How to Stop Mumbling & Sound More Influential at Work
Learn the five causes and the best ways on how to stop mumbling so you will sound more influential at work.
Over the past decade in my work as a speech pathologist and executive communication consultant, I’ve met hundreds of clients who were struggling to speak clearly and influentially and in many cases, they’ve enlisted my assistance to eliminate mumbling from their professional lives so that they can finally make progress and make their message sound like it matches their expertise!
Today I’ve decided it’s time to discuss mumbling with you! Why? Because 58% of my clients report that they often or nearly always mumble! So if you’ve not yet worked with me to learn how to overcome mumbling, this blog post is for you.
Today we’ll look at the top 5 causes of mumbling, and then I’ll make some recommendations for what you can do to improve your professional speaking and get rid of mumbling.
This blog post is best digested in 3 parts:
What is MUMBLING?
First, we need to define- what’s mumbling?
We can best define mumbling as speaking quietly in a way that is not clear so that the words are difficult to understand (Cambridge Dictionary).
Is mumbling normal?
Mumbling is a sign of communication issues when speaking, interacting and sharing your message. Although not technically classified as a speech impediment, if you find yourself mumbling in conversations that matter, your listener will no doubt notice reduced confidence and clarity while you share your message.
Do mumbling exercises work?
Now, if you search Youtube for solutions for mumbling, you’ll probably find many videos of people showing you all sorts of mouth exercises to stop you from mumbling. But, please don’t waste your time on this! In today’s episode, you’ll learnt that the first step to solving mumbling issues is to identify what is causing the speaking clarity issue.
What is mumbling a symptom of?
Mumbling is always the outcome of a communication issue.
Overall, 5 core communication factors can leave you mumbling; I’ve outlined each of these factors below to assist you to get to the bottom of what might be holding you back from speaking eloquence at work.
1) Mumbling can be caused by poor articulation
Sometimes, mumbling results from bad articulation and a small jaw opening. When we’re speaking, our jaw unhinges to release the sound wave into the room. If you’re inclined to hold your jaw incredibly tight, your speech can sound muffled because all the sounds you’re producing have to squeeze into a similar space, compromising their clarity and contrast.
Every language has a mix of consonants and vowels. And each pronunciation sound has a slightly different position with the jaw, tongue and lips. So if you start releasing your sound through the one mouth position, the speech patterns start showing less contrast which can cause reduced speaking clarity.
So is the solution to open your mouth more to prevent mumbling?
It depends! First, you need to know what is causing your mumbling. I don’t recommend artificially adjusting how you move your mouth without getting detailed insights into what contributes to the mumbling behaviours – changing your mouth position on your own and hoping for the best could lead to bigger issues. Your jaw’s position, alignment and movement substantially impact your voice quality, so don’t make any massive tweaks without consulting with a speaking expert first.
2) Mumbling can result from incorrect breath management skills
If you sound too soft when speaking and don’t project your voice correctly, there’s a chance your speaking sounds mumbled and less clear.
If your voice is soft and inconsistent and you’re finding it hard to speak loud enough when presenting, you may need to work on your breath management skills.
When we fail to coordinate our breath correctly, our vowels and consonants can start to lose clarity because we can get some speech noises coming out that interfere with our intelligibility.
For example, noisy breathing while speaking can distract from the core words in your message and make your speech sound less articulate.
If you fail to coordinate the right amount of air pressure to get sufficient volume, your voice projection will be affected which can also account for sounding like you’re mumbling if your conversation partners are struggling to hear you.
A low volume due to not knowing how to organise the power source of your voice – your breath- makes your listener work harder to understand your message, so they may give you feedback that you’re mumbling when presenting.
3) Incorrect voice production can also cause mumbling
If you’ve not learnt how to use your voice correctly, you may start showing voice quality factors that reduce your speaking polish, executive presence, and credibility while speaking.
