What is Effective Speaking

In a world dominated by technology and rapid-fire messaging systems, the skill of effective speaking is more important than ever. Our attention spans are short, and our words are few, so being able to communicate effectively is vital.

Effective speaking is not just saying what you mean. It is speaking so that your message is understood and motivating. You can accomplish both by what your word choice and the style and tone of your message.

We often change our communication style based on the person we are speaking with – consider how you talk at work versus when you are with friends. You can do both effectively, especially when you take the time to consider what you say and how you say it. Your body language can also affect the way your message is received and understood.

What is Effective Speaking?

Effective speaking is formulating and delivering a verbal message that is clearly understood. The receivers understand what to expect in the message, and they can act upon the message. For example, parents often tell their children to clean their rooms. When the message and tone are clear, children will do as you tell them.

Features of Effective Speaking

When you consider effective speaking, there are three essential features: words, tone, and non-verbal. The words you choose are incredibly important, as those show what you mean. But, the non-verbals and the tone can change the meaning subtly. The three components work together, and your listener uses clues to decode what you are actually trying to say.

When you pick your words, you have a few considerations. Your audience affects the words you choose. Think of the way you speak to children compared to the way you interact with your boss. The length of your sentences affects the way your audience understands you. Short sentences are easy to understand.

When you fill your short sentences with simple words, your audience understands you better than if you use long sentences. Literal words are easier to understand than figurative language, too. Non-native speakers are often confused by similes, metaphors, and idioms, so saying things clearly and literally is preferred.

The speed of a message is also a key to better understanding. Speaking too fast can confuse listeners, but speaking too slow can try listeners’ patience. Find a happy medium that keeps your audience listening.

Vocal Quality and Clarity

When you are working on your ability to speak effectively, consider these three vocal aspects: volume, clarity, and variation. Volume helps your audience hear you, but there are times when speaking with a softer voice is more effective than speaking loudly. Clarity is speaking understandably. Variety enables you to add interest to what you are trying to convey.

Being Heard

Volume is an essential aspect of effective speaking. If your audience cannot hear you, then they will not get your message. When you consider volume, you have to think of more than just being loud or quiet. Volume is more about the projection than being loud. Sometimes, loud voices are not easy to understand because tone can get lost in the volume.

Instead, if you want more sound, you have to use your breath. To increase volume, use more diaphragm. Singers who need to be louder use their diaphragm to project; they don’t use their throats. Think of being strong, rather than loud. This attitude will improve the quality of your voice, without straining the clarity.

You can add drama and variety to your speaking by playing with volume. There are times when dropping your voice to a whisper or talking loudly will add emphasis to your message. Don’t overdo it, so you keep the technique fresh and impactful.

Being Clear

The best way to increase your clarity as a speaker is to talk with your jaw loose and open. Do not clench your teeth and speak through a tight, locked jaw. The mouth helps to articulate and amplify sound. If your mouth is closed, sound cannot escape. If you move your lips and speak naturally, your audience also benefits from doing some lip-reading, too.

Adding Variety

There are several ways to add variety to your speaking, too. Of course, you don’t want to sound like you are performing. You will need to be natural, but with some intention. Practice will help you become better at adding variety.


The first thing you can work on is pacing your speaking speed. If you speak too quickly, people will miss something that you say. But, if you are too slow, then people will get bored and stop listening. You don’t want to keep your speed the same, because that gets boring, too. You want to add some variety for emphasis.


Another way to add variety to your speaking style is to pause occasionally, which gives your audience to think, laugh, sigh, or participate in the conversation. Some people are afraid of silence, so they avoid using it when they speak. But, an appropriately placed pause can add much-needed drama and show your confidence.


Pitch is another useful tool for variety. When you alter the inflection of your voice, you emphasize what you consider essential. Those types of clues let your audience know how you feel about specific parts of your message. Pitch is what differentiates a soprano from a tenor. It’s the high sounds, low sounds, and the sounds in between.

Pay close attention to how you feel when you are speaking. If you are nervous, your pitch might go higher without your awareness. You might actually confuse your audience as you emphasize words you do not want to be stressed. Being confident, or at least showing confidence, is key to being an effective speaker.

Appreciate Your Accent

Another part of effective speaking is embracing your accent. People all over the world have accents that show where they are from. Accents can create problems with understanding, especially if the accent is strong or if you use idioms from your part of the world. Understanding accents can be tough for people who are non-native speakers, too.

When it comes to public speaking, you should consider your accent. If you know that some people might have problems understanding you, then you should practice speaking clearly and slowly. You should also look closely at the figures of speech that you are might comfortably use, but others might awkwardly question.

Your accent makes you who you are, but in certain situations, it can hinder people’s understanding of you. Effective speaking means that you communicate clearly. Consider your body language, volume, rate, pitch, and pause when you share vital information.

Read Aloud for Practice

If you are unsure of what you sound like when you speak, there are a few exercises you can do. Most vocal exercises require you to record yourself speaking. Most people find this to be awkward. But after a few times, you will get used to it.

