August 23, 2022

Better presentations: Delight them with diction

Presentation Tips , Public Speaking , Vocal Delivery

"Good diction is pleasing. It relaxes the audience. It is a gateway into their understanding."

– Reid Buckley, writing about the power of the voice in "Strictly Speaking"

One important, sometimes overlooked, way to work for your audience is to improve your diction. Crisp diction means they grasp your words without struggle or confusion, making your presentation easier to follow. That's the most important reason to work at it.

There's another benefit for you. A speaker with crisp diction tends to sparkle. It's a subtle but striking improvement anyone can make.

To see how it elevates a speaker, you can look to Senate Chaplain Barry Black, a gifted orator. Yes, he has a glorious voice and dynamic delivery that can mesmerize an audience. We noticed all of those qualities when he came to work with us at The Buckley School. But what dawns on you as you continue to listen is that his diction is outstanding. He gives words their due. 

Buckley coach Emily Padgett is a master at using her voice with precision - and to get more drama or fun from every word.

Buckley coach Emily Padgett provides vocal training for our Executive Seminar students and many others. She's an experienced stage actor who can communicate incredible range with her voice and wring the most from every word. We asked Emily for three easy ways you can work on your diction and improve your vocal delivery.

1. Read children's stories out loud.

"I love reading aloud to my kids," Emily says. She happens to have a built-in, eager audience of five. But she says she often read aloud to students in the classroom when she was a theater teacher, too. 

"We are all children at heart and everyone loves to be read to. Why do you think audiobooks are so popular? We just finished reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Even the slightly unfamiliar British way of speaking kept me on my toes when reading aloud."

Want an extra challenge? "Try to do voices for different characters," Emily suggests.

2. Pay attention to how actors use diction - or don't.

"When watching your favorite TV show, notice how lines are delivered. What makes that actor's voice unique?" Emily says.  "What words or parts of words are they emphasizing?"

She suggests you might try to repeat their lines later to get the emphasis or accent right. "It's all about noticing how they make their voice work for the role they are playing."

3. Do a little high intensity diction workout.

"All too often, we speak on autopilot. Tongue twisters are an amazing way to make you really think about what you are saying," says Emily.

"What we need to do is slow down and articulate Every. Single. Word. Tongue twisters make us do this."

Emily suggest you practice saying these while you're driving or washing your face:

She sells seashells by the seashore.

How can a clam cram in a clean cream? 

I saw Susie sitting in a shoeshine shop.

"Bonus points if you look in the mirror to do it!" she says.

Learn more

For advice from a vocal coach on how singers approach diction (with more tongue twisters included), see this article.

Our founder Reid Buckley had a marvelous, distinctive voice and zero tolerance for mushy diction. Find his advice for making the most of your voice here.

Reading poetry out loud is another way to sharpen your diction and explore your vocal range. Find our collection of poems to read aloud here.

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