12 Delivery: A Recipe for Great Speaking

Megan Orcholski, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the importance of delivery and its impact on public speaking.
  • Learn what tools create delivery and have a basic understanding of how to use them.
  • Be better prepared to deliver a speech!

Imagine you go to a restaurant and order a dish that sounds delicious.  When they bring you the food, it is cooked without care, unseasoned, and slopped onto your plate. It doesn’t look or taste very good. You’re hungry, so you eat it. It still has nutritional value, but you don’t enjoy it. You probably won’t remember this meal, and if you do, you will probably only remember how bad it was. When food is cooked, there is a lot of thought that goes into how the person eating the food (the audience) will feel when they eat it. Delivery is similar, as it is the vehicle for how an audience consumes a speech. The audience will get the speech whether it’s perfectly seasoned or thrown together without care. You have the opportunity as a speaker to make your content and performance appetizing to your audience!

Delivery can be thought of as the “icing on the cake,” but let’s break that down. Can you eat cake without icing? Sure. But icing is intended to complement the cake, make it look pretty, and taste better. Similarly, bad delivery can call attention to itself or make the cake worse. As a good friend of mine says, excellent delivery can enhance the content and make it taste sweeter.

Delivery is not always valued as an essential part of presentations by speakers. For example, have you ever had a teacher who was incredibly boring, didn’t look at you, or stumbled through their lectures? You, as the audience, probably wished they had practiced their delivery. To an audience, delivery is important. It can be the difference between an audience tolerating what you are saying and an audience really understanding, enjoying, and remembering your content.

Often, speakers in my class treat delivery like a magical talent that some people are lucky enough to have and others don’t. However, delivery skills can be learned by practice. Imagine speaking to someone who says, “I’m bad at downhill skiing.” You may reply, “Do you ski a lot?” or “Have you taken any lessons?” If someone does not practice and learn basic skills, they cannot expect to do well at a skill like skiing. Speaking is also a skill. It is something which you can practice, train, and improve. Yes, there are certainly some individuals for whom strong delivery seems to come naturally, but anyone can be an effective presenter if they are willing to practice. You do not have to like public speaking to be good at it. So get ready to get great at gifting your messages to audiences!

How to Effectively Use Your Voice

Vocalics also known as paralanguage, refers to the pieces of oral communication which convey meaning beyond the words. Have you heard the proverb, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it?” Vocalics is referring to the “how.” There are five distinct vocalics: volume, pitch, rate, articulation, and pronunciation. The first three (volume, pitch, and rate)  are nonverbal components that are present in both oral and verbal communication. Oral, referring to the mouth, can be any sound or noise. Let’s say your blowing air out of your lips, making a loud sigh or humming, you are still using volume, pitch, and rate even though you aren’t saying words. Volume, pitch, and rate work nonverbally or in connection with the words to create meaning. The final two vocalics, articulation and pronunciation, are only present in verbal communication, as they address how words are formed and emphasized.

Vocalics, also known as paralanguage, refers to the pieces of oral communication which convey meaning beyond the words.

Think of vocalics as the basic ingredients of delivery. By learning how to utilize them, you can make unlimited types of delivery dishes. Having an understanding of how vocalics work and the main things they communicate will allow you to have more control over how you are communicating with your audience.


Volume has to do with how loud, or soft, something is. This is probably a pretty familiar concept, but you may not have thought deeply about how volume functions as a communication tool. Volume is associated with power and control. When a person gets louder, it is often because they want to be heard. Imagine a child who is trying to get the attention of busy adults or a customer trying to get the attention of a server at a crowded restaurant. Increasing volume is a way for a speaker to direct focus to themselves. However, the relationship between volume and power is more complicated. Being louder does not necessarily translate to more power. Instead, volume can work in complex ways to create meaning. Sure, getting louder or yelling can communicate importance or control, but so too can a drop in volume. For example, when parents are trying to get children to do something, the indication of it getting serious is often when they go from yelling to talking in a soft, controlled, serious manner. I knew as a child that it was when my parents got very quiet was when I was actually in big trouble!

Try It: Talk to Grandma

For a lot of people, an appropriate volume is a huge problem. Even when they think they are loud enough, it can still be a struggle to hear them well enough to easily understand what they are saying. If you have seen the movie Sister Act, think about the scene where Whoopi Goldberg’s character uses visualization to get the young singer to be loud enough and find her voice. Visualization may work for you too. Start by visualizing an older relative or friend who doesn’t hear very well. Imagine they are coming to see you speak. They will want to be able to hear you. In your head, place them behind the last row of the audience. If you are always making sure they can hear you from behind the last person, your volume should be adequate for the size of the audience and space.


When using volume as a tool of communication, speakers must consider projection. When you are speaking for an audience, you want to be loud enough to be heard. This volume often requires speakers to adjust how they project sound and focus their sound towards a target.[i] If you have had any music or theater training, you probably already understand the basics of focusing and directing your sound. You will want to have strong breath support to properly project. This breath support can be achieved by making sure you are not breathing shallowly with your shoulders, but rather pulling air all the way down to your diaphragm or about two inches below your belly button.