This first exercise is all about reading aloud. You can do this with different texts, but begin with a document that has at least two pages, or about 700 words. Before you record yourself, read the book silently. Then read it aloud, without recording yourself. After two readings, you should have some comfort with it, so record the third reading.

As you read it the third time, pay attention to a few things. First, slow down so you can think about the words before you say them. Don’t forget that you can speed up in appropriate places, too. Then, remember to relax your jaw and speak with breath from the diaphragm — work on pausing, especially at points you consider important.

Each time that you read aloud and record yourself, practice another skill. The second time that you do this exercise read aloud and look at yourself in the mirror or read to a friend or family member – practice keeping your chin up and your eyes on the audience. Then, work on projecting to your audience, even if the audience is your face in a mirror.

Listen to the playback. Notice where you make mistakes with pronunciation. Listen to your pauses, your emphasis, your rates of speed. Notice whether you sound natural or not. Your audience will understand you better if you can be natural. Practice until you can sound natural, even reading into a recording device.

Body Language

Verbal communication is only one part of the equation. Non-verbal communication is the rest of it. The words you say, the tone, volume, pitch, and rate make up the verbal part. The way you use your face and body make up the non-verbal part of communication. Simple things like eye contact and hand gestures help people get a better understanding of your message.

Often, body language happens naturally. It can give away clues, especially the ones that we might not want people to recognize. For example, if you do not make eye contact, your audience might think that you are not telling the truth. If you have your hands on your hips, you might be frustrated or trying to take charge.

If you want to be completely clear in your communication, then you should be aware of your body language. All too often, we neglect this part, and our messages can be conflicting. Practicing body language can help you become more aware of it. Consider how your body language can make your speaking more effective.

When your body language is congruent with what you say, then your message should be entirely understood. It is more difficult to affect your non-verbal communication in the same way you do with your verbal communication. Often, the body gives off clues with your mind truly recognizing it. But, if you pay more attention to your non-verbal motions, you can control them.

Techniques for Effective Speaking

When you want to improve your speaking, there are several techniques that you can try. These techniques are easy to practice and to ingrain in your daily speaking. These techniques will also make your public speaking more capable.

Set a Goal

All too often, we veer off topic when we are speaking. When this happens, you might go off on a long, unfocused tangent. You must stay focused on your goal, whether you are speaking formally or informally. When you lose sight of your goal, your audience might get bored.

In your mind, decide what you are going to say and stick with it. Your message will stay clear when you have a goal.

Talk About What You Know

When you talk about something you know, you will get your message across clearly. If you veer off into a topic that is uncomfortable to you, your audience will know because your body language will give away your secret. Your tone might become apathetic, or you might sound concerned – for yourself.

If a conversation or a public speech goes awry on a topic that you do not know, change the subject back into what you do know. Your passion and knowledge will be evident to your audience, and you will have an easier time getting the audience to believe you when you speak with experience.

When you talk about things you care about, your audience will recognize that you are authentic. They will listen for details. They won’t have to watch your body language, because you will convey your authenticity in your verbal cues.

Show Support

If you are speaking publicly, you must have support for your opinions and facts. Speakers who show their knowledge show where they gathered that knowledge.

For example, if you are speaking about employment numbers, you might show statistics from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. You cannot just say, “Many people work more than one job.” You would have to show the actual percentage, which, according to the BLS, is 4.9 percent of US workers in 2017 held two jobs.

When you find support for your statements, always consider the sources. Effective speakers can tell the difference between a legitimate source and a faux source. Academic and government sources are usually unbiased. Be cautious of blogs and highly focused news sources that masquerade as mainstream media.

Use Your Storytelling Voice

Stories are what make us unique. The best speakers can convey their messages through engaging stories. If you want to become a better speaker, practice telling stories. Don’t just read them aloud, but make up your own and tell them from memory. Many of the best speeches begin with anecdotes that relate to the point of the message.

Don’t just tell a story to tell a story. The story you tell needs to have a purpose. Teachers often tell stories to their students so students can understand new concepts. Business representatives will tell stories so their customers can relate to new products. Sports channels tell stories about elite athletes so the audience can relate to these athletic super-humans.

In professional speech and comfortable conversations, work on your storytelling techniques. Learn when you should pause, when you should change your tone and pitch, and when you should speed up or slow down your rate of speech. Eventually, you will be able to get and hold your audience’s attention with any story in any situation.

Find a Coach

If you are genuinely anxious about speaking or you need to enhance your public speaking ability, hire a coach. There are speaking coaches in every community. You can often find them at community colleges or through professional speaking organizations. They can help you overcome your anxiety, and they can help you become better at addressing large audiences.

Unfortunately, speaking coaches are not for everyone. No matter who you hire, you will need to pay the coach. The most affordable options might be through collegiate business development offices. These offices usually offer low-cost guidance for young professionals and entrepreneurs.

Pay Attention to Pacing

When people speak publicly, they often are worried about so many things that they talk way too quickly. Nerves get in the way, so speakers do not realize how fast they are moving through their topics. When you become an effective speaker, you could still get nervous, but you will be able to overcome the nerves and relax at the appropriate pace.

