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Speak so People Will Listen. The Number One Strategy for Public Speaking

February 24, 2020

Speak so People Will Listen. The Number One Strategy for Public Speaking

By Elizabeth Peterson, M.A., CCC-SLP
Excerpt from, How to Speak like a Broadcaster and Lead like a CEO


There is a particular melody style that all good public speakers use. The term for this is professional business intonation. Speaking while moving up and down in pitch is the speech melody style news broadcasters, political figures, public speakers and trained professional business people.

This speaking style can be described as speaking with a controlled rate allowing speech sounds to be clear and sharp while the melody produces an interesting pattern to follow. The term intonation describes how melody patterns are used while talking. It is considered to be the best speaking model for public speaking and business situations because of the interesting vocal variety. People who speak using different pitch tones are judged to be persuasive and more interesting. How communication is used is the framework for one’s leadership image. This article will teach a very simple strategy on how to speak with better intonation so people will listen and follow you.

The best strategy for changing your intonation pattern is to think of your speech moving up and down a staircase. This is a very easy concept to apply and I use it with all on my clients. The visual analogy of a staircase is a helpful technique for understanding how to move your speech and therefore change your speaking style and become more intersting. Everyone understands the concept of moving speech up and down a staircase.

Speaking with intonation is not a hard skill to learn, but it will feel funny and slower than how you are currently speaking. It will take a few weeks to get used to this new speaking pattern. After some practice, this new skill that once felt funny will feel natural, your speech melody will be more professional and persuasive. 

This is how to speak up and down a “Speech Straircase”.  First, begin your statement in your “natural” tone. Then move up one step higher on the speech stairs early in your statement, which is typically on the second or third word. Then move your pitch down the imaginary speech stairs on each syllable for the rest of your statement. Learning to speak along the speech stairs will immediately increase the clarity of your words because your speech rate will be controlled and you will have better range of motion with your speech articulators (lips, tongue and jaw), positioning you to say sounds and words more clearly.

Moving Up and Down Using the Speech Stairs for Improving Public Speaking

       cat                        ve-                       go                                    work
The       is        She is     ry              Let’s     to                   You can       af-
                 fat.                      pre-                          the                                        ter                  
                                                   tty.                         wedd-                                   you                             
                                                                                          ing.                                   eat.

  • In the first example, there is a rise in pitch on the word “cat.” Then the melody moves down in pitch on each syllable for the rest of the statement. The rise up in pitch followed by moving down in pitch on each syllable creates the melody.

  • In the second example, the rise in pitch is on the first syllable of “very.” The phrase “She is” stays at the same pitch. As soon as there is a rise in pitch, there is a drop on every syllable for the rest of the statement.

  • Notice the same pitch style in the other two examples.

Note: As a reminder, a syllable is an individual sound segment or beat in a word, which is usually a consonant and vowel combination. For example, “cat” is a one-syllable word, “pizza” is a two-syllable word and “computer” is a three-syllable word.

The next time you watch the news pay close attention to the broadcasters. You will be able to identify pitch changes and hear the “speech stairs” intonation in their statements. They are professional public speakers and you can be too. A good activity for improving your understanding of the speech stairs is to repeat lines from news broadcasters. Mute the television and try to say the line you just heard in the same spoken style.

If you are a ‘fast talker… Hold the vowel sound longer with each syllable as you move up and down the speech stairs. Holding the vowel sound longer on each syllable will naturally slow your rate to a speed that is professional and will bring out a more powerful voice because vowel sounds are voiced sounds. When you talk fast or mumble vowel sounds are not held for very long which makes your voice seem quiet. You may notice that you do not project as well as others. It is exhausting processing fast speech and is a poor habit to bring when you are public speaking and need to persuade or lead.

Homework: Listen for the speech stairs intonation in other people. Practice it in your car where you have privacy. Try saying simple lines with it at work. Start using your speech notebook that was discussed in Series one.

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