To get louder, people often use the throat and increase how hard the vocal cords are working, but this can strain the voice and also produce a stressed sound. A better way to achieve increased projection is to pull in a lot of air using your diaphragm so that more air can flow over your vocal cords. Your breath support will help you be able to control your volume.

Finally, you will want to focus your projection or have motivation in your volume. We do this all the time, like when we are at a sporting event and cheering your favorite player or when you are at a loud party and want to have a conversation with one person.[ii] You will adjust your volume to match your speaking situation. In these cases, the direction of your projection helps aid your volume in communicating intention and meaning. Use changes in volume meaningfully and deliberately to focus communication, emphasize ideas, or make yourself heard.

Try It: Using your Diaphragm

Breath support is crucial for projecting your voice without straining your vocal cords.  To make sure you are breathing deeply enough, place your hand below your belly button.  When you fill yourself with air, your hand should rise.  To start, try laying down.  This technique can help you to breathe deeply and relax.  You can also see your hand move!  If you find that your shoulders or chest are moving, you are probably not breathing deeply enough.  To help, visualize that you are pulling from your toes.  Your toes are not part of the breathing process, but thinking about drawing from your whole body can help deepen your breath.


Pitch deals with where your voice is resonating on the musical scale. If you start humming, a musician would be able to match the tone of your hum on their musical instrument. All of us have a pitch we naturally tend to. Our pitch is based on both the make-up of our body, specifically the length of one’s vocal folds and size of the vocal tract, and our socialization. Pitch is determined by how much your vocal folds are vibrating.  Vibrating fast at a high cycle produces a higher pitch, whereas fewer vibrations create a lower pitch.[i]  While our biology determines our abilities and range, a person may also vary or control their pitch based on cultural and social roles.   Pitch is often used to communicate gender, as the physiological makeup is connected to sex. Female voices are, on average, about an octave higher than male voices. This claim is a generalization and can vary based on the individual. But this idea was demonstrated on a daily basis before everyone had a cell phone and the main phone used was a house phone. If a person unfamiliar with the house called, they had to rely solely on a person’s pitch to determine gender and age. Many of us, who grew up with a house phone, have a story of being mistaken for someone else in the household or being labeled with a gender we don’t identify with. Though our bodies may limit our pitch, we do have the ability to utilize pitch variation to give meaning to our words.

As with the other vocalics, pitch gets more interesting when it changes. Intonation refers to how your pitch rises and falls, creating vocal variety. When pitch rises, the voice communicates uncertainty or indecisiveness. This can be seen when we ask questions. However, some people tend to go up at the end of their sentences even when it is not a question.[ii] For example, imagine saying the phrase “I like your shirt” to a friend. Try it right now with your tone going up at the end. Now say it with your tone staying the same or coming down. Your intonation drastically changes the meaning.

Intonation refers to how your pitch rises and falls, creating vocal variety.

As a speaker, you want to be careful you are not communicating hesitancy or uncertainty when you intend to communicate confidence. Similarly, the dropping of pitch communicates certainty or finality. An example of this is in the Wizard of Oz when the Winkie guards are marching outside of the Wicked Witch’s castle. You can hear them sing, “O-Ee-Yah! Eoh-Ah!”[iii] Not only can you hear them change their intonation throughout the song, but their pitch lowers at the end of the phrase, creating finality to what may otherwise be meaningless sounds.

Try It: Play Around

Speakers do not tend to use as much vocal variety as they are capable of because they are not aware of how much variation they could have. One way to explore pitch is to specifically practice trying different tonal changes when you are speaking. First, to warm up, make noise all the way up and down the tonal scale. Start by making a high pitch and then falling to as low as you can comfortably go. Then go back up. (If you have a piano, you can plunk out notes or do scales). Once you’ve established your range, then pick a line or two in your speech, use the Pledge of Allegiance, or anything else you know very well. Try to speak those sentences in at least ten different ways. Each time, change your tone to play with how you could say the line or phrase. Pay attention to how your tone will impact the audience’s understanding of what you are saying. Focusing on your impact can be especially important on the last line of an argument or the end of the speech. Working to bring your pitch up in the middle of the sentence and dropping it at the end for finality can help you finish strong.


At its most basic, rate deals with speed, specifically how quickly or how slowly the words are spoken. This speed not only deals with the sounds within a word, but also the spaces between words. The speed at which words are spoken is connected to perceptions of emotional control. A fast rate is associated with uncontrolled or extreme emotion, whereas a slow rate is associated with controlled emotion. Think of an excited child trying to tell you a story. Their quick pace may sound frantic or frenzied. Now contrast that with how President Obama spoke during his public speeches. He typically has a very deliberate pace that communicated his command of the situation. You will want to pay attention to your rate in general, but you are also able to vary your rate to communicate meaning. For example, when you have something that is very important, slowing down the rate can help the point come across as important to the audience.

