Play the music of your words: the hidden power of good speech

Whether you are a native English speaker or not, many of us have been asked to repeat ourselves. Odds are it’s because of a select number of reasons. We mumble or speak too quickly. We have monotone execution or passive articulation. We don’t honor the rhythm, tone, or feeling in the sounds of our words. The impact of our words are lost because we are more concerned with what we are saying than how we are saying it. Spoiler! This is the wrong mindset for making your thoughts heard and internalized by your listener. We cannot assume people are listening. We must hold their attention intentionally.

Think about speech as playing the instrument of your voice. If you were playing any other instrument and you didn’t hit the right notes with the right rhythm in the right key, the song would not be heard. The same goes for speech. Speech and our entire articulating mechanism is the final point of access that carries our thoughts into the world. You are empowered to play the song that others will dance to or, for our purposes, be influenced by.

Let’s break it down even further. Thing about the sound Z. Not the letter. The sound. What are the qualities of this sound? It has voice to it. It vibrates with a distinct buzz. The teeth are close together and the tongue is active through the middle and the tip pointing toward the lower teeth. You can feel the sound. It is strong and has a sense of meaning. Now attach it to the end of the word Please. Say the word Please out loud. Did you complete the word with a distinct voiced consonant Z or did you maybe lose vocal presence and it became an S? Can you tell the difference?

Consonants are where we create action in our words. They are the structure of our thoughts. Vowels are the emotion. We can lengthen and shorten words with our vowels. Think long notes and staccato rhythm and jazz scatting. This can be the same approach to everyday speech.

Let’s go back to Please and try to play this word and explore its full potential. The initial sound P is a bilabial stop-plosive, meaning we make it with both lips coming together and popping apart from the power of the breath. This is a sound with no voice, just breath. It’s fast and active. Then we move into the L sound. If an L is present in a word, play it with meaning! It needs to LLLLand and feel LLLLuxurious. The tip of the tongue is behind the upper teeth and the sides of the tongue are open, making it the only lateral sound where the sound escapes from the sides. Because of this, the lips need to have a nice expansive lateral position. Show me your front teeth! Then we come to the EA combination or E as in Lee sound. It’s bright. It’s forward in the mouth and full of energy. The lips are in a super smile position. In this case, the sound is long and can have somebody to it. Play around with what you can do with this note. Does it undulate? Does it dart? Now lean into the Z from before with as much vocal strength as you initiated the word with. Feel the final buzz of this sound. The word Please can be a request or a statement. Each intention can hold a different execution. Oh yeah, baby.

Being thoughtful about the music of our speech brings total mindfulness and intentionality to the words that we say and clarity will be a natural byproduct. If you are a non-native English speaker, this will help with any delay you experience as you are translating your thoughts. For anyone, playing the music of your words will allow you to slow down the brain to mouth process and allow you to speak fluently and fluidly with a sense of presence and agility. Feel your words. Play the sounds of your thoughts. You will have deeper impact, greater influence, and ultimate control over what you say and the power with which it is communicated.

Minna Taylor