Why should you practice diction exercises?

Diction exercises can help improve your public speaking. The content of your speech may be fantastic, and you may look great when delivering your presentation; however, unless your audience can clearly hear and understand what you’re saying, you’ll lose them and the message you’re trying to convey.

Diction exercises will help you learn how to speak clearly. Just as an athlete actively stretches their muscles and completes a warm-up before an event, so should a singer or public speaker.

During my research, I discovered around a hundred different muscles in the chest, neck, jaw, tongue, and lips must work together.

I hadn’t realised how much I take speaking for granted; I think most of us do. For someone who is not particularly scientific, I found it fascinating to understand that every word or short phrase is followed by its own unique arrangement of muscle movements and lots of them. I decided that I was going to be kinder to my unrecognised, unstretched, and overused muscles.

I recognised that just as a singer practices their trills and warm-ups to limber up their vocal cords and any other muscles needed in their performance, so should a speaker before getting up to present. The warm-ups and stretches of these estimated one hundred muscles are vital to prevent injury or strain.

As someone who loves clear articulation, this article is about how diction exercises can help improve your public speaking delivery when done regularly.

What are the benefits of diction exercises?

The benefits of diction exercises or drills include:

  • Strengthening and stretching the muscles involved in speech.
  • Bringing to your attention habitual speech patterns that may not be benefitting your speech delivery.

Excellent diction is not about changing your accent or making you talk with an upper-class tone in your voice. It is, however, about clarity and making sure that what you say is clear in articulation, therefore, understood without difficulty.

I have a speech impediment. Can diction exercises help me?

If you have a speech impediment that you feel impacts your life, I advise seeing a Speech Therapist (also called Speech-Language Pathologist). The ‘Speech Pathology Australia’ website says that:

‘Speech pathologists study, diagnose and treat communication disorders, including difficulties with speaking, listening, understanding language, reading, writing, social skills, stuttering and using voice. They work with people who have difficulty communicating because of developmental delays, stroke, brain injuries, learning disability, intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, dementia and hearing loss, as well as other problems that can affect speech and language. People who experience difficulties swallowing food and drink safely can also be helped by a speech pathologist.’

You can go to www.speechpathologyaustralia.org.au if you would like to find out more.

The Speech Therapist would be able to answer your questions as to whether diction exercises can help you.

Can I help myself to articulate well?

The most commonly known and used diction exercise are Tongue Twisters. Many of them, each focusing on either a single letter or a letter combination, are often nonsensical. They’re generally phrases and word combinations picked solely to make you work to say them clearly.

Tongue twisters are not only fun but are effective at promoting better diction and are an important part of a public speaker’s toolkit.

Some of the listed drills are the equivalent of a speaker’s stretching and warm-up before delivering a presentation. I’ve listed quite a few so you can practice many.

Tips for beginners

  • Stand in front of a mirror! Most of us don’t know how we look while we’re speaking, so standing in front of a mirror will allow you to begin to see how your mouth moves as you speak.
  • Before attempting tongue twisters, you would benefit from picking some dialogue from your favourite movie and try to mimic the actor’s delivery; however, remember to keep your own accent.
  • Once you’ve done the above and you’re ready to try some tongue twisters, you will need to start slowly and carefully at first. Reading and re-reading.
  • Make sure the beginning and end of each word are said nicely and crisply.
  • Repeat the phrase, getting faster and faster while maintaining clarity. If you trip over words, don’t worry; stop and start again.

Diction Exercises

‘B’ Words

  • Betty bought a bit of butter, but she found the butter bitter, so Betty bought a bit of better butter to make the bitter butter better.
  • Bill had a billboard. Bill also had a board bill. The board bill bored Bill, so Bill sold his billboard and paid his board bill. Then the board bill no longer bored Bill, but though he had no board bill, neither did he have his billboard!

 ‘D’ Words

  • Did Doug dig David’s garden or did David dig Doug’s garden?
  • Do drop in at the Dewdrop Inn.

 ‘F’ Words

  • Through three cheese trees, three free fleas flew. While these fleas flew, freezy breeze blew. Freezy breeze made these three trees freeze. Freezy trees made these trees’ cheese freeze. That’s what made these three free fleas sneeze. – from Fox in Sox by Seuss
  • Four furious friends fought for the phone.
  • Five flippant Frenchmen fly from France for fashions.

 ‘H’ Words

  • How was Harry hastened so hurriedly from the hunt?
  • In Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire hurricanes hardly happen.

 ‘J’ Words

  • James just jostled Jean gently.
  • Jack the jailbird jacked a jeep.

‘K’ Words

  • Kiss her quick, kiss her quicker, kiss her quickest.
  • My cutlery cuts keenly and cleanly.

‘L’ Words

  • Literally literary.
  • Larry sent the latter a letter later.
  • Lucy lingered, looking longingly for her lost lap-dog.

‘N’ and ‘U’ Sounds

  • You know New York. You need New York. You know you need unique New York.

‘P’ Words

  • Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper, where’s the peck of pickled peppers that Peter Piper picked?
  • Pearls, please, pretty Pretty Penelope, pretty Penelope. Pearls, please, pretty Penelope. Pretty Penelope Pring.

 ‘Q’ Words

  • Quick kiss. Quicker kiss. Quickest kiss.
  • Quickly, quickly, quickly, quickly, quickly.

‘R’ Words

  • Round the rugged rocks the ragged rascal ran.
  • Reading and writing are richly rewarding.
  • Real rock wall, real rock wall, real rock wall.
  • Rory the warrior and Roger the worrier were reared wrongly in a rural brewery.

 ‘S’ Words

  • She stood on the balcony, inexplicably mimicking him hiccupping, and amicably welcoming him in.
  • Six thick thistle sticks.
  • The shrewd shrew sold Sarah seven sliver fish slices.
  • Sister Susie sat on the seashore sewing shirts for sailors.
  • She sells seashells on the seashore.
  • Stupid superstition

 ‘T’ Words

  • Tongue twisters totally twist tongues today
  • Ten tame tadpoles tucked tightly in a thin tall tin.
  • Two toads, totally tired, trying to trot to Tewkesbury.
  • Thirteen turtles tucked their tails tightly travelling through thick tall terrain.

 ‘V’ Words

  • Vincent vowed vengeance very vehemently.
  • Vera valued the valley violets.
  • Vance Vulture loves volleying volleyball in valleys with various violets.

‘W’ Words

  • Wally Walrus washes in water while wildly wishing for wet winter walnuts.

‘Y’ Words

  • Yazmin yelled yesterday about yellow yarn.

And finally…

Two fun tongue twisters that are purely for your tongue.

  • Red lorry, yellow lorry.
  • Red leather, yellow leather.

Have fun tongue twisting those words!

Samantha Richards is a Public Speaking and Communications Consultant and founder of ‘Building Voices Communication’. She is an award-winning public speaker who is the top female public speaking coach in Australia (Yahoo Finance). She is currently studying for a Diploma in Counselling and is passionate about helping others communicate confidently.