Speaking too quickly is a common problem, but you can train yourself to speak slower. Unfortunately, trying to “be slower!” doesn’t usually help. One tip is to think of putting little tiny spacers between your words. This way, it is easier to be understood, even at a fast pace. It’s like a friendship bracelet–if you put all of the beautiful, glamorous beads together, it looks gaudy. So, you separate them by clear or white spacer beads, making the beauty easier to look at and more fluid. By giving your words tiny spaces around them, your articulation will be stronger, and your words will be easier to understand. Some students also benefit from simply writing “pause” or “breath” on their note cards. These words can remind you to slow your rate, even if you are nervous during your speech.

Pacing can be an effective way of creating meaning and allowing your audience to absorb those meanings. A well-placed pause or giving more time to an explanation can help your audience understand and retain the information you are telling them. Your speaking rate is especially important because your audience is trying to mentally digest what you are saying. They cannot control the speed with which they receive the information, but you can help your audience have time to absorb and process information by being conscious of your rate.

Speakers often throw out information without much thought to the speed or pacing. Think about spoon-feeding a baby. Baby’s don’t have much control over how fast they receive their food. If you feed them too fast, they will cough and choke, and baby food will potentially come out their nose! When you feed a baby, you adjust your speech based on how long it takes the baby to taste, swallow, and enjoy the food. You want to do the same thing with your audience. Pay attention to how they are reacting and how they are absorbing the information. Observation is especially important during transitions of points or topics. Have you ever fed a baby a bite of peas and then a bite of bananas? It’s hilarious. The baby makes weird funny faces because their expectations were violated—they were expecting peas and got bananas instead. When you switch food, you often take a pause, maybe give the baby a sip of water. You want them to know you are moving to a different food. Similarly, a speaker should utilize their delivery to lead the audience from one point to the next. By paying attention to your pacing, your audience will be able to retain and remember more of your information.

Try It: Object Toss

One way to help you with your pacing is to picture your words as tangible objects going toward your audience. To practice this, get a bowl of cotton balls, pennies, scarves, or other lightweight objects. While you are practicing your speech, toss the objects toward a pretend audience (a blanket works great for this). However, you have to toss and speak at the same pace! This action shows a speaker very quickly how fast they are going. Now, one potential risk of this exercise is that you may start to find a rhythm with your tossing that may lull you into an unnatural speaking rhythm. You want your rate to sound natural and conversational, so once you get the pace under control, stop physically tossing and work to speak at that comfortable pace.

Articulation and Pronunciation

Articulation deals with how the words come out of your mouth, specifically how the words are shaped. Pronunciation is articulation combined with cultural influences to create ways of saying words that are identifiable to specific regions or groups of people. While two separate concepts, they often work in tandem when we are dealing with language. As a speaker, you want to make sure the audience can understand you. Paying attention to how you form your words can help you avoid mumbling or slurring your words together.

Pronunciation is grounded in culture and expectations can vary depending on your audience and specific speaking context. A dialect, which refers to how a person or group specifically forms their words and arranges their grammar, may impact how you are communicating with your audience. You may want to be aware if the audience has a similar or different dialect than you. For example, if you grew up in the Midwest, you may refer to Pepsi as “pop” with the o sounding more like an a. Whereas, those in the south would refer to it as a “coke” with a long o sound. And then there is the rest of the nation who say “soda.”  People often forget they have a dialect and will sometimes view other dialects as inferior. But everyone has a dialect that delineates from ethnic heritage as well as regional locations. Being aware of dialect is important in public speaking because parts of your dialect may not be familiar to a group who uses a different one. You may end up using a term common to you, but unfamiliar to your audience. You may also pronounce a word in a way that the audience wouldn’t understand. By being aware of these issues, you can address them in your presentation if necessary.

Try It: All it Takes is a Pencil

If you are struggling with articulation or worried you are mumbling, a pencil can help your mouth realize how it’s forming words. Put the pencil in your mouth horizontally, and bite down on it. Say your speech with the pencil in your mouth until your words can be completely understood. Once you are understandable, pull the pencil out of your mouth WHILE YOU ARE TALKING. You should be able to feel the difference. This exercise can help train the muscles how to properly enunciate.

Vocal Variety

While there are different vocalics, they function together to create meaning and vocal variety. Be aware of how volume, pitch, rate, articulation, and pronunciation are working together in your speech to communicate to the audience. What does it do to a sentence when you get quieter, slow down, and drop your pitch all at the same time? How about getting louder, speeding up, and raising your pitch all while over articulating? These tools are excellent for helping to craft meaning beyond your words. Being aware of how they interact with each other can increase your ability to utilize them for making meaning when you are speaking.

Types of Vocalics

Volume has to do with how loud, or soft, something is.

