How can I improve my vocabulary in English?

There are two areas in acquiring English that language learners ask about that typically take the longest. The first acquiring fluency in the language, i.e., how to speak it without using a dictionary. That can take years and requires practice (unlike accent reduction, for example, which can take a few months if you already speak the language). And the second one is vocabulary enrichment. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Part of the reason for this is that vocabulary has a systematic way of building. You can’t start out with elevated terminology before you can use simple words. You need to be able to say “good” before you learn “extraordinary.” You need to be able to use the word “fast” before you use the word “expedient.” This takes times since there are steps involved in the acquisition.

The other intrinsic issue in vocabulary acquisition is that more sophisticated terms tend to be more specific and less applicable. Words like “good” and “fast” can be used in many contexts. You can drink a “good” steak, see a “good” movie, or do a “good” thing, but you cannot mix terms if you choose to use more elevated vocabulary words, like a “succulent” steak, a “captivating” movie or a “benevolent” thing. These words are less interchangeable. By definition (literally!) they take longer to acquire because they are less versatile, meaning you can’t use them for everything, so you have to learn more words, and you have to be careful how you use them. So, how do you enrich your vocabulary without taking years to do it?

The answer?

  1. A systematic approach: Learning how to organize your learning so that you tap into what you already know and grow from there.
  2. Contextualize your learning: Begin with words that are prevalent in your work and your current plans and projects, so you don’t spread yourself too thin learning words you aren’t likely to find a use for.
  3. A seasoned Coach to guide you: When you attempt to learn vocabulary on your own, it’s “hit and miss”. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you don’t, and it’s easy to give up and settle for what you already know. If you work with a dedicated Speech Coach who specializes in working with non-native speakers in a business context, you can accelerate your vocabulary enrichment acquisition progress substantially.

When it comes to vocabulary enrichment, method matters. It has to be simple, yet powerful, and you have to use a tool that continues to grow as you add words, with contextual cues and applicability, all while keeping you engaged. If you can do that, you can enrich your vocabulary.

Is Online English Coaching Effective or Desirable in Language Acquisition?

Since the ability to do video conferencing has been a viable option for people (at least for the last 10 years for most), language learners have toyed with the concept of whether it’s truly desirable or effective. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was just an option, and often not the one of choice. If you lived in another country or too far to commute to a coach’s office, it could make sense, but it wasn’t the preference of most learners.

Fast forward to 2020, and we see online English coaching taking on a new meaning. Safety. Convenience. Comfort. In speech coaching of any kind, wearing a mask is not ideal since you can’t see your coach’s lip and jaw movement.  Online, this is not a concern, but in person it is risky. Additionally, people who were not exposed to video conferencing didn’t really know how to use it, and even if they did, they didn’t usually use the video components. Often people would listen to a webinar while doing something else, but partaking in a full-on video session with recordings wasn’t the norm. So, if English Coaching was done over the net, it wasn’t easy for the learner. Too much to learn: how to use the online coaching tool AND learn English at the same time.

In 2020, the vast majority of people are computer users who use online conferencing tools (like WebEx, MS Team, FB Rooms, Google Meet or Zoom) regularly and comfortably for work and family and friend conversations.

With that, Speech Coaching, Online English Coaching, and Voice & Accent Coaching now seem like less of a stretch. In fact, there are a lot of advantages to Online English Coaching:

  • Full video recordings are built-in; no need to hassle with setting them up when in person.
  • People are less often late to the meetings. No traffic to navigate through; no need to dress up or deal with inclement weather (rain, hail, snow) or cold temperatures, causing delays and leading to tardiness.
  • Fewer challenges around meeting at inconvenient times, like early mornings or late evenings or needing to reschedule with short notice.
  • Ability to share in real time onscreen with notes and then watch it later when you play back the recordings for practice.


There are a myriad of benefits to Online English Coaching, and in 2021, chances are it will be the preferred type of coaching due to safety, convenience, and comfort concerns.

If you’re ready to speak with a Coach, book one of our coaching packages. If you aren’t ready to book, schedule a consultation. We look forward to chatting with you!

Post COVID-19 Communication Advice

Post COVID-19 Communication Advice

Post COVID-19 Communication Advice

Post COVID-19 Communication Advice

The “Ho Ho Ho” Exercise

One of my favorite speech exercises to open up the back of the throat and allow you to speak with more control is the “ho ho ho” exercise. Yes, it’s just like Santa has come to town, only in this case: you are Santa!

To do this exercise, you have to get in touch with your “inner child,” so you probably don’t want to do this at work. Make sure you have some privacy and can be loud. Then allow your neck to elongate (the top of your head goes to the ceiling) and your eyes are at “eye level” (that way you know you aren’t squeezing your neck; if you do, your eyes will look upward). It’s also a good idea to “ground” through the feet before starting the exercise. I often do this one seated, where more grounding is a good idea. When standing, of course, you are already “grounded”. Have you ever noticed it’s harder to speak louder and project your voice while seated? That’s why it’s a good idea to practice while seated since many of us want to speak up with less effort in meetings.

