Department of Communication

Verbal Delivery Tips

Verbal communication refers to the vocal performance of a speaker--their rate, volume, pitch, and pauses. These aspects of vocalization are critical to effectively conveying ideas (after all, if your audience has trouble understanding what the words are coming out of your mouth, then they will be unable to understand your message.)

Rate refers to the speed at which a person speaks. Follow these suggestions to adjust your rate of speech to your best advantage:

  1. Choose a rate appropriate for the ideas being expressed and for a speech setting. For example, it makes sense for a sportscaster announcing a basketball game to speak faster than a sportscaster at a golf match.
  2. Vary your rate of speech to express different thoughts and feelings. You may want to speak slowly to emphasize an important point or to communicate a serious or somber mood. A faster pace is appropriate when you are telling your audience something it already knows (many speeches include background information that sets the scene) or to express surprise, happiness, or fear. Use pauses to change the pace and add verbal variety.
  3. Use a tape recorder to monitor your rate of speech while you read aloud a magazine article. Pay special attention to grouping words into phrases and to slowing down and speeding up at appropriate points. Play back your speech, then adjust your phrasing for a more effective delivery.

Volume refers to the loudness or softness of the speaker's voice.

  1. Know what volume your voice should be in your classroom. If you speak too softly, your speech serves little purpose. At the same time, don't mistake shouting for speaking loudly.
  2. Vary the volume to get attention. Whether to choose to speak louder or more quietly, you draw attention to your speech through contrast. For example, you can speak softly when you narrate a sad story. In this case, a quieter approach is usually a more effective attention-grabber.

Pitch means the highness or lowness of the speaker's voice. Changes in the pitch are known as inflections.

  1. When you speak in a monotone, you tell your listeners you have nothing to emphasize. When you vary the pitch of your voice, you let them know that what you are saying is important.
  2. As with volume, vary pitch to achieve the best effect. For example, you can speak in a low tone when you quote someone. The change in pitch suggests that you are citing evidence rather than expressing your own view.

Pauses add color, expression, and feeling to a speech. They should be used deliberately to achieve a desired effect. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Pause for moment when you introduce a new idea or term to give your listeners time to absorb what you are saying.
  2. Don't talk nonstop until, literally, you are out of breath. At the same time, don't pause every three or four words in a kind of nervous verbal chop. Particularly, don't pause in the middle of an idea. That will make it difficult for your listeners to follow. To a speaker, a phrase has a different meaning it has to a writer. It is a unit you speak in one breath in order to express a single idea. Each pause tells your listeners you are moving from one thought to the next.
  3. Try not to take vocalized pauses such as "ah," "er," and "umm." A vocalized pause is usually ineffective (even distracting and annoying). For example, President John F. Kennedy's famous line, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for you country," was effective not only because of its language but also because it was delivered with a pause dividing the two thoughts. I think that you will agree that "Ask not ah what your er country can do ah for you; ask what you umm can do er for your uh country" just don't have the same impact as the unadorned original statement.
  4. Extend your pauses to two or three seconds when displaying a visual aid. This tactic enables your audience to read the information on the visual aid without missing your next thought. It is important to pause after the display, not before it.

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