Pitch deals with where your voice is resonating on the musical scale.

Rate deals with speed, specifically how quickly or how slowly the words are spoken.

Articulation deals with how the words come out of your mouth, specifically how the words are shaped.

Pronunciation is grounded in culture and expectations can vary depending on your audience and specific speaking context.

Vocal variety is when there are different vocalics being used, and they function together to create meaning.

How to Effectively Use your Body

To develop strong delivery skills, speakers need to realize the extent of the body’s power. Your body is an incredibly complex tool that is continuously making meaning. To start to understand this, do some people watching. What can you determine about a person based on the way they stand or how they move? Do you know how they are feeling based on their facial expressions? Beginning speakers are often quick to take their body for granted and not consciously employ choices of movement or expression. To better understand the tools of physical delivery, we will discuss kinesics and the multiple parts of nonverbal communication. Then, we will discuss proxemics or your body in relation to other objects, before ending with a discussion of appearance.

Similar to the vocalics, your body movements add to the words you are saying. Kinesics refers to how the body is interpreted as nonverbal communication and how physical movements are able to communicate on their own. Think about how often you move your body and what those movements signal to those around you. From popping your hip and crossing your arms to communicate impatience to a late friend, waving at a neighbor as you pass by, or even initiating a hug to a loved one, the movement of our bodies transmits meaning to those observing us. The significance of kinesics is heightened in a public speaking context because of the specific nature and focus of the presentation.

Kinesics refers to how the body is interpreted as nonverbal communication and how physical movements are able to communicate on their own.


Most of us have a basic understanding of posture, even if just from being told to “stand up straight” as a kid. However, posture is more than just standing up straight. It deals with the arrangement of your bones and muscles so that each area is allowed to do its job to its best ability. Good posture allows your body to support and control its structure without unnecessary tension in your frame or strain in the muscles.[i]

To think about your posture as a speaker, it’s helpful to think of the ranges in which your body could arrange itself. The first range is contraction to expansion. How broad are you letting your shoulders expand? How much space are you allowing your arms to take up? The amount of space you take up communicates to the audience. The next range is withdrawal and approach.  Are you leaning forward or sinking back as you speak? When you move in your speech, is it toward or away from the audience? While this happens while walking, withdrawal and approach can also be communicated while standing. Think of how a lean forward communicates advancement whereas leaning back tends to communicate moving away.

Finally, general body orientation, or where all of your parts are in relationship to each other, is important. A neutral body posture is when both feet are flat on the floor, weight is balanced, arms hang gently, and muscles are relaxed. A neutral body posture is not the way most people tend to stand. Many people pop their hip or cross their legs. These stances do not provide a strong foundation to pull breath and initiate movement. As with all of the other components of delivery, there is not an ultimate right or wrong way to stand. Rather, thinking about your stance in relation to your message and audience is the most important consideration.

Try It: Roll it Up and Pull the String

Walk around a mall for a bit and you will be amazed by the popped hips, crossed legs, leaning, and general disregard for a balanced and strong posture. However, when you’re giving a speech, you want your body to look powerful and confident. Instead of forcing your body into an unnatural position, help your body find perfect posture on its own. Stand up straight and find balance with your weight equally distributed between both legs. Picture your spine as building blocks and, starting at your head, roll your spine down block by block until you are comfortably doubled over (do not stretch beyond your capabilities). Here, breathe deeply a few times. As you breathe, feel your back rise and fall with the inhale and exhale. Then slowly, block by block, roll back up until your head is gently floating on tip of your neck. Picture a string connected to your spine that comes out of the top of your head. By gently “pulling” that string at the end, your body should naturally lift into the correct posture. You don’t want to be tense. It may help to think “Bones up, Muscles down.”


While all of the pieces of our body are important for communicating, our arms and hands are arguably the most moveable and versatile. They can help enhance the emotional impact of your verbal message. Gestures are when our arms and hands use their different types of movements to create emphasis, meaning, and symbols. Two of the most well-known categories are emblems and illustrators. Understanding emblems and illustrators can help you know more about how your gestures are communicating. An emblem happens when the body creates something which can be interpreted as a verbal word or phrase. For example, holding your index finger and your middle finger into a “V” with the other fingers closed can be interpreted as the peace sign or the number 2. To be an emblem, Steven R. Brydon and Michael D. Scott argue a gesture must do three things:[i]

  1. It must have specific meaning for the audience members.
  2. It must be used intentionally by the speaker to purposely generate meaning.
  3. It must be easily translated into a few words.

Emblems are very specific to the context. For example, signaling to a train or truck driver by making a fist with a bent elbow and pumping it up and down means “honk your horn.” But that same gesture after scoring a goal in a soccer game can mean “YES!”

Emblems are also very connected to culture. Because of this, you will want to be aware of what meaning you are communicating with your emblem. For example, most of us know that connecting your thumb and index finger into a circle with your other fingers flared up means okay in the United States. However, if you did the same gesture in Japan it means “money” and in France, it means “zero” or “worthless.”

