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2016 Custom Software Group |  Melbourne Software Development | Geotabular Pty Ltd  |   ABN 78 606 432973

Master the art of Public Speaking

October 30, 2017

Whether you are a confident public speaker, or just starting out on your journey, there is always something to improve on when it comes to the quality of our delivery. Public speaking is not something that comes naturally to us. We are often nervous and apprehensive about speaking in front of a crowd especially if we are new to public speaking. If you are not confident at expressing yourself before an audience, then this information is for you.




For more than a decade I have been involved in work that requires speaking in front of groups, to small and larger audiences and the things I struggled with most was my confidence. But I found that as my ability to communicate effectively grew, so did my confidence. What gave me confidence? It was everything I had learned about speech delivery; things such as speech quality, modulation, reading, pronunciation among others.


Let's begin by talking about Accurate Reading. You might wonder why accurate reading comes before accurate speaking. The reason is simply because if you can't read clearly, you can't speak clearly. There are many people who can speak clearly but cannot read at all. So to master the art of speaking, you must first be a good reader. If you have gone to the effort of writing an hour-long speech, the last thing you want to do is misread, skip words or even ignore parts of your speech.


Research has identified reading as the key strategy for improving a students' fluency skills (NICHD, 2000) So good reading is also important for you if you want to be a good speaker. [1]


To remain true to the prepared speech, it is imperative that you stick to the script. One of my worst traits is adding more then what is there on paper and getting all tongue-tied in the process. It's so easy to lose your space when reading from a very detailed talk outline. But one thing that I did find helpful was the practice of reading aloud, word for word, repeatedly until the words rolled off my tongue. Reading this way develops good eye/brain coordination so that you don't misread or skip words and teaches you the skill of reading ahead to prepare your thoughts. If you have gone to the effort of writing out a speech, the last thing you want to do is fail to deliver all of it.


Good reading is more than merely the ability to read what is on the page; it also requires an understanding of the context of the material. Context determines your tone of voice for example if you are reading about someone who has passed away, your mood will need to reflect dignity and solemness. You would never speak in a higher tone at such a time. This is why understanding the context of your material is essential. The surrounding words can give readers helpful context clues about the meaning and structure of the new word, as well as how it is used. [2]



Punctuation is also an essential element which enables good reading and speaking. Think of punctuation as markers for where to pause, for how long, and possibly the need for inflection. In grammar, inflection or inflexion is the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, case, voice, aspect, person, number, gender, and mood. ... The use of this suffix is an inflection.[3]


Failure to change your tone when punctuation requires it can alter the meaning of a sentence, so it's important that you get the punctuation right. That may not always be the case, but it is essential to understand when it could be. If you want to read in a meaningful way, you will need to know how the punctuation affects the meaning.  A good exercise to do is to practice reading out loud until you can do it without misreading or failing to punctuate accurately.


Tips on how to improve your reading

Record yourself reading and listen back to see how you sound. That is the first step to improvement because it lets you hear things that you don't hear while you are reading. It will help you to gauge the quality of your reading and as you listen, take particular note of the punctuation and if you are reflecting the correct meaning of the punctuation.


Understand Punctuation marks

PERIOD (.) indicates a full stop where you should affirmatively end the sentence.

COLON (:) introduces a list or a quotation; it requires a pause but without a drop in inflection.

COMMA (,) usually requires a slight pause, as more text will follow.

EXCLAMATION POINT (!) signals strong feeling in tone to emphasise the point.

SEMICOLON (;) marks a pause milder than a period but stronger than a comma.

QUESTION MARK (?) usually requires that the sentence is read in a somewhat higher tone or with rising inflection.

QUOTATION MARKS (“ ” or ‘ ’) may indicate that the enclosed words should be set off with pauses (very slight if a part of the text; stronger if a full statement).

DASHES (—), when used to set off words, usually call for a slight change of tone or pace.

PARENTHESIS ( ) and brackets [ ] these isolated words should be read with a slightly lower tone. However, if it is a source reference in parentheses, you do not need to read these. If a word in a bracket is required to provide context or meaning, you should read them, but you do not need to change your tone. [5]


Voice Matters

Accurate reading requires that you speak with a clear distinguishable voice. That may seem obvious, but surprisingly it is often taken for granted. How often have you listened to someone on the radio or in a movie and not quite understood what they have said? Sylvester Stallone is notorious for slurring his speech and not speaking clearly, and it can be quite frustrating to listeners. What you don't want is an audience spending time trying to interpret your words or getting confused because they have misunderstood you and miss the important points you are making. Clear speech allows a listener’s attention to be focused on your message rather than on trying to understand what you have just said. So clearly spoken words are of the utmost importance. If your audience do not fully understand your words, you will loose their attention. So what factors may cause speech to sound Indistinct?






