When I First Realized the Importance of Articulate Speech and Effective Diction

I understand the great need for most of us to improve our speech at one time or another in our lives; but how did I arrive at this point of “enlightenment”.

Occasionally, I think back to when I first became aware of the disastrous consequences of poor speech, and the importance of good diction for success. In my case, it was a gradual awakening, not an overnight miracle. Many people become more fully aware of the essential steps for success as they get older… some at twenty, others at thirty-five, many over age fifty, and still others when it is simply too late. Some never do.

Thinking back to my childhood days, I remember attending school as other children did. I was a very timid “only” child. Although I was conscientious and creative, I always felt “held back” by my shyness. At the time, I was not an articulate speaker. I was probably a sloppy speaker. However, I have no recording of my voice as a child. Therefore, I cannot be sure about the extent of my early difficulties with diction. I am quite convinced that my friends and I abused certain sounds and mispronounced many words. However, we were not to blame because we were not taught properly in school. Some teachers were  simply unaware of the problem or could not address themselves to it.

In grammar school, several teachers told my mother that I was attractive enough to be a model. The thought of a modeling career, at least for a while, intrigued me. It was my good fortune when my parents decided to take me to New York for private TV commercial classes with Rex O’Malley, who was one of the foremost exponents of proper diction and a celebrated TV commercial and film actor at the time.

I will never forget him. He never knew this, but after studying him for just one week, I remember telling a little boy who had a crush on me that I was already in love….. with Mr. O’Malley. I was thirteen years old then, and Mr. O’Malley was probably in his sixties. I was in awe of this man. I loved listening to him speak; I thought he was outstanding. He appeared to be elegant, important, successful, and a kind of “super-person”, but I had no idea why. I did know that his voice was like music to my ears. I talked about him excessively to my parents and friends. However, my mother, who sat through all my classes, was impressed by him also. At the time, if I had been asked what I thought success was, I probably would have answered, “Rex O’Malley”.

Well, I was not “in love” with him, but I will always love him for what he taught me. We love people for many different reasons, often for just being there at the right time in our lives. Some people can change your whole life by simply saying a few words, or by the way they say them. I was fortunate that this wonderful made me aware of good, articulate speech; but this was only the beginning of my “awakening”.

From that point on, I became more observant. I began listening, not only to what people were saying, but also to how they were saying it. I became more and more aware of coarse speaking habits, sloppy speech, and annoying tones. I noticed that people with sloppy speech habits were looked upon as being less intelligent that they actually were in most cases. On the other hand, many articulate speakers of moderate intelligence appeared to be outstanding and knowledgeable. I began to understand why some people seemed to be dull and uninteresting even thought they were physically attractive. We all enjoy listening to pleasant voices and clear, distinct speech.

The more I studied diction, the more involved I became in the differentiation of the various sounds. I became more attentive to the beauty of language and the combination of words which serve to make communication with one another so expressive and poignant. Diction is an art, and you are the artist painting with words.

No doubt, if you wish to be successful, improving your diction is one of the first steps you must take. God gave you a mind, and you should use it to improve yourself in every way. You should be the best that you can be.

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