Illustrators are similar to emblems, but instead of being directly translated, they aid the verbal messages and are more generalized meanings. For example, you can describe how big or small an object is, but it is even more effective to also show with your hands. The visualization is aided because of how your motions connect to what you are saying. To demonstrate the importance of illustrators, attempt to give directions or describe something specific without using your hands. It’s very difficult to do!

Types of Gestures

An emblem happens when the body creates something which can be interpreted as a verbal word or phrase.

Illustrators are similar to emblems, but instead of being directly translated, they aid the verbal messages and are more generalized meanings.

Facial Expressions

Faces are fantastic places for expression and communication. Facial expressions are when a speaker uses their face to communicate. The face is often completely forgotten as a communicative space. Speakers should be very aware of their face to both increase their communication and prevent sending unintentional messages to the audience. When thinking about facial expressions, it’s important to avoid a blank or unexpressive face. You also don’t want to rely on one facial expression the whole time. Like your vocal tone, your face helps convey meaning. You want it to match your topic and change with the specific information in your speech.  Smiling, for example, is incredibly underused. Many speakers get nervous about speaking and forget the elemental power of a smile. Obviously, there are times and topics for which a smile would not be the appropriate facial expression. But just as we do in conversations with our friends, do not be afraid to use your face to help communicate.

Eye Contact

Eye contact is important for establishing a connection and communicating with the audience. Eye contact is when the speaker meaningfully connects to the audience with their eyes. The first step to utilizing eye contact is to know your information well enough to be able to speak while making eye contact. This step may seem like common sense, but it can be incredibly difficult to do. Most beginning speakers rely very heavily on their notes or manuscript. I have often told students that I’m jealous of the podium or notecard because it gets all their attention! It may seem scary to look up at the audience, but sustained eye contact has the power to make you feel both physically and emotionally closer to each other.[i] In Western culture, eye contact works to establish a connection, communicate confidence, and affirm credibility.

Once you’re able to look up at the audience, it is important to practice looking directly in the eyes of the audience members. You cannot fake eye contact! If you can see your audience, they will know whether you are actually looking at them or if you are looking over the top of their heads.[ii] Direct eye contact is especially important if it is a smaller audience. If it is a larger audience or if you are on a lighted stage and can’t see the individuals in the audience, you will still want to direct your energy at specific spots to make it feel personal.  There is no set time for how long to hold eye contact, as it is another variable which changes with the situation and circumstances.  However, most speakers think they are holding their eye contact for longer than they are.  Audiences gain a tremendous amount of energy and connection through eye contact, so making sure you are holding your eye contact for a significant amount of time is important.

Try It: Holding Eye Contact

One of my favorite mentors from college does this activity in class to show how really effective eye contact should make you feel. He will look at someone and say “Hi! You are my favorite. You are the only person I care about in this room. All these other people don’t mean anything to me. I have to look over there for a minute, but I’ll be right back…don’t forget you’re my favorite!” Then he looks to the next person and says, “Hi! You’re my favorite. You’re the only person I care about in this room…” After three or four people you understand how eye contact can make you feel like you are important and being spoken to at the individual level.[1]  To practice eye contact, rehearse in front of objects with eyes. Obviously, a practice audience is the best. But if you don’t have one, you can use stuffed animals, pictures, posters, or anything that has eyes you can connect with. Set a few up around the room and practice playing connect the dots with your eyes while you speak. This will help you practice moving your attention from person to person instead of glancing at the wall, the clock, the floor on your way from one individual to another.

Make your Movement Matter

To make choices about your movement, you first need to be conscious of your body while speaking. I once watched a student twirl the lanyard from the keys in his pocket for most of his speech. When he saw the video, he was shocked because he had no memory of what his hands were doing during the speech. The brain is complicated and tricky. You need to train your brain to recognize and control what your body is doing while you speak. This training is comparable to a basketball player doing layups over and over or a baseball player practicing their swing. You want to know the movements so well that your muscle memory takes over while you are speaking. Many people will either not move at all or move for no particular reason.

Remember, movement helps aid in the communication process. In the same way, you are carefully selecting your words, you also want to choose your movements. If you don’t have a justified reason to move, you do not need to move. Save your energy for when the movement aids your message. One visualization that helps me is picturing my body as full of energy. That energy has to be used for certain things, such as making a sound to say the words, thinking about what comes next, and moving my head to have good eye contact. Sometimes the body does things that waste energy. Many people have ineffective habits, such as crossing legs, leaning on the podium, or pacing. Personally, I sway. If left to my own devices, I would sway the entire time I teach a course. Which would be incredibly distracting and unnecessary, not to mention tiring. So, I employ body consciousness to focus that energy into my words instead of wasting it swaying. This consciousness can take a lot of practice and mental energy. However, by employing body control and making conscious movements, you can increase your audience connection and enhance your topic.