Failing to open your mouth sufficiently

Our lips work in harmony with our tongue and jawline to sound out our words. If we are not opening our jaw adequately enough or using our lips and tongue sufficiently, it can muffle our speech. If you've ever had a singing lesson, one of the first things you learn is how to open your mouth correctly. You are taught how to use the front and back of your tongue to create sounds and how these sounds are affected by the position of your throat and even your chin and chest. You are taught to keep your shoulders back, chest out and always breath from your diaphragm...these are the cornerstones to creating a great clear sound.



Also consider the speed of your speech. If you talk too fast, listeners may not be able to decipher one word from the next.   So clear speech requires a good even tempo, another aspect of music that makes a song catchy or annoying. The upside to slowing down your speech is that you have more time to gather your thoughts. It is also important to look up at the audience and make eye contact regularly, and having slower speech is helpful in that regard because it allows you to think ahead when your eyes are not on your notes.


Speaking Clearly

To speak clearly, you must understand the makeup of words. In the English language, like most, words are made up of syllables. Syllables are made up of one or more letters that are uttered as a single unit. While each syllable would normally be sounded out, not all are sounded with the same degree of emphasis. So to improve the quality of clarity, it helps to practice by slowing down and expressing each syllable until you achieve a smooth flow of speech. Be careful not to allow an overly precise manner of pronunciation to become apart of your reading though, as it will sound unnatural and put your audience off.


If your speech sounds muffled, try holding your head up and move your chin away from your chest. When reading from a book, hold the book high as this will allow your words to come out unimpeded.


It's quite normal to feel nervous when speaking publicly and unfortunately this affects the functionality of our voices. Have you been to Karaoke? There you will find a host of people who prove what I'm saying is true. When you are nervous, the sound you project is not good. As tension builds up around the throat and larynx, our lungs may not take in as much air and this is can drastically reduce our vocal quality.

If you have ever felt 'choked up' you have experienced the tension I'm talking about. It can prevent you from breathing deeply and cause your voice box to sound jerky as all the air is restricted from flowing freely through the vocal chords. So it is essential to learn how to release tension.


Many singers use techniques to help them relax their vocal chords before performing. I am a singer myself, and I have had to learn how to relieve tension through deep breathing, stretching the tongue and blowing air through my lips. Such exercises will also help you to ease tension before giving your speech. [4]

When you begin a yawn, it is the downward motion of the 'Adams Apple' at the beginning of a yawn that releases tension.  Practice releasing tightness in the throat with a yawn/sigh motion several times to release throat tension.




Correct Pronunciation

It is also vital to your audience that words are not only spoken clearly but also pronounced correctly. When you talk to people in real life, your pronunciation is the first thing they notice during a conversation. If you have poor pronunciation, it may give a bad impression or worse, lead to serious misunderstandings.

As a speaker, you want to relay your ideas accurately, you have a message that you need to be, not only heard but understood. If your pronunciation is clear and correct, it allows a listener’s attention to be focused on your message rather than on any mistakes you may be making. It can be distracting to your audience if you make a silly error in pronunciation. We've all heard the different ways some words can be pronounced; to-ma-toes OR to-may-toes. When deciding how to utter a word that may have different pronunciations, consider your audience. Try to deliver it in the way most familiar to them. It's similar when it comes to writing for a particular audience. The spelling of some words varies among different dialects of English. For example, British English speakers write colour, while American English speakers write color.


Typically, the spelling of these words only varies by one or two letters. In the interest of consistency and clarity, you would use the spelling that will be more familiar to your intended audience. And same goes with how words are pronounced.

'When in Rome, do as the Romans do' so goes the saying. Why is this important? It's important because it shows that you respect your audience. And they will likewise show you respect and listen more attentively to what you have to say. [6]


Pronunciation Tips

1. Be sure you are placing the primary stress on the correct syllable.

2. Pronounce with your audience in mind. Being overly precise may sound snobbish, but if that is the audience you are speaking to, then do it. But if not, don't.

3. Avoid slovenly speech as this will detract from your authority, and you may lose the respect of the audience.


Next time I'll talk about Fluency, Pausing & Sense Stress.  Fluent delivery is all about the smooth flow of your words and thoughts throughout your speech. Knowing what words or phrases to emphasis and knowing when to pause all contribute to a fluent delivery.   


If you've got any experiences to share in terms of giving speeches feel free to comment here. We'd love to hear how you prepare yourself for a speech and what you've found to help you.  




1. http://www.readingrockets.org/article/developing-fluent-readers

2. http://www.ldonline.org/article/61511/

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inflection

4. http://www.vocalist.org.uk/throat_tension.html https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvE5SoQ-lHc

5. http://www.thepunctuationguide.com/top-ten.html

6. https://www.hopespeak.com/blog/the-importance-of-correct-pronunciation/




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