Once you have a good, strong, supportive posture, open the back of your throat and laugh like Santa “ho ho ho”. How long and loud can you go? Can you change vowels “ha ha ha ha” and “he he he he” and “hu hu hu hu” and then mix them up “he ha ha ho hu hu ho ho he”? The key is to open and activate the back of the mouth by allowing the sounds to come from the throat and vibrate or resonate in the back of the mouth.

After you finish doing this a few times, speak aloud as if you are addressing a large audience, “Good Morning Everyone! Welcome to the Conference!” How do you sound?

Remember to record yourself and to do a “before” and an “after” video so you can hear the difference. This is an easy exercise to add to your daily warm ups, and it will improve your public speaking voice!

Need more coaching? Reach out to us!

How Do I Continue To Improve When My Sessions Are Finished?

Many clients ask me how to continue once the systematic correction sessions with your Coach have finished. Especially around the holidays when you are busy with family, celebrations, and work, how do you juggle everything without losing what you have gained in speech coaching?

Look for Patterns: In our coaching, we always focus on your patterns. Whether it’s a specific sound at the beginning, the middle or the end of the word, or whether it’s a combination of sounds (what I call a “loaded” sequence of words), you can continue to work on those issues on a daily basis. For example, I have a Vietnamese client who wants to make YouTube videos in the financial space. It’s important to realize that expectations are very high in the financial community when it comes to communication. This particular client has a lot of difficulty with the “st” combination, in words like “last or faster.” If he is planning to say something like “Your last investment” or “if you want results faster,” he will need to remember to focus on those areas to avoid dropping the sounds and potentially losing credibility. Everyone has unique challenges, so focus on yours!

Practice Daily: It’s easy to let time slip away. Come up with a daily regimen that allows you to practice without spending a lot of time. The more disciplined you are, the better and simpler the process will be. For example, you might warm up with a breathing and articulation exercise and then move on to isolated challenge sounds, and then do some free speech. Whatever you do, be consistent, and every month or so, switch it up! If you get off track, consider doing some “refresher” sessions with your Coach to get back on track. Visit and shoot us an email to schedule.

Keep Getting Feedback: If your goal is continued improvement, you have to keep up the momentum. Ask people you trust and value the opinion of to weigh in on your progress. Are you sounding more fluid? Are you using more diverse vocabulary? Are you easy to understand? Do your thoughts flow? It will motivate you and help you target your trouble areas.

Fast Track for Results: Get coaching when you need it. If you are practicing on your own and not achieving the results you desire, reach out to your Coach and get some help! Maybe it’s been a few years since you initially worked on your accent, your speech or your voice quality. It may be time for a refresher!

Stay Competitive in Your Communication

It’s easy to get complacent when we speak and say things the same way over and over again, but if you want to impress your audience and stay at the top of your game, you have to be engaging, and stay engaging.

If you want to stand out for a promotion or be valued as a key contributor, you need speak in a way that makes you stand out. In a very real sense, you are competing against your colleagues every time you speak.

What can you do to ensure you stay competitive when you speak?

  • Pause Longer: Have you ever noticed how many speakers rush through their presentations? If you can master the “art of the pause,” you’ll have your listeners hanging on until the last word. It’s partly self-control that makes this an attractive attribute. It’s also uncomfortable for the speaker until you master it, so not everyone can speak this way. That’s why you will stand out if you do, and people will pay attention longer.
  • Show Your Personality: Many speakers are so concerned with “getting the message out” that they don’t take the time to let the audience get to know them. Can they experience your sense of humor? Can they see your gentle side? Can they benefit from your relating a relevant life story? You will be surprised at how much a few snippets of your genuine personality can do to attract your listeners and make your speech more memorable.
  • Laugh More: Taking yourself or the situation too seriously is a real danger. Make sure you add some humor in an effortless way or laugh at yourself when appropriate. Take a lighter tone when possible and make your speaking a pleasure to listen to rather than a chore.
  • Stay Connected to your Message: It’s common to wander off topic and leave it to your audience to piece together your message. Make sure you make the effort and show the discipline of staying close to your message and gliding seamlessly from one cohesive thought to the next. Make it easy for your audience to stay with you from one idea to another.
  • Inspire: Whether you have a detailed technical talk or a more general procedural one, everyone wants to feel excited about what they hear. If you make it dull and data heavy, it’s hard to inspire others. Whatever you tell people, make sure you are demonstrating your passion and imparting an uplifting message as well as an informative one.

Each time you speak publicly, in meetings or to an audience in a presentation, think about staying competitive. You want others to enjoy listening to you and have a pleasurable experience, not a belabored one. It could make the difference between you or your colleague being selected for key opportunities, so be sure to shine!

Getting a Result in Speech Work: How to keep it REAL

Just because you take speech classes, doesn’t mean you will get a good result. There are a lot of variables. Most people think it’s about how much you practice, but I would argue it’s more about changing your underlying habits consistently. That might sound like the same thing, but it’s a different way of looking at it, perhaps a harder thing to change.