Parts of Kinesics 

Posture is the arrangement of your bones and muscles so that each area of the body is allowed to do its job to its best ability.

Gestures are when our arms and hands use their different types of movements to create emphasis, meaning, and symbols.

Facial expressions are when a speaker uses their face to communicate.

Eye contact is when the speaker meaningfully connects to the audience with their eyes.


Proxemics deals with space and location, specifically with how close humans are to each other. There is certainly a physical aspect to how bodies move together in spaces.  There is also a cultural connection to proxemics. Think about how you are around certain people. You probably have a specific comfortable distance you usually stand away from people, and that distance most likely varies based on who the other person is. You may also have that one friend who has no personal space and will talk very close to you.

Proxemics deals with space and location, specifically with how close humans are to each other.

Proxemics is important in public speaking. If a podium or table is in the room, you will need to make a choice whether to stand behind, in front, or move the object out of the way. You do not want to be too far away from our audience, as a connection with the audience is important. However, you also don’t want to be too close, potentially making your audience uncomfortable or cutting off eye contact to parts of your audience. If you choose to move during your speech, pay attention when you are moving away and when you are moving toward them. Increasing or decreasing your distance during specific parts of your speech can enhance your message.


How you look matters, but I often find my students oversimplify this idea. There isn’t one way to look or appear. My students frequently ask if they have to “dress up” for their speeches. I point out that appearance doesn’t appear anywhere in my grading rubric, but appearance impacts a speaker’s ethos. It is more important that you are thinking critically about your speaking appearance than relying on one way to always look.

When you have to speak in public, consider the details of the situation. Is there anything specific you should wear to the occasion? How will your clothing communicate? Will it interact with your meaning? In an advanced public speaking course I taught, an experienced public speaker who showed up to every speech day in a full suit and pantyhose. This student was a self-proclaimed nerd and a huge Trekkie, so for a humorous speech assignment, she chose the topic of Star Trek. In the feedback session, a classmate said, “it’s too bad you don’t have a Star Trek uniform. That would have really added to your speech.” The student’s face fell—of course she owned a uniform! But, it had never occurred to her to wear it because she was so used to dressing up for speeches. For her final speech, she wore her Star Trek uniform and noted how it was the first public speech she’d ever given in anything other than a suit, citing that as part of her growth. As long as you are critically thinking about your appearance during a speech, you will be able to make conscious choices about what to wear.

Types of Preparation and Delivery

There are four styles of delivery that tend to be most useful for public speaking: manuscript, memory, impromptu, and extemporaneous.

Speaking from a Manuscript

In my experience, speaking from a manuscript is the type of delivery people tend to want to try. I have had students say it makes them feel more safe and comfortable to have every word planned out. That is an advantage of speaking from a manuscript. Manuscript speaking should be used in cases where getting the exact words correct are very important. In cases of intense or emotional speaking, a manuscript can also be the best delivery method. I had the opportunity to give my father’s eulogy when I was 21. This was an instance when I choose to use a manuscript in order to have a very well-constructed speech in an emotional time. There may be formal contexts where a manuscript would be preferred or follows the norms of the occasion. Former President Obama is an excellent example of someone who employs manuscript speaking in emotional times like after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. A manuscript allowed the president to be comforting even in the face of tragedy.

If you plan to speak from a manuscript, you need to be aware of the challenges this type of speaking creates.  Effectively speaking from a manuscript is harder than most people anticipate. Remember, the words are only part of the issue. As we have seen in this chapter, there are so many other components that go into delivery. Reading from a manuscript often causes speakers to talk very fast and not look up enough to connect with the audience. Because of this, manuscript speaking often leads to an uninteresting or disconnected performance. But, this does not mean manuscript delivery can’t be done well. Delivery from a manuscript can be effective with a significant amount of time and practice.

Speaking from Memory

There are some instances that may benefit from a memorized speech. For example, you may find yourself in a situation where memorization is required, such a speaking contest. You may find times you don’t want to use notes, such as at a wedding giving a toast. Memorization can be very beneficial, especially if the speech is short or the material is very familiar to you.  First, memorization is the method that allows for the most audience connection. Since you don’t notes or a script to look at, you can engage your body, face, and eyes with the audience the entire time. Practicing your material thoroughly can put the speaker at ease.

But, like manuscript speaking, people greatly underestimate how much work it takes to speak from memory effectively. Different people have varying abilities when it comes to memorizing, but it almost always takes longer to memorize than people anticipate. You can’t just memorize the words, but rather you must know the material deeply in order to confidently speak from memory. Additionally, while the payoff can be great, so is the risk. Even with a lot of practice, speaking from memory may increase nerves and there is always a chance of a forgetting the material.  Even if a speaker is well rehearsed, blanking in the moment is possible. You will want to practice blanking and know how to handle it if it happens. Finally, you will need to work hard to speak in the moment. While this method does allow you the most freedom with your voice and body in the moment, it is common to sound over-rehearsed or on autopilot. Make sure you are staying in the moment by really talking to your audience instead of at them.

