Finding time to practice regularly is my clients’ single biggest difficulty: it’s the main obstacle in the way of their progress. So when you’re a busy person, spending most of your time and energy on the day-to-day demands of your career, your family and (if you’re lucky) your social life, how do you make sure there’s some leftover to invest in your speech skills?
Here are five tips for anyone who wants to change the way they speak, to get an idea of what it willl actually take. If you’re a past or present client, some of these will be familiar: are you still managing to keep them up?
1. Don’t make it all work and no play
If you need to fine-tune sounds, be disciplined: practice your vowels and consonants regularly, repeating sounds until they become second nature. It’s repetitive, but it’s got to be done.
However, when you come to practice the other techniques we work on – intonation, pace, expression – you need to have a totally differently approach. Use your intuition. Try things out. Dare to do things with your voice you wouldn’t normally do. It should feel less like working out, and more like doing a zumba class or having a kickabout in the park.
Muck around with your voice, and you’ll soon get a feel for how you can use it to really communicate, it a way that is authentically you.
2. Practice little and often
This isn’t the sort of work you can get done by putting in the overtime (even if you had the time to do two or three hours in a day!) One sound a day, for five to ten minutes, is plenty: the most important thing is that you do it regularly, so that the new sounds, the new ideas about speaking, become as much a part of your everyday life as your current speech patterns.
Where and when to practice? Ok, that’s tricky, because unless you don’t mind annoying people, you can’t really run through your vowel sounds on a rush hour tube.
Try working your practice into your morning routine in the bathroom: you have a) a bit of privacy, and b) a mirror. Getting ready to shave or do your skincare routine is a great moment to massage and loosen your articulators – the jaw, the throat, the lips and tongue. No-one will hear you going over your sounds in the shower. Alternatively, some clients say they work best in the car on the way to work. Wherever you do it, make sure you do it most days – ideally, every day.
3. If you can’t speak, listen
If you are in situations where you can’t really practice out loud (like on public transport) use the time to listen: stick your headphones in and listen to the recordings we’ve made of your key sounds, or, if you’re working more on being clear and confident, download a Radio 4 podcast, an audiobook – anything featuring skilled communicators speaking with your target sound.
Don’t just listen to what they say, but how they say it – how they use emphasis, where and when they pause, whether their diction is clear. Or, if you’ve got no audio to plug into, do a bit of eavesdropping! Whatever the accent, you can listen to and analyse the speech patterns of your fellow passengers, your colleagues, whoever’s around. The better tuned your ears are to how others speak, the more clearly you’ll start to understand how to use your own voice, to speak consciously and deliberately to achieve your particular goals.
4. Train hard – then forget about it
When you’re practising, you need to be 100% focused on accurately making your target sound. Then when you go out to work, or you’re with your family and friends, don’t give it another thought.
Focus on what you’re talking about, what they’re talking about, not on whether you hit all the t’s perfectly in that last word. If you start trying to use new sounds in your everyday speech straightaway, you’ll feel weird and self-conscious: family or close friends may notice, and I bet they’ll tease you! Which – let’s be honest – means you’re less likely to persevere with it. Get on with your life, do your practice and gradually, organically, your habits will change and your day-to-day speech will improve without you have to force it.
5. Don’t expect instant results
Now, of course I’m one of the best speech and accent coaches in London, so after a few sessions with me you’re going to completely transform the way you speak and acquire huge confidence almost overnight. I would say that, right?
I’m not saying that (except the bit about being one of the best!) It’s not like getting a nosejob: you won’t go to bed ugly and wake up beautiful. It’s more like sensibly changing your diet; the weight doesn’t drop off immediately, but one day you notice that you can get into that skirt again. It will take at least a few weeks for you, your colleagues and your friends to start noticing any changes – trust me though, they will. But only if you practice!
For those who are short of time (if you’re only in London temporarily, for example) I do offer short courses: intensive 2-day programs where we cover very quickly what we’d usually take ten weeks to work on gradually. The same principles apply though – you will need to develop a practice routine to get lasting results. But you won’t be left to sink or swim: I’ll give you detailed recommendations about what and how to practice, so you see a lasting improvement. Contact me to find out more