Everyone wants a “quick fix”, which is probably why people talk about the “low hanging fruit” and the “best bang for the buck.” We are always trying to make things simpler and easier for ourselves. Instead, we might consider looking more deeply and introspectively at how we do things. If we catch something that we want to change, we can unleash more potential than we thought possible, enabling greater, more transformational change.

How do we focus on changing underlying habits rather than “quick fixes” with lots of perhaps meaningless practice, or worse, reinforcing practice that changes nothing?

  1. Record yourself in video and watch it. Resist the temptation to critique verbally or stop watching. Instead, take notes in 2 columns labelled + and – , and systematically jot down what you notice as either desirable or undesirable without allowing yourself to feel “bad” about what you see. Just notice.
  2. Choose wisely what you want to work on. You don’t have to change everything. Perhaps ask others for their opinions, but ultimately, make your own decision about what you honestly want to change.
  3. Investigate the process. Now that you know what you want to change, find out what you need to do realistically to get there. Do you need a Coach? Do you need discipline or support from someone? Do you need to save up for it? Do you need to commit to it? Do you need to change your schedule or delay other plans or activities to move up this change in your priority list? Make sure you are setting yourself up for success.
  4. Be reasonable and commit to your plan. Once you identify the right process with the right first change for you, be reasonable about your expectations. Will it take a month or two to change? How can you measure your progress? What can you do to insure you stick with it? Consistency is key.
  5. Celebrate your success. Take the necessary time to reward yourself when you meet your goals, and set the next level of goal. Assess again; things may have changed. Be kind to yourself.

Getting a result in Speech Work is similar to getting a result in any type of behavioral change; you have to look deep, dig deep, and then live deeply with commitment. Anyone can do it. Will you?

How “Stress Breath” Limits Speech

As part of helping my clients speak more clearly, I often work with them on posture, mouth  movement and breath as precursors to our work together. That is, the work is primarily about pronunciation and articulation, not posture and breath, but you have to be breathing, open chested, and amenable to the new patterns, or you won’t be successful in applying what you learn.

In exploring people’s postural, breathing, and mouth movement patterns, I find that most people are standing in the way of their own success. Sometimes there are pain issues (especially neck and back pain) when it comes to freeing the voice. It’s important for clients to be able to change their pitch range and control their bodies, and if they are in pain, that won’t be possible.

In addition, I find most frequently that “stress breath” is what is causing people to be perceived as “talking too fast” by their listeners or sounding “rushed”, even being labeled as “incomprehensible” can be less about actual pronunciation errors and more about the breath getting in the way.

Stress breath is prevalent in our culture. People are often pressured to do more and compete with others, and as a result, they breathe in ways that may not support free speech. Speaking clearly is largely about preventing yourself from compressing, squeezing, limiting your breath, and allowing it to flow so your brain can focus on the bigger picture of helping you speak with clarity.

This is the reason Breath Awareness in Coaching is so imperative.


Dispelling Popular Myths / Keys to Good Breathing for Speech  


  • STOP worrying about whether you are “using your diaphragm” and START engaging Whole Body Breathing.
  • STOP blaming yourself for “breathing wrong” or “holding your breath” and START with breath awareness (Which areas of your body fill with air when you inhale? Your Chest? Your sides? Your Back? Your stomach? Your pelvic floor? Your clavicles? Your throat?).
  • STOP “forcing the breath” and START “allowing the breath”.
  • STOP pushing for big deep breaths and START inviting natural breath to occur at its own pace.
  • STOP criticizing yourself when you “do it wrong” when you notice you are talking fast or holding your breath and START encouraging yourself to breathe continuously in and out without holding when you notice that you are.
  •  STOP allowing yourself to talk really fast with rushed breath because there’s “some good reason” to do it (like an emergency) and START making good breathing habits a ritual and a new habit even in times of stress.


The question really is do you realize how much Stress Breath is affecting your health and your ability to speak, and what are you willing to do about it?

Coaching vs. Group Sessions: What is Blended Learning in the Speech & Presence Space?

As long as I have done Accent & Voice Coaching, I have always preferred working with clients one-on-one. There are so many reasons: you can go deeper, more personalized, talk about confidential issues in a safe environment, and really tailor the sessions to meet the needs.

The challenges with Coaching are time commitment and cost. You also lose the benefits of the group dynamic, which are many. More recently, I have found that insights of working with individuals over the course of months and years from a wide variety of first language backgrounds: Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, European, for example, have allowed me to come up with principles that apply more universally to all non-native speakers of American English wanting to speak to global audiences.

And equally important, if not more so, people are less interested in having a perfect American Accent and more interested in coming across authentically, clearly, confidently, and powerfully. These qualities speak more to Presence and Voice Quality and less to Accent as a guiding principle.

Of course, as a Coach of thousands of clients over the last 15 years, I can attest to the fact that all of these areas overlap. The interesting thing is that although each individual is different, it is possible to design group sessions that maximize the desirable benefits of personalized coaching and the group dynamic.  I would call this “blended learning.”