Try It: Tips for Memorizing

  1. The more you can do to help your brain remember, the easier it will be to learn your speech. One way to help is to color-code your script by point. If your intro is one color, your first point is a different color and so on, it will help your brain remember the pieces of your speech. Another way to help is to stand in the places you plan to give each point. If you plan to move, placing your color-coded part in that place to help you associate the words with the space can be very effective. This process mimics how Greek orators memorized long stories and passages. They would walk, associating the ideas with where they were.
  2. Combine content memorization with word for word memorization. Use your outline to memorize the flow of ideas, the main points and where they go. Then, if you mess up or forget the individual words in a spot, you will be able to default to talking about the main ideas or jumping to the next part you remember.
  3. Practice in multiple contexts. Moving contexts will help your brain recall in many different circumstances. If you only ever practice in the car, your body will not be used to standing to deliver. Practicing in multiple spaces and for actual people can help increase the trustworthiness of the memory recall.

Impromptu Speaking

Impromptu speaking happens when a person has little or no time to prepare for the speaking situation. You may be thinking that this mode of delivery sounds terrifying, but you actually already practice impromptu speaking quite often. Anytime someone asks you for a short introduction about yourself, you speak to a group about yourself for a few minutes; or, when someone asks what you thought of the movie you just saw and you give a detailed answer, you are employing impromptu speaking. This method is not one that should be chosen for a speech you have time to or are required to prepare. Instead, think of this more as a skill or a recognition of circumstance to improve your speaking in these moments.

One key to impromptu speaking is to practice active listening. If you are in a meeting or a class where you know you may be called on to share your thoughts, intensely listening to what is happening and mentally engaging in the ideas will help you formulate your answer if someone asks you to talk. Anticipating impromptu opportunities can always be helpful in mentally preparing. I have been to several funerals and memorials where they open up the floor for people to share memories or say a few words. In these cases, I start thinking about what I want to say in advance by going over the order of my brief message in my head. In some cases, you may even want to jot down a few quick notes to help you stay focused.

Extemporaneous Speaking

The definition of extemporaneous speaking is to speak from limited notes. Extemporaneous speaking often gets confused with impromptu or off-the-cuff speaking, with people assuming you don’t have to prepare much before the speech. But, extemporaneous speaking is actually an engaged process that forces you to do a lot of research, organizing, and writing before you actively practice your delivery. There are several advantages of extemporaneous speaking. First, you are prepared but flexible in the moment. This level of preparation can prevent you from sounding robotic and encourage you to react to your specific audience in the speaking moment. Second, this type of speaking allows you opportunities to connect with the audience while not having to rely on your memory recall to know every word. Finally, you can adapt to your audience and the situation. If the audience laughs or reacts really well to something, you can mention it or add a reaction. If you are running out of time, you can make adjustments quickly to make sure you get out the most important information with the remaining speaking time.

The main disadvantage of extemporaneous speaking is that most people are not familiar with this process and it takes some getting used to. Beginning speakers, even if they are attempting extemporaneous speaking, will often make outlines with too many details and not practice enough which usually turns into reading a script. The process for practicing a strong extemporaneous speech can feel very different than other types of speaking methods. Instead of spending the majority of the time crafting each word, you need to practice talking. This practice can feel non-intuitive to writers or people who want their speech to sound perfect. Instead of writing every word, you want to craft a strong outline to use while you speak. Then, you want to stand up and practice it. I will say that again so you really believe me—stand up and try it!! Do not wait until you think you have everything perfect. You will run out of time, as it will never be perfect. And, practicing will help you make your outline stronger. Strengthening your outline with help you speak better in the moment. Go back and forth until you think you have a strong grasp on the concepts and can speak from your notes in the strong way you practiced.

This type of delivery is often the most effective and the one you will probably utilize the most beyond speaking classes. I highly encourage you to learn this skill and to practice it.  You want to have a grasp of all of the styles of delivery. If you are in a class, that is a great place to practice extemporaneous speaking and get better at it. That way you understand and can use the multiple methods of delivering speeches. Extemporaneous speaking is often the most employed style in prepared speeches. It is what you will likely use in your job or at events you’ve been asked to speak. Learning how to do it well will be incredibly useful.

Remember, the most important thing is to choose the method that fits you and the situation best. You may also want to consider your strengthens and weaknesses as a speaker. The more you are critically thinking about the speech and it’s circumstances, the better qualified you are to make choices about how to best get your message to the audience.

