In Stephen Covey’s well-known book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, habit number five is “seek first to understand, and then to be understood.” This sentiment is written to help encourage cooperation, and clearly one of the keys to cooperating and finding success in life and business is clear communication.  Careful listening and reflection help us to understand others message and point of view.  However, speakers that mumble hinder others knowledge of the words and meaning of their message.

Mumbling is a combination of people speaking too quietly and not articulating clearly. Teenagers and young people are often known to mumble, falling into lazy speech patterns when around family members who understand them well no matter what their speech pattern. Unfortunately, this type of speech that’s accepted at school or home doesn’t work well when interviewing for scholarships or jobs. Even adults are known to mumble. Boomhauer, one of the colorful cast of characters on the animated series “King of the Hill,” is well-known for his mumbling style of speech.

Boomhauer’s friends might understand him perfectly fine, but his mumbling is clearly an impediment when it comes to him speaking with others outside of his circle of friends.

If you’re finding that when you talk, people often ask you to speak up or repeat yourself, that might be one sign you are prone to mumbling. When you don’t speak clearly, it’s not just hard for others to understand you, you also lose credibility, and might be passed over for presentations or jobs at work that depend on clear communication.

As with most bad habits, the first step is becoming aware of your habit. Next comes exploring ways to break out of the mumbling habit so that you speak loud and clear so others can easily understand you.  Here are a few tips I use with clients to help get away from the mumbling habit.

  • Record yourself. Listening to yourself is one of the best ways to get a good understanding of how others hear you.
  • Open your mouth wide when speaking. The American English language uses speech sounds that require the resonance created by an open mouth. When you don’t open your mouth to talk, it’s like having a door closed that blocks sound from coming out of your mouth. Look in the mirror when you talk and see if your mouth is open at least a thumb’s width. If you need work in opening your mouth while speaking, doing some jaw exercises can help. Open your mouth wide, drop your chin, and say the word “wow” five times.
  • Slow your speech down. Talking at a measured pace has the benefit of allowing you time to enunciate.
  • Read aloud. Read to your kids, or just read a few paragraphs of your favorite book out loud. It’s an excellent way to hear yourself speak and practice enunciating clearly.
  • Make eye contact. It might not have anything to do with the sounds coming from your mouth, but making eye contact with the person or group you’re speaking to is an excellent way to check facial expressions to be sure you’re being understood. Making eye contact will also remind you to project your voice toward your listener.

Each week I cross paths with professionals that could speak with a more compelling voice. Speakers that use crisp articulation and vary their voice by loudness and pitch project competence and grab our attention. Learn more about ways to break the mumbling habit and improve your communications skills by scheduling a free 30-minute consultation today!