How Does Blended Learning Look?

Blending can mean different things to different people, so this is how I would define it for Speech, Voice, Accent & Presence Work:

Circular Curriculum: Having topics that are vital and repeat, so if clients miss a session, the topics come up again and again on a weekly basis. Topics can include body/presence areas like posture, mouth movement, breath, and fluidity of motion as well as voice/speech areas like pronunciation, enunciation for clarity, word stress concepts, intonation, and strategic pausing exercises.

One Mind: Often seeing that others are struggling with the same issues bolsters confidence. In coaching, it can feel overwhelming to see all the areas one is weak in, but in a group setting, doing support exercises and sharing feedback is motivating and supportive. You can also build relationships with others to guide future practice and application of what you learn.

True Blending: The Blending comes in by using the group differences to give examples of awareness of various issues and techniques you can use to address them: What works? What doesn’t? How do others experience your communication style? If numerous people give you the same feedback, it gives credence to what might just be a coach’s “hunch.” If everyone has similar issues, it helps individuals embrace the gaps they need to fill. If you are doing something truly unique and different, you will get suggestions and feedback on what that could mean for you. It takes you to the next level more quickly.

Common Issues: Over years of coaching, I have learned that some issues come up again and again; some areas are just more pervasive than others. Going over these areas, together with “best practices” for suggested improvements in a group setting can pave the way for success in future sessions.

Follow Up Coaching: And if group sessions don’t completely fill the need, follow up coaching after group sessions are completed can give more focused direction and feedback to individuals where they need it most.

A Blended Group Session Approach is a great option for companies looking to maximize their investment in their non-native speaking employees who want to get to the next level in their communication, via improvements in presence, voice, and speech.

Climbing the Corporate Speech Ladder

In my business, I meet a lot of people who aren’t really sure where they belong in the speech and voice training process. There are a lot of options for improving speech, and it’s challenging to know what to do first, second and third.

First, it’s important to realize it’s a process. There’s no “quick fix”. It can take 2 years or more to get a really strong voice and presence that supports you.

Second, there is a sequence. Usually, it’s preferable to improve your “foundation” first. So, if you are using incorrect sentence structure, mixing up your verb tenses, and mispronouncing words, you have to fix that first. Once you learn how to speak clearly and succinctly, then you want to get exposure to mixed audiences, work on your messaging, and gain confidence. Only then do you want to dive into executive speech coaching for professionals. At this point, you truly perfect your skills and get to the next level. It’s important to see your journey as having several stops along the way in a sequence.

Third, slow and steady wins the race. You have to find ways to stay engaged, focused, and relentless on your ascent to powerful speech. If you skip some steps, you may achieve the result you desire. In addition, if you take the steps out of sequence, it can be a frustrating experience. You need to make sure you are in the right place for the skills you need with the support you need to be successful.

1. Foundational skills: Strengthen the voice, speak clearly and succinctly, have control over your speech, good supportive posture and good breath and projection skills. At, we support foundational skills for your success-oriented clients who wish to prepare for the next 2 steps.

2. Group Speaking: Join a speech club that you attend regularly for at least 6 months to a year to gain comfort and confidence in front of an audience.

3. Executive Speech & Presentation: Gain the skills you need to be commanding in front of an audience and perfect your skill set for maximum engagement.

Build a strong foundation first, and then add group speaking and executive speech & presentation for best results.

Your Body is a Musical Instrument

Many of my clients are surprised to learn that posture and speech are inextricably linked. What could sitting up straight vs. slumping have to do with how we talk? One way to think of it is that your body is a musical instrument. The shape of the instrument changes the sound quality. If you want to be able to lower your pitch, increase your resonance, or make your voice carry better, you have to have posture to support those qualities.

When you are working on your accent, for example, you might want to focus on “clarity” or saying the sounds “right”, but even this is related to posture. Your neck has to be in good alignment with your spine to produce the sounds you intend to make. Squeezing or compressing the sounds is very common and has to do with “trying” to get the sound right instead of “letting it happen”. The letting go or “allowing” is only possible when you are in good alignment and not squeezing to get the sounds, in other words, when you have “good posture”.

Back to the musical instrument analogy, a flute sounds different from a cello which sounds different from a guitar. People can be just as varied. Have you ever noticed someone who looks small or slim can have a “big voice” and it changes everything? Or someone tall and well dressed can have a squeaky voice, and it also impacts their performance and people’s perception of the person’s speech.

The best case scenario is to look your best and sound your best, and that’s why posture is so directly connected to speech quality.

When it Comes to Executive Speech Coaching… What Really Matters?

As a Speech Coach, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to thousands of executives about what they perceive the challenges to be when speaking to their audiences, and what they expect from Executive Speech Coaching.

Again and again, what comes up is how important it is to feel confident and comfortable while speaking, trusting that the right content will come.  And over the years, my focus has been on eliminating the “noise” so they can do just that.

