January 12, 2021

Voice of the Speaker: How Sense Travels

Vocal Delivery , Strictly Speaking , Public Speaking , Public Speaking Books

For speeches and presentations, the voice is a potentially powerful asset. We’re publishing a series of excerpts on how to use your voice to best advantage, from Reid Buckley’s book "Strictly Speaking."


"Nothing is ever so wonderful that it cannot be perfected; nothing is ever so desperately bad that it cannot be helped."

– Reid Buckley writing about the voice in "Strictly Speaking"

Chapter 12: The Voice

Training the Tongue

1. Be sure you pronounce the word correctly.

2. Be sure you articulate your words clearly.

3. Be sure you enunciate your vowels and give plosive power to your consonants.

4. Be sure your diction is crisp.

Concisely stated: Maybe nothing puts an audience off more than a speaker who mispronounces and muffles and slurs or hurries or flings his words off to the wings of the stage. It is irritating in the extreme.


Correctly to pronounce your words is elemental. But there is more to say about pronunciation, including when the accepted practice should be violated.

Take the word era, for example. If you utter it from the stage after the American manner, ehruh, you will incur misunderstanding, as in "The sinking of the Armada in 1588 culminated a great era for Spain."

The audience will hear error. Yes the Armada was a colossal mistake. For this reason, I always pronounce era after the British fashion, eeruh. There's no mistaking the meaning then.


What a rugged, terrific word. Mouth it out in your mind. Articulate. Four vowels. Six consonants, five of them rocklike.

To articulate is to utter one's words distinctly so that they are intelligible, each syllable clearly demarcated. One may pronounce correctly but articulate poorly.

Remember, sense rides on the back of sound.

Sense must travel; it must leap across what can be the awesome space between one person and another, one understanding and another's. Stars can be trillions of light years distant from each other, but maybe nothing is so distant from anything else in this universe as the expressed thought of person A from the understanding of person B.

Sense needs all the help it can get. The word on the back of which it travels must be articulated as though chiseled from the tongue.


To enunciate is to articulate with distinctness, but I associate the word with vowels particularly. 

Pay attention to them. Many people speak with lazy lips and an indolent low jaw, incompletely formulating the vowels.

Practice enunciating A, E, I, O, U, and Y while staring at yourself in a mirror. Exaggerate so that you truly feel your lips stretch and your jaw distend. When you begin to feel unutterably silly, stop. But recall what you did from time to time, and should you suspect that you are reverting to the bad old lazy ways, check yourself out against the mirror once again.


One's diction is good when words are pronounced with scrupulous distinctness, the consonants articulated, the vowels enunciated.

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

How to acquire decent diction fast? A cinch: Declaim poetry.

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