How would you feel if you went to the doctor and they mispronounced common words such as “esophagus” or “pancreas”? Would you remain confident in that specialist’s competence to cure you of your ailment? It is the same with an audience. The simplest way to tell them you don’t know what you’re talking about is to mispronounce words. The more common the words mispronounced, the worse the effect. Recently I listened to a speaker (a regular performer at the venue I attend) mispronounce the word “nonchalant”. Not a big mistake, you say? Well as soon as he said it I recalled that last time he spoke to us he mispronounced an even more common word. That’s all I could think of for the rest of the presentation. Now the rule is: If you do not know how to pronounce a word, do not say it. It really is simple, isn’t it? If you cannot avoid pronouncing a word then it is likely you will also have advance warning that it must be used. What is then the logical thing to do? Look it up. You as the speaker assume a position of teacher/student with your audience. It may not necessarily be what you are trying to do; it is the way the audience will naturally view you. Live up to this high esteem. Once at an advanced speaker’s school one of the students in attendance gave an assigned presentation to the class on the need for accurate pronunciation. He started it this way: “Now we are going to discuss pronounciation (pro nown ci ation).” If you think there is a misprint on the above line you’re incorrect. That’s how he said it. The word should have been uttered as pro nun ci ation, not pro nown ci ation. As soon as he said it he knew he had blown it (we had a good laugh about it together with him afterwards). Now he is a seasoned speaker, and a good one at that. But he had totally lost credibility with us for the duration of that particular speech (there wasn’t a worse word that he could have mispronounced in discussing correct pronunciation). Don’t do the same to yourself. If you are unsure of how to say a word (any word) don’t just take a stab at it. Look it up. Sloppy or slovenly language is also sure to nibble away at your credibility. While you should never put on airs and sound too highbrow for your audience (keep the language familiar, remember), your audience will nevertheless be expecting a higher standard of language from you as the speaker than from each other as members of the audience. Slow down your speaking voice. There are no awards for speed in public speaking. Your voice is not a Formula One car, rather it is more like a tractor. Slow and sure to ascertain that the job (the audience comprehending what you say) gets done. Learn to articulate. Enunciate your words. This takes time and will slow down your speaking rate. Use an educated tongue. Cut out slurring of words and using coarse or vulgar word choice. Pay attention also to your grammar. Although you must try to use commonly recognised pronunciation, be very careful with colloquialisms. Often they are only understood by a minority of your audience and may cheapen your presentation in the eyes of the rest. There are a number of common problems associated with pronunciation that will erode your audience’s confidence in you. Incorrect pronunciation. As discussed above, mispronouncing words will make you appear to lack knowledge in your field. You must assume the role of an expert for the duration of your speech or the giving of it is a waste of time. Over-correct pronunciation. Putting on a forced accent or deliberately bamboozling your audience with difficult words will badly flunk. Keep the word choice down to the level of the audience and don’t sound pompous. No one likes a show-off! Lazy pronunciation. Not only does slovenly speech detract from the dignity of your message but it also makes you harder to understand. How may you correct one of the above tendencies? Use a dictionary. That’s what they’re there for. Most good dictionaries, especially online ones, will incorporate a pronunciation guide to help you say it right. Listen to other speakers. How do they say words. Do they pronounce certain words differently to you? Who is correct? Use a dictionary or online pronunciation guide to find out. Practice out loud. I can remember as a boy reading aloud to my father who would yell “No!” every time I mispronounced a word. It annoyed the heck out of me, but taught me well. Use a similar critic to stop you every time you say something less than correct. Learn some mouth and vocal exercises. You’ve seen movies of opera singers warming up before going on stage. That really happens. Why do they do it? Not only does their voice need to build up enough steam for the power they need, but their oral muscles need to be loosened up to perform all of that tricky dialogue. Learn some exercises, too. Excerpt From: Mark Porter. “The Way With Words.” iBooks. This discussion is continued in detail in “The Way With Words”, by Mark Porter.