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Updated: November 7, 2011 15:44 IST

Importance of speech management for leadership

D. Murali
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One does not have to wait to get to University to enrich, correct, or enhance one’s speech or communication skills, says Radika Vasudeva, Director, Integrated Speech & Swallow Works Pte Ltd, Singapore (http://bit.ly/F4TRadikaV). In this verbal world, remediation needs to start very early on, perhaps in the early preschool-to-school years, she adds, during a brief interaction with Business Line recently, in The Coffee Connosseiur, Bugis Village, Singapore. “There is enough evidence in the field of speech and language pathology describing the relation between speech and language development and literacy skills. Children with delayed speech and language skills are at a greater risk of running into academic/ literacy issues once in school, if their communication issues are not addressed early on.”

Urging educational institutions to set up systems wherein students with speech and communication issues can be identified early and given the right kind of support such as remedial lessons, enrichment and therapy with the right professionals be it the speech-language pathologist or the speech coach, Radika notes that most of these children and students are bright and just need the right guidance to develop their communication abilities. “Early remediation will mitigate the social and emotional consequences of poor speech and language skills.” Our conversation continues over the email.

Excerpts from the interview.

Much has been written about the importance of communication for leaders. How critical is speech?

Speech production is often taken for granted as a biological function that takes care of itself. But, for all its simplicity, it is a result of complex coordination of muscles and millions of nerves. Speech is defined as spoken language – an oral presentation of ideas. In simple terms, the speech refers to the production of speech sounds that when put together form words that eventually convey meaning. So how important can this function be for leaders? CRITICAL.

‘Talking is like playing on the harp; there is as much in laying the hands on the strings to stop their vibration as in twanging them to bring out their music,’ says Oliver Wendell Holmes. As summed up in this quote, it is not just the clarity of the sounds that is important for leaders. When speech is used, the interconnected features such as voice quality, loudness, intonation, rate and rhythm will greatly influence the final speech and communication at large.

Don’t we know of leaders, political speakers who leverage on all these aspects? Today, more than ever before, effective speech skills have become crucial for the social professionals and more so for leaders in industry, politics and the social arena.

What are the typical problems that leaders run into with their speech? And how do these impact their performance?

Homo sapiens who are gifted with the unique ability to speak can use speech to get into trouble, and of course need to use the same mechanism of speech to get out of the trouble!

Some common problems that leaders may run into are:

• Poor diction;

• Inappropriate use of words;

• Too fast or painfully slow rate of speech or verbal delivery of content;

• Incorrect intonation patterns that do not match the intent, content or context;

• Poor vocal quality that does not highlight the impact of his/her speech; and

• Poor inflectional patterns and rhythm in speech.

Of added importance is the nonverbal communication that accompanies speech. Often speakers fail to capitalise on this vital component of communication. This makes the incongruence visible to the listeners.

Can you specify a few traps that leaders and managers should avoid as regards speech?

“His speeches to an hour-glass/ Do some resemblance show/ Because the longer time they run/ The shallower they grow.” (Author Unknown)

We are all witnesses to long drawn, ‘beating around the bush’ kind of speeches that fail to captivate the listeners and at times even have a negative impact on the targeted audiences. Communication skills are one of the most important characteristics of a good leader.

Leaders and professionals can avoid traps in communication by adopting a simple checklist while planning formal communication exercises, be they speeches to large groups or meetings with teams at work:

• Content and thought process: Be clear with the ideas and thoughts you intend to deliver.

• Believability: Be well prepared to be believable to your listeners.

• Cues: Use the right visual, vocal and verbal cues while speaking.

• Consistency: Communicate your ideas clearly and confidently and be consistent.

• Enunciation: Check your diction, practise your speech skills.

• Connection: Be ready to make the right emotional connection with the group.

• Non verbal-verbal congruence: Ensure that your body language is congruent with what you are speaking.

• Listening: Communication is two-way. Yes, you need to speak but turn on your listening channel to the right frequency and constantly seek feedback to adjust your speech.

Remember, Communication is more of an art than pure science. It’s just not enough to speak right and enunciate well. There is much more to verbal communication. It is like a beautiful fabric that is woven out of many fine silk threads, you just need one thread to buckle to make the entire piece defective.

**

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