Your relaxation arrives when you breathe. Some new public speakers often hold their breath, which is why they talk to so quickly. If you practice your speech, you will find the perfect spots to take deep inhales and satisfying exhales. You can even figure out the right places to pause and take a drink of water, too.

Practice Makes Better

It is time to get rid of the idea that practice makes perfect. No one is perfect, but when you practice, you will get better at your skills. Effective speakers take time to practice. Most effective speakers do not attempt to “wing it” and give their speeches without practicing, revising, and editing. You still might make mistakes during the event, but you won’t make many.

When you practice, you will notice nuances where you can improve. You will know when to breathe, what to do with your hands, and when to change the slide. You will recognize when you need a visual aid and when it might seem corny to have one. You will also learn to recognize when you and your audience need breaks.

Practicing brings comfort. Public speakers still have some anxiety, but not for their own abilities. The worry comes from people worrying that the technology might not work, not from their skills as a speaker.

Mistakes Will Happen

You can reduce your worry about mistakes if you understand that they can happen at any time. With this understanding, your nerves will decrease. If you make a mistake, let it go. Move on and continue your speech. If the error is too big to skip over, then you can make a joke about it and endear yourself to your audience.

If you practice, you are less likely to make a mistake. And you will be more comfortable in overcoming them because you will make mistakes during your practices. Most importantly, learn to pronounce names and precise words, so you sound like you know your stuff.

Be Alert to Fillers and Fluff

When you practice your speech, you are more likely not to need fillers like um or like. You can also avoid using them when you have notes that work for you. Some people will memorize their speeches and use fillers when they forget what comes next. But, if you are giving a speech on your own terms, you can use notes.

During your practices, notice where your mind wanders and craft your notes to fill in the weak spots. Instead of saying a filler word, you can look at your notes and keep the speech going. When you use filler words, you lose some of your effectiveness as a speaker. Your audience will get annoyed, and they might start to lose interest in what you have to say.

If you are worried about using fillers, perform your speech in front of a friend or a coach. If you don’t have anyone who will listen, record a practice. Then, get feedback on the number of fillers you use. Notice where you use them and practice those sections, so you remove the chance of using fillers.

Use Your Non-Verbals Effectively

A stiff and awkward speaker will struggle to keep the audience’s attention. But, the audience will appreciate a speaker who has natural body language. When you practice your speech, move. If you are nervous, you might find yourself pacing or moving in uncomfortable ways. But, if you are comfortable, your arms will be animated, and so will your face.

Comfortable speakers know how to move around the stage. They stop when they want to make an impact. They move when they need their words to move. But, don’t use too many non-verbal motions, or your audience might get distracted from what you are trying to say.

When speakers move too much or use too many fillers, audience members begin to focus on the awkwardness. You do not want to be the speaker who gets their “ums” counted or their hand motions mocked. Effective speakers are heard; audiences don’t mock them.

Develop Relaxation Techniques

Instead of walking on the stage filled with nerves, you should learn how to relax so you can speak with confidence. Most effective speakers go on stage with some anxiety. The fear of public speaking is a real thing with an actual scientific term: glossophobia. Instead of fighting it, learn to deal with it.

The anxiety can improve the quality of public speaking. It acts in the same way that adrenaline does for competitive athletes. The stress can help you focus, so you give an effective speech. But, having a few relaxation techniques can help you decrease your anxiety, so it does not overwhelm you.

Some people rely on music or meditation to focus themselves before performing. Others might exercise a little or use essential oils. You could try positive affirmations. You might also benefit from drinking a cup of relaxing tea, too. You might be able to relax if you write down your fears in a journal, so you stop thinking about them.

Consider Your Presentation Tools

Effective speakers often use presentation tools. They can add visual impact and share sources with your audience. But, presentation tools can also be incredibly boring and unnecessary. Your presentation tools should be necessary, and they should enhance the presentation. If they don’t bring anything to the presentation, then don’t use them.

Another consideration is whether the presentation takes away your job. Some speakers put all of their information in their slides, taking away the need for them to even be on the stage. Make yourself necessary. Helpful slides include maps, videos, charts, and graphs. And, single-panel comics that fit the speech topic can be useful, too.

When you craft your presentation tools, don’t neglect the design. Your slides should be professional in their style and grammatically correct. If you have ugly slides loaded with spelling errors, your audience will judge you harshly.

You can always use a template, but then customize it to fit your personal or professional style. There are plenty of models available that might be less recognizable than the typical ones provided by software apps.

Along with slides is to use visual aids. These can be physical objects that help your audience better understand your message. For example, if you are talking about losing weight, get a physical sample of what five pounds looks like. Don’t use dumbbells. Instead, try using a five-pound lump of butter. Or, five pounds of cooked pasta. Or a five-pound steak.

An excellent visual aid should be memorable, like a five-pound slab of butter. If your audience is far away from you, be sure that the visual aids are big enough for the people in the back to see. When your audience can’t see what you are showing, then they will negatively judge you.

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