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How To Be More Articulate

Improving speaking skills for academic discussions (and more)
March 20, 2015
By GradProSkills

being more articulate

We’ve probably all had that mortifying moment in the classroom. You know… when the discussion is lively and engaging, and you something really interesting to add. Thoughts are forming in your head, and you think, “Ok, I’ve got this one…” You open your mouth to speak, and in front of your brilliant professor and highly articulate, intelligent peers, what comes out is a jumbled mess of incoherent thoughts. People give you quizzical looks, your face burns. Your professor awkwardly pauses and moves the discussion back to where it was before you spoke.

And … Another discussion fail. Why is it so difficult to sound as intelligent as you are in your head? You’re not alone in this. Time and time again, studies have shown that public speaking is consistently high on the list of stress-inducing life events, right up there with divorce or moving to a new place. Being articulate and confident in academic and professional discussion environments is a powerful skill.

Expanding your vocabulary is never a bad idea - words define the shape and scope of our understanding. Ed Cooke, CEO and co-founder of Memrise (a popular online language learning tool) wrote a helpful article on this in The Guardian last year. Word up: how to improve and enlarge your vocabulary gives simple tips on improving components of memory needed to learn new words, including repetition, testing, usage and associations. For those with a busy life (you, no doubt), Cooke recommends 3 new words per day.

Removing, like, placeholder words from your… um, speech. Again, a lot of us struggle with this one. Embrace silent pauses to paginate your speech - they can be quite powerful, and allow for more time to think before you continue to speak. In How I, Like, Conquered Saying Like, Forbes contributor and self-proclaimed ‘recovered like-aholic’ describes the long road to healing. For more straightforward advice, see 5 Ways to Erase “Like” From Your Vocabulary by The Muse.

Removing qualifier and jargon words - literally, just, actually - is another speech habit to tackle. Forbes did an informal poll with a range of communication experts and career advisers, and found the 10 most common fillers, qualifiers and jargon that “mean nothing and will get you nowhere”. For example, the word "probably," along with phrases like "I guess" and "sort of," is tentative and doesn't reflect confidence or strength. Etcetera is a "non-word" that makes others do all the work. Instead, provide meaningful examples to illustrate your point.

Being concise:
An article from the Houston Chronicle, How to Communicate Concisely gives a rundown on how to produce logical, structured communication that leads your listener directly to the point. The post Speak with Impact: How to Make Your Case in 30 Seconds or Less from the Genard Method (a global group of communication ‘gurus’) gives a five step process to do just this.

Learn from debating, which emphasizes critical thinking, effective communication, and research. Resources from the far-reaching world of debaters are useful to improve your discussion skills. Listen to the professionals on the Intelligence Squared Weekly Podcast - the world’s leading forum for debate and intelligent discussion, covering a wide range of current issues with prominent public figures and exciting orators.

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