But the “noise” deserves a closer listen. The feedback “the audience” gives Executives that leads them to coaching is often not about how confident or comfortable they are. In reality, the observers couldn’t possibly know that, and many Executives are masters at covering up their insecurities. Our feedback is often about how they affect us, “the audience”. If the messaging feels “off” or if they don’t connect with us, we mention it. If they don’t inspire us or paint a clear picture of the vision, we notice. If they are too simplistic or overly detailed, we find them hard to follow or confusing. If they move their arms around too much, we tell them. And that’s the feedback they get…  relevant, honest, sincere… our efforts to tell them what they didn’t do right. And often they don’t even get that; so when they do, Coaches commonly advise them to listen.


The Gap Between Feedback and Reality in Executive Speech Coaching

It’s the gap between the feedback and the reality that bears noticing. What leads a person to disconnect from the audience, lose the messaging, or not paint the big picture clearly may not be lack of skill to do those specific acts. Over and over, I find that clients can message impeccably when in a coaching session, painting the picture clearly and giving an award-winning performance, but they’ll comment, “I can do this now, but I may not be able to do it in front of my audience.”

The reason? The feeling of confidence and comfort changes. So the question becomes: how can we instill confidence and comfort into the overall environment so that our key Executives can naturally connect and convey their visions with the necessary details and deep knowledge of the content that their audiences expect and desire? Do we really need to help them “practice” doing the things the “noise” is telling them they need to work on, or do we need to “dig deeper” and work on what’s causing Executives to lose confidence and experience discomfort when speaking?

I find in my practice that working with the underlying patterns involving self-talk, breath, movement, posture, articulation, voice projection, voice quality, overall body energy, and clear speech, along with a myriad of other related concepts, empowers clients to feel confident and comfortable in any situation. At that point, Executives can speak from the heart without fear of losing the audience, and the content will naturally flow with little effort. That’s the goal of Executive Speech Coaching. It’s less about the acts themselves and more about the underlying patterns that are impacting those acts. Once you free the entrenched habits/patterns of the past, speaking with comfort and confidence become a breeze!


If you would like to work on your Executive Speech, you may need to hire a Speech & Accent Coach! You never know when you will get your “big break” to speak up in the public arena, and it might be a good idea to get prepared for that day early on!

How Much Change is Possible?

When it comes to changing your voice, many people don’t really believe it’s possible. After all, children learn languages much more easily than adults. However, in my experience as a Coach for voice and speech, the person’s motivation and attitude determine their success more accurately than age or ability. I’ve had clients who were very young  and capable, but they didn’t really apply themselves, and as a result, they didn’t improve their speech much. I’ve also had clients who were older, had lots of issues to work on, and there were big gaps between where they were and where they wanted to be. I’ve always been delighted to work with the ones who were high achievers in other areas of their lives, so they understood the importance of having goals and seeking out guidance to help achieve them. Often by truly being open to learning something new and engaging actively in the exercises, people who were over 50 years old, with very entrenched habits in their body movement and speech, were able to make surprisingly deep lasting changes to how they “show up” in conversations, presentations and meetings.

How much change is possible? It’s a question we shouldn’t jump to judgment about. Self monitoring over months and years with a continual focus on achievement, questioning assumptions and continually re-evaluating where we are at and where we want to go is key. Sometimes clients can’t hear the difference between two words, for example, but they can learn to monitor their mouth movements and exaggerate until they can hear it. I’ve had clients come back to me 2 years later and tell me that one day they could hear the differences, just by continually doing the right exercises, staying curious and becoming more aware.

I’ve often pondered what enables people to make these deep changes over time, and some of things I’ve noticed are:

Staying consistent and determined makes a huge difference. If you expect a “quick fix”, you’re likely to be disappointed, but you also don’t have to labor for hours. It’s best to create a clear vision of your speech goals and then stay committed to moving one step closer on a daily basis. Doing warm ups and daily routines to foster new habits creates lasting change.

Open minded mentality is a big factor. If you think you can’t change, you won’t. Many of our habits are a choice, and just like exercise or weight control, it’s never too late to change your habits, and big changes can happen much more quickly than you realize if you don’t start from a self defeating conclusion.

Introspection is also key. You can ask people for feedback, but it’s important not to rely on it. What you think of your own voice and how it serves you is paramount. You can’t be afraid to be yourself and own your voice. Ultimately, you are the only one whose opinion really matters about your own voice.

Monitoring helps. If you record yourself, listen back objectively, and really note what has changed over time, you’ll also stay motivated. Being overly critical may not serve you. It’s more about weighing in regularly and changing up your routines so you continue to improve.

How much can you really change your voice and your speech? It’s really up to you!

What Makes a Good Warm Up?

I often talk to clients about creating warm ups for their voices, and many times they have no idea how to do it or they think exercising alone is enough. It’s true; exercise is good for us, but relying on traditional forms of exercise, like running, swimming or tennis, isn’t really going to change our voices.

