By: Susan Dugdale | Last modified: 07-19-2019 |First published: 08-01-2006
Why should you do diction exercises?
Because your speech content may be great, you may look fantastic but unless your audience can UNDERSTAND what you're saying, your message is lost.
Diction exercises will help you learn how to speak clearly. An athlete does warm-ups and stretches before an event: a singer does likewise.
These drills are the speaker's warm-up equivalent. They prepare and train you to speak with ease.
Good diction is NOT about changing your accent or making you 'talk posh'.
It is about clarity - making sure what you say is heard.
The most commonly known and used diction exercises are Tongue Twisters.
There are literally 'squillions' of them, each focusing on either a single letter, or a letter combination. Often they're complete nonsense - phrases and word combinations chosen purely for the way they make you work to say them clearly.
Tongue twisters have long been an integral part of a public speaker's tool kit. As well as being fun, they are extremely effective.
Here's a small video clip of me* saying two of the classic 'B' word tongue twisters: 'Betty Botter' and 'Bill had a billboard'. Click to play it.
*I'm a New Zealander. That's the accent you're hearing.
Betty bought a bit of butter, but she found the butter bitter, so Betty bought a bit of better butter to make the bitter butter better.
Bill had a billboard.
Bill also had a board bill.
The board bill bored Bill,
So Bill sold his billboard
And paid his board bill.
Then the board bill
No longer bored Bill,
But though he had no board bill,
Neither did he have his billboard!
Two dozen double damask dinner napkins
Do drop in at the Dewdrop Inn
How much dew could a dewdrop drop if a dewdrop did drop dew?
Down the deep damp dark dank den
Four furious friends fought for the phone
Five flippant Frenchmen fly from France for fashions
How was Harry hastened so hurriedly from the hunt?
In Hertford,Hereford and Hampshire hurricanes hardly ever happen
James just jostled Jean gently.
Jack the jailbird jacked a jeep.
Kiss her quick, kiss her quicker, kiss her quickest.
My cutlery cuts keenly and cleanly.
Larry sent the latter a letter later.
Lucy lingered, looking longingly for her lost lap-dog.
You know New York,
Peter piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
If Peter piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where's the peck of pickled peppers that Peter Piper picked?
Pearls, please, pretty Penelope,
Pretty Penelope, pretty Penelope,
Pearls, please, pretty Penelope,
Pretty Penelope Pring.
Quick kiss. Quicker kiss. Quickest kiss.
Quickly, quickly, quickly, quickly, quickly...
Round the rugged rocks the ragged rascal ran.
Reading and writing are richly rewarding.
Six thick thistle sticks
Theophilus Thistler, the thistle sifter, in sifting a sieve of unsifted thistles, thrust three thousand thistles through the thick of his thumb.
The shrewd shrew sold Sarah seven sliver fish slices.
Sister Susie sat on the sea shore sewing shirts for sailors.
Moses supposes his toeses are roses,
But Moses supposes erroneously,
For nobody's toeses are posies of roses
As Moses supposes his toeses to be.
(Pronounce the word 'toeses' to rhyme with 'Moses'.)
Ten tame tadpoles tucked tightly in a thin tall tin.
Two toads, totally tired, trying to trot to Tewkesbury.
Vincent vowed vengeance very vehemently.
Vera valued the valley violets.
Red leather, yellow leather...
Red lorry, yellow lorry...
This comes from Gilbert and Sullivan's 1880 light opera "The Pirates of Penzance" .
It's from the Major General's patter song and is guaranteed to make you work as it's the tongue's equivalent of a triathlon!
The lyrics include many difficult combinations, impossible to get right unless you articulate clearly. Have fun this excerpt.*
(I had a play with it too. You can listen to my effort if you wish. You'll find it below the words.)
'I am the very pattern of a modern Major-General;
I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral;
I know the Kings of England, and I quote the fights historical,
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical;
I'm very well acquainted too with matters mathematical,
I understand equations, both simple and quadratical,
About binomial theorem I'm teeming with a lot o' news,
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.
I'm very good at integral and differential calculus,
I know the scientific names of beings animalculous,
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.'
Now that the 'tip of your tongue, the teeth and the lips' have had a thorough work-out be sure to stop by the other essential tip pages.
You'll find information on:
Maybe you are looking for great free word games to help develop confidence, creativity, spontaneity and fluency in your speaking? These are proven, effective and fun. Use them with small or large groups.
And if you lead a public speaking group and you're always on the look out for activities ....
28 public speaking games (with many more variations and extensions), full instructions, PLUS printable topic, tongue twister, poem and image sheets.
A complete one-stop-select-print-go public speaking resource for busy people.