How To Ensure You Are Understood

Whether you are leading your team meeting, pitching to investors or talking to your partner over a romantic dinner, the ability to be understood is critical. What you are saying may be extremely important but unless your audience can understand what you’re saying your message will be lost. And one of the best ways to ensure that your message is understood is with good diction.

Diction is the opposite of mumbling; it requires the crisp, clear pronunciation of consonants. Improving your articulation takes practice but it is well worth the effort. And the great news is that even just a few exercises each day to strengthen and stretch the muscles involved in speech will have a significant impact. Exercises will also bring your attention to any habitual speech patterns that may need improvement.

The type of exercises I am referring to are tongue twisters. You will probably know many of them, there are thousands to try; each one exercises a different part of your speech and focuses on improving a different consonant.

Following my training as an actor and singer I barely go a day when I don’t do some sort of vocal exercises, and I ALWAYS do some tongue twisters before an important meeting, networking event or presentation. I find that warming up my articulators enables me to feel more in control of my speech and ensures I don’t ‘trip over my words’.

I’ll be sharing some of my favourite tongue twisters below, but before you start I recommend doing a few exercises to wake up your tongue and mouth:

  • Open your mouth wide and then pinch it tightly closed a few times
  • Mouth the word ‘WOW’ stretching it as wide as you can on the ‘O’
  • Make an exaggerated chewing motion as if you were a cow
  • Sweep your tongue around your mouth into each cheek and across the front of your top and bottom teeth then poke it out and move it about a few times

These might feel weird to begin with but they will make a huge difference when you start to vocalise your tongue twisters. A couple of tips for practising tongue twisters:

  • Begin repeating each phrase slowly and carefully making sure that each consonant is crisp and clear.
  • Then gradually increase the speed whilst still maintaining the clarity.
  • If you stumble, start again until you can do it quickly and clearly.

Now try saying some of the tongue twisters below:

  • Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
  • She sells sea shell by the sea shore; the sea shells she sells are sea shore sea shells
  • I want a proper cup of coffee in a proper copper coffee pot; if I can’t have a proper cup of coffee in a proper copper coffee pot, I’ll have a cup of tea
  • The Leith police dismisseth us
  • Mixed biscuits, mixed biscuits, mixed biscuits
  • Suzy sells sizzling sausages; the sausages Suzy sells are sizzling
  • Red leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow leather
  • Red lorry, yellow lorry, red lorry, yellow lorry, red lorry, yellow lorry
  • You know you need unique New York, New York’s unique
  • She is a thistle sifter and she has a sieve of sifted thistles, and a sieve of unsifted thistles because she is a thistle sifter
  • Five flippant Frenchmen fly from France for fashions
  • Betty Botter bought a bit of butter, but she said ‘This butter’s bitter. If I put it in my batter it will make my batter bitter.’ So she bought a bit of butter, better than the bitter butter, and it made her bitter batter better!

How did you get on? You’ll find that some are easier than others, and of course it is the more challenging ones that you should focus on!

To remind you on a regular basis of the importance of clear diction and to give you new tongue twisters to try, I have introduced #TongueTwisterTuesday. Follow me on Twitter @MelSherwood_ or facebook at Mel Sherwood Speaker for a new exercise every week.

If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’

Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction.

Mel's book 'The Authority Guide to Pitching Your Business - how to make an impact and be remembered... in under a minute!' is available on Amazon. To find out more go to or follow Mel on Twitter @MelSherwood_