A good warm up has 3 parts:

  1. Breath
  2. Movement
  3. Sound

This is an important guiding principle to evaluate any warm up routine. Breath relates to finding a way to free the breath and continue to inhale and exhale without restriction and compression. Many of us do physical exercises with so much effort, that we hold or restrain our breath. Since breathing is the power behind speech, a good warm up has to increase it, not avoid or limit, so breathing is key to any warm up.

Movement is important too because it helps you let go of holding patterns. If you sit and read an article aloud, you are breathing, but you aren’t moving. Moving helps keep the energy high on your voice so you can be a more passionate, energetic speaker and avoid monotony. It also keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously. Movement enables more natural speech patterns.

Sound is the biggest factor people forget when they exercise. You can run (breathe and move), but if you are not emitting sounds, you aren’t doing a vocal warm up. To incorporate sound, you could sing or talk aloud, but you could also just make vibrating sounds, like vowel sounds, working on pitch control and scales or “sirens” (moving up and down). You could also Zumba dance and make sounds during a group exercise class. Yoga with chanting counts. Get creative … the important part is that you are emitting sound when you warm up your voice.

Uhhhhh … How to Avoid “Filler” Sounds

Many of us want to eliminate the little sounds that we utter unintentionally when we talk. The “you know” language that just comes out sometimes. Can you train yourself not to do it? The answer is “yes”! In my experience, the best way to do that is the following:

Work on your breath first. It’s much harder if you are holding your breath. Make sure you are inhaling and exhaling continuously as you speak.

Close your mouth. Many people talk “fast” without pausing because they never really close their mouths. They also utter “filler” sounds for the same reason. To change this, it takes a little self control. Start by standing up as if you are going to introduce yourself publicly, and then say a few words. As you speak, remember to inhale before you start, speak while exhaling, and then proactively close your mouth and inhale. Proactively means you plan to do this. You don’t just breathe when you are completely out of air. You do it earlier.

Keep a “cushion” of air at all times. When you inhale and then speak, make sure you aren’t “out of air” or what we sometimes call “below respiratory.” That means, you want to keep a “life vest” of breath so you are in a sense “floating” as you speak. You’ll then have time plenty of time to pause, close your mouth intentionally and breathe, and then open and exhale with speech without running out of air.

Practice while speaking impromptu. More and more, people are called on to speak up without preparing first. If this happens to you, you want to have good breathing and pausing habits so you have one less thing to worry about and can truly focus on your content.

Who Can Help

I’m always surprised when I ask clients who gives them feedback and they say “no one.” It must feel terrible to be so isolated, but then again, maybe it’s a matter of not noticing things beyond your awareness. I also notice very few of my clients speak conversational English outside of work. That makes sense when trying to preserve your native tongue with your family, but it’s important to have a network of people you can talk to in a social setting, for many reasons, including improving your spoken English.

The concept of “top of mind” is critical. It’s back to “use it or lose it”. If you read a lot of words or learned them in high school, but you never use them, you’ll forget them. There are too many other things competing for your time and attention. You have to have someone to talk to regularly to reinforce the patterns. It’s always spiked my interest when I ask non-native speakers who they talk to in conversational English that they often have no one in that role.

I usually suggest talking to someone who’s already in their circle of influence. It’s killing multiple birds with one stone. Time wise you can’t do everything, and someone you’re already involved with is probably doing something you like to do or have to do like go to church, or attend parent-teacher conferences, or go to sports matches to watch your kids together, or go to movie night or whatever. The activity doesn’t really matter so long as you have shared interests you can talk about. Having someone to talk to casually, comfortably and informally will start to change how your conversational skills function. As comfort and confidence go up, people tend to speak better and better with little formal training. They jump to get over the hurtle, and then continued progress isn’t such a difficult thing.

What is Happening Behind the Curtain When Someone Talks at Breakneck Speed

In my last couple of postings, I mentioned how talking fast (in the perception of the listener) may not be so readily solved by simply slowing down. That is, telling someone to “slow down” may not be great advice.

Why not?

Thinking s-l-o-w-l-y and cognitively “trying to slow down” may not result in the effect the listener is hoping for. Let’s face it, as listeners, we want listening to be an enjoyable activity. We don’t want to experience listening fatigue from trying to understand someone.  Someone spewing out verbal data at breakneck speed is not a pleasant experience for anyone. So, understandably, we just want the speed to slow so we can get some relief.

Why doesn’t that advice work?

If we look at things from the speaker’s perspective, we get a different picture. The most common response to “Why can’t you just slow down?” is often, “I try, but I just can’t do it.”

There may be at least 3 different reasons why people talk sssssooooo fast, and some people may speed along for more than one reason.


1. The person may be compensating for not being sure about grammatical speech or pronunciation, word stress, and intonation patterns in English. The thought being “if I say it fast, no one will notice.”

How do you know if this is the case?

