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 20(2), 139-156.
- Sah, S., Moore, D. A., & MacCoun, R. J. (2013). Cheap talk and credibility: The consequences of confidence and accuracy on advisor credibility and persuasiveness. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 121(2), 246-255.