Mumbling is a form of imprecise, low-effort speaking that usually is accompanied by voice quality issues like vocal fry and strain. Vocal fry will reduce the integrity of your voice vibration and impact the projection and power of your opinions.
When our voice tone deteriorates, it also erodes the power of our opinion and argument for the listener! So if you’re mumbling, get serious about improving your speaking quality because it can hold you back at work and make your insights sound hesitant and less confident.
4) Language structure difficulties can make you mumble
Sometimes, mumbling can be an immediate outcome of struggling to organise our thoughts when speaking under pressure at work.
Imagine your client asks you an unexpected question…
Your thoughts start racing…
And suddenly, when you start speaking, your words are racing too.
It’s a fact- speaking confidence isn’t in our DNA. Instead, it’s a specific skill set. And part of learning to express ourselves confidently is learning how to articulate our ideas- especially when speaking under pressure.
Do you find it challenging to get your ideas in order when speaking in impromptu conversations during team meetings or answering random questions when giving a presentation?
If you’re nodding, let’s discuss what you can do to get on top of speaking issues!
When you give responses at work that sound mumbled, anxious and unclear, research shows that your listener will instantly form an impression that your ideas aren’t prepared; worse still, they may even conclude that you lack expertise on the topic. So I have to be candid with you – research into leadership communication skills shows that if you can’t express yourself confidently, you’re losing communication capital. It may even account for why you’re failing to score a promotion or get the influence you need at work to do your job more comfortably. But remember, as I always say on this channel- Communication confidence is built on strategy, so instead of feeling like a bad communicator, check yourself. Maybe your speaking confidence issues are arising because you don’t have a system for dealing with high-pressure conversations.
If that’s the case, focus on strategy, not difficulty! And, if you get stuck, you know where to find me. I can help you with the proper training to speak up with clarity, impact and elegance.
5) Mumbling can be a sign you need to improve your vocabulary
Just like struggling to get our message structure organised can lead to mumbling and hesitations while speaking, we can lose our message clarity when our vocabulary is weak. There’s nothing like not being able to find the precise word we need to make us want to hide behind our response which can lead to us speaking with less conviction and mumbling!
My online, on demand Vocabulary Workshop will help you find the right words and finally solve your word-finding problems at work.
The vocabulary wonderboard program uses science-based methods and trains you in a decisive step-by-step system to strengthen memory networks for new words that gets you using them.
If this is the case- my online Vocabulary Course will help you find the right words and solve your word-finding problems at work. The vocabulary wonder board program uses science-based methods and trains you in a powerful step-by-step system to strengthen memory networks for new words that get you using them. I’ve linked the details below for you to get instant access today.
If you’re unsure which is the root cause of mumbling for you, don’t panic, there may be a mix of causing factors. It’s frustrating to know you’re mumbling but what’s more useful is to understand why and get some solutions in place.
Here’s where I can help you.
I’m utterly obsessed with boosting your communication confidence, which is why I scrupulously researched corporate communication tactics for over a decade and created the total fix for your career communication, and it all begins with my high-performance communication audit.
So if you want to take your communication in daily life further to increase your professional speaking polish so that you can achieve the career outcomes you want, you should consider enrolling in the High-performance communication audit.
Bonaccio, S., et al. (2016). “Nonverbal Behavior and Communication in the Workplace.” Journal of Management 42: 1044 – 1074.
Krause, J. and L. Braida (2004). “Acoustic properties of naturally produced clear speech at normal speaking rates.” The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 115: 362-378.
Pfordresher, P. Q., et al. (2021). “Spontaneous Production Rates in Music and Speech.” Frontiers in Psychology 12(1943).
About the Author
Sara Geiger is a Keynote Speaker, Executive Speaking Coach, and Opera Singer who likes to play with words, sounds, and your impact.
Her academic background is in Music Performance, Communication Science and Speech & Language Pathology. She’s currently completing a PhD in Opera Performance.
Connect with Sara on LinkedIn.
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