Typically, speakers who are thinking this will say each word too quickly. If you listen carefully, the person isn’t fully forming many of the words you hear. Your brain is filling in the details based on context, but the person isn’t really completing the words. This can make a person sound like s/he is talking too fast. In this case, slowing down when not presenting or in meetings (behind the scenes) and fully forming words and using correct grammar when there is enough time to think about it can inform the brain and change the pattern. Learning the word stress and intonation patterns of English, figuring out where their blind spots and oversights are and fixing them will go a long way towards informing their brains when speaking in public in real time.


2. The person may have articulation patterns that are unclear and be using them mistakenly, thinking they are using the right ones.

How do you know if this is the case?

The person seems to be mispronouncing all the words the same way! You might say “it’s as if the person is speaking in a bubble” or mumbling or grumbling or “swallowing” their words. This could be because the mother tongue requires these speech patterns (curled in lips, bouncy lips, tight jaw, wide-spread starting position, open vocal tract, tongue in the front, etc). Often people use the same patterns they learned as children without realizing they need to change them when they speak different languages. Typically, this is because the person is unaware s/he is doing this and/or doesn’t know how to fix it.


3. The person may be going “full speed ahead” in every aspect of life (not just speech) in an effort to keep up with a pace that is too fast for optimal functioning.

Personally, I think this is the biggest culprit in the Silicon Valley. We are all under stress and breakneck speed is the only option some people think they have.

How do you know if this is the case?

People whose personal timing is “full speed ahead” don’t stop to breathe. If you listen carefully, they aren’t mispronouncing the words and they don’t make a lot of grammatical mistakes, but they don’t inhale and exhale fully. Their bodies are so used to operating on adrenaline that they don’t know another way. They can’t exert enough control over this internal timing to slow themselves down when under pressure. They also respond well to breath work. That is, if the person does some breath work, they tend to sound better right away, but they just can’t keep it up. Why? Because their internal pacing is running at a different speed and it’s artificial (not sustainable).


If people in Category 3 really want to slow down their speech, they need to help their brains learn to process again (I say “again” because as children, most of us did this). It may take them longer to say things at a desirable pace than they are giving themselves permission to do. The focus may be on “saying everything” rather than saying what the time frame will allow and having the discipline and confidence to stick with the internal agreement to do that. The priority may be on spewing out content and not on maintaining composure, grounding, internal control and strength and focusing on internal calm (yes, with breath as the tool). If the internal timing becomes Priority 1, the rest will follow … the pace will become one that others will be happy to listen to.

Why Do You Need a Speech Coach?

It’s always been surprising to me how often clients tell me they want to improve their speech and become better public speakers, yet they don’t want to record themselves and no one gives them any feedback.

It’s surprising because with most things in life, if you want to be successful, you know that you have to do something to get there and monitor your progress. If you want to lose weight, you have to change your eating habits. If you want to get in better shape, you have to exercise.

Chocolate Brownies:
For some reason, people don’t put speech improvement in the same category, and they should! If you monitor your speech the way you do what you eat, you would recognize that lots of chocolate brownies won’t help you lose weight.

The chocolate brownies of speech are things like:

  • rushing when you speak, using lots of filler words
  • not asking clarifying questions to gauge your audience’s comprehension
  • holding your breath
  • poor postural habits
  • a soft voice
  • a “pitchy” voice
  • random thoughts or circular topic engagement
  • lack of variety in usage of connecting words, introducing topics, segueing from one idea to another, or summarizing key points
  • frequent grammatical mistakes and mispronunciations

I ponder why people don’t focus on these things like they do weight and exercise, and I think it’s because they don’t know how to change. Many of us accept that we have to eat healthfully and exercise to take care of our bodies, but sadly, too many people just “wing it” when it come to speech and hope no one will notice.

If you are ready to take charge of your “brownie eating” habits and begin to create change, a Speech Coach could be the way to do it. If you’re not aware of what you could do differently or how to change it, you won’t ever do it. Getting a Coach will change that!

Public Speaking & Presentations for Non-Native Speakers of American English

There’s no shortage of information on how to give a presentation or how to be a good public speaker. The suggestions, examples, advice, and descriptions run the gambit from videos to how-to guides to checklists.

If English isn’t your first language, however, you might need to concern yourself with a different kind of thought process.

Are there any words you just can’t pronounce?

  • If you struggle again and again with the same words, find an alternative or a workaround so you don’t have to say that one “word” or “words” that really throws you off your game! Plan ahead so you don’t stumble each time and have difficult recovering, causing you to lose credibility with your audience.

Do you have a hard time introducing topics and/or seguing from one topic to another:

  • If you find yourself struggling or repeating the same words over and over, like “next” or “and then we come to”, actually take some time to script your “connecting language.” What are you going to say “between the slides” to shift the audience’s perspective. Can you prepare them for what comes next and “reframe” it so they can embrace the new ideas fully when you get there.

Do you make a lot of grammatical mistakes when you talk?

  • You may feel you’re just not sure your saying it right, or you may get feedback from people that you speech has some “issues.” You can start by recording it to see if you hear the mistakes. Awareness is the first step to creating change. Once you hear the mistakes, look for patterns. Let’s say it’s subject/verb agreement or sing/plural, so you might find yourself saying things like “these process is hard to follow” or “many concept.” The key hear is to document your mistakes, say them correctly, and then catch yourself each time you do it incorrectly, and make the correction in real-time outloud (while practicing, obviously not in front of an audience).