Delivery and Audience Connection

You are not a TV

Many speakers suffer from what I have termed “the TV effect.” Have you ever noticed your TV doesn’t care about you? If you are watching it and you have to leave to get a snack, the TV just keeps on playing. It doesn’t wait, and it doesn’t pause. Or, you laugh out loud at something in a show. The TV doesn’t pause for your laughter or even recognize you have laughed. At times, speakers act this way. They are nervous and just want to get the speech done. So, they get up and go! However, the brilliance of performance is how we can adjust in the moment and react to what is happening in our current situation. Your speaking is enhanced by the audiences’ reactions, the space you are speaking in, and how you are performing in the moment. Keep working to utilize the tools in this chapter to enhance your delivery during live performances.

You are not a train

The fear of doing something “wrong” often prevents speakers from achieving an audience connection. They are afraid they will mess up. I’ve even seen speakers ask to “start over” as if I am in control of them. Speakers often act like they are a train on train tracks. When it’s time to go, they go! They are chugging along, not looking up, not pausing, not paying attention to the audience, because they are afraid they will mess up and fall off the tracks. If a train is disturbed in its route, it doesn’t have a lot of options. It can go forward, backward, or just fall over. You are not on train tracks. Rather, you are in a field on a fairly trampled path. You have crafted the way to go but may veer off for one reason or another. If that happens, pick some berries, and find a way back to the path. Your audience may think that’s part of the journey or might be pleasantly surprised by the detour.

You are a tour guide!

Remember, your speech is a new destination where your audience has never been, and you are their tour guide. If you throw them onto the bus, hit the gas at 100 miles an hour, and never point out the sights, they are not going to enjoy the tour. You have the power to make it enjoyable for them. Help them onto the bus. Make sure they are comfortable. Connect with them. Go at a decent pace for them, so they don’t feel like you’re going to “crash.” Remember, that pace might be different than you want to go as the driver. Have you ever ridden with someone who is driving just a little too fast? They know they are in control because they are driving. But, the passenger does not necessarily feel comfortable. Adjust your pace with the audience in mind. Point out the important parts of your speech using emphasis. Make sure they can hear you. By being a good tour guide, your audience will definitely enjoy the trip!

Being yourself

When learning how to speak, speakers often fall into a few delivery traps when they are trying to deliver the speech “correctly.” They rely on reading or ignore their audience. Even when they conquer some of these basic delivery strategies, they still revert back and sound like a generic speaker. They fall into vocal patterns and don’t choose the pacing for their material or audience. They sound fine on the surface, but they don’t sound like themselves. In an attempt to do the speech “right,” speakers end up not actually being effective because they are not making conscious choices with themselves and the audience in mind.

Even if you are nervous, keep working to channel the verbal and physical qualities that are unique to you. Audiences want personality. Do not be afraid to let yours come through. You do not need to sound scripted or robotic to be an effective speaker. In fact, most people prefer someone who they can tell is a person beyond the confines of the speaking moment. One thing that can help you relax into being your engaging self is to think of yourself as an audience member. What do you enjoy? How do you want to be talked to? If you don’t enjoy monotone speaking (and few do), then work to have vocal variety. If you don’t want to work to hear and understand the words, work to be loud enough.  If you prefer someone who is smiling, connected and engaging you, then work to be that person! You have the power to be entertaining! It takes practice, but you are capable of engaging the audience as yourself.

Audience participation

It is tempting to think of a speech as a speaker standing in front of an audience dumping information on them. But, as we have learned in this chapter, delivering a speech is an interactive performance that involves both the speaker and the audience. The level of audience participation may vary based on the speech and situation. For example, there may be times you ask questions to the audience that you actually want them to answer. Make sure you are patient and give them enough time to answer, as they may be used to answering a speaker’s questions.

Regulators, or gestures that control the flow of interaction can be used here. This may involve head nodding or moving your arms in a way to encourage your audience to participate. You may even find yourself in situations where there is a question and answer session as part of your speaking opportunity. The more you know about your topic, the more at ease you will be during this period. It is common to fear that an audience member might ask a question and you don’t know the answer. If this happens, there is no need to fake your way through an answer. Just explain how you don’t have that specific information and potentially discuss where they could find it.

Regulators are gestures that control the flow of interaction.

Actively listening to the question posed will help you formulate an answer. Don’t be afraid to be short and sweet. Often by that time, the audience has sat through your whole speech. While there are certainly times and occasions for drawn-out answers and discussions, be aware of how long you take to answer. They may be looking for a short supplement to what you already covered.

You have the power!

In the end, remember you are in charge of your vocal and physical choices as a speaker. It doesn’t always feel that way, but with practice and exercises, you will gain more awareness of what your voice and body are doing during a speech. Then, you will be able to make conscious choices to control them in order to make your speech more impactful. By working on delivery alongside the construction of your speech, you ensure your audience with be engaged and listening to you. Your practicing will help get your audience interested in your topic, retain what you are saying, and think deeply about your concepts.


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Stand up, Speak out Copyright © 2017 by Josh Miller; Marnie Lawler-Mcdonough; Megan Orcholski; Kristin Woodward; Lisa Roth; and Emily Mueller is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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