Do you feel like you have to read a script or memorize your talk word-for-word?

  • If extemporaneous speech just isn’t your thing, that’s ok. Prepare. Prepare well. Research, draft, summarize. Write down not just the words you will use, but the connecting words that precede and following. If you are doing to talk about a “procedure” include words like “implement the procedure” so you know to use the article and you have the right word, or “analyze it item by item” using the word “by” to insure you don’t ad-lib and choose the wrong connecting preposition. Details matter when you speak publically. You don’t want to sacrifice credibility by getting sloppy. But you don’t have to memorize a script either! Try to talk from main ideas. Draft “talking points” and address them. Practice speaking correctly but freely and record yourself when no one is around and then practice in front of others. Don’t wait until you are in front of your target audience or you will feel like you wish you had a script! If you are prepared with what you want to say, it will be easier to say it correctly.

So You Talk Too Fast… Now What?

It’s a given that many people talk so fast that others can’t understand them. Maybe you are one of those people. I’m one of those people. So what can we do to improve our speech so everyone understands us?

The first step is to realize that it’s not just the speed you are speaking at. It’s the perception in the “ears” of the listener that you are talking faster than the time it takes for them to  process what you say. That’s important because it’s less about you slowing down than it is changing their perception.

How do you change their perception?

  • Self Awareness: Notice how you are breathing when you speak and become aware when you are holding your breath. Notice your patterns when you start to speed up, and consciously begin inhaling and exhaling. Slow down on the words that you are really critical. Instead of saying them louder or more emphatically, try just saying them more s-l-o-w-l-y for emphasis. Be aware of your gait and notice if you pause or speak continuously. When you notice, just breathe.
  • Strategic Pausing: We all know it’s important to pause when we are speaking, but do you ever notice how hard it is to take this advice in real time when your focus is on the content and your audience and not your speech? To start pausing strategically, it has to become a habit. To change a habit once you are awareness of it, you have to do be consistent in your intervention. Next time you notice you are speaking fast without pausing, come to a logical “pause point” between thought, and close your mouth. JUST CLOSE YOUR MOUTH and breathe. That’s your pause. Now open as you exhale and continue … repeat this process of fully closing and inhaling and then open and exhale as you speech. Make it methodical. Make it consistent until it become a new habit.
  • Timing: Timing may be “everything”, but how do you change yours? Again, habit is the key. If your timing is lightning fast, you will speak that fast. Meditation is great, but it also has to become a habit. As with meditation, start slowing your breath periodically throughout the day. Inhale and exhale and sync your thoughts with your breath. When you feel emotions that speed you (nervousness, excitement, passion, anger, frustration, pressure/stress), practice returning to the breath and calming yourself as a daily, regular, consistent process. The goal is to connect to self and stay in control until your natural timing changes. Then speaking at a controlled pace will no longer be a challenge.
  • Audio Record yourself: But rather than listening only for your own perception of how you sound, listen for your breathing patterns. Can you hear your inhaling and exhaling or are you holding? What does holding sound like? When you are breathing, how does your speech sound differently from when you are holding your breath? Now sync your habits with your breathing as you practice speaking aloud and processing cognitively at the same time.

No one wants to squelch your passion or slow down your thought process. If you can find a way to continue to think quickly and freely and still give the listener the perception that you are speaking at a comprehensible pace, you will create a win/win … still thinking fast and speaking in a freely-flowing way that sounds intelligible, clear and cognitively manageable!

Why Do Some People Talk Lightning Fast?

I have a lot of Indian clients who talk fast, really fast. It’s not even just the speed, it’s the up and down intonation and feels random to a native speaker of American English. The hardest part is figuring out how to have a conversation with someone who is talking lightning fast. When you try to wait for a pause, one never comes. If you try to interrupt, they just keep talking. It leaves American listeners wondering if there is a cue for when to speak or if they have to “work for it” by talking really loud or more aggressively interrupting.

I asked some of my south Indian clients who talk like that what is driving them, and what I learned was fascinating. They told me in India (at least in their part of India and in their peer groups) speaking fast is a sign of intelligence. The inference is that “dumb people talk slowly” so you have to speed up to be heard and taken seriously as being “intelligent.”

What struck me as so interesting about this is that in US culture one could argue just the opposite. People who talk lightning fast are generally considered hard to follow and in some venues “powerless.” I say “powerless” because they are the ones who can’t control their own time … perhaps because they have bosses who control them, so they have to rush. Executives, on the other hand talk more deliberately, and the more in control they are, the more they have the freedom to pause and talk clearly and deliberately, taking time to organize their thoughts. That’s “power”.

I also suspect that if these speedy south Indians want to slow down, it could help to think of it as “powerful speech” rather than “dumbing it down”. If nothing else, it’s more of a psychological draw.