Richard F. Taflinger, PhD

Chapter Eight:

Everyone's Favorite Method of Communicating --


As you're walking down a street one day, you encounter a friend and wish to express a greeting. Do you touch noses? Do you sniff each other? Do you grimace, flap your arms, jump up and down and assume contorted postures? If you were a cat, a dog, or a chimpanzee you would. However, being human you say, "Hello, how are you?" "Fine, how are you?" (Or words to that effect.)

Why do you react that way? Why not check body odors or assume physical stances? Why do you speak? For that matter, how is it possible that you, as a human, can do what no other creature (as far as we know) can do -- verbally express emotions and ideas?

Speech is an unusual, if not unique, characteristic of humans. There are those who attribute meaning to sounds made by a wide variety of animals, from dogs to chimpanzees to dolphins and whales. I do not denigrate these possibilities, but thus far (other than for dolphins) there is no indication that the sounds made are meaningful in the sense that human speech is. By that I mean that the sounds carry not only immediate expressions of sensory impressions (I sense danger, I'm hungry, I wish to procreate, etc.) but abstractions and a sense of the world outside the immediate.

If speaking is so unusual, why is the organized and conscious production of modulated sound (a fancy way of saying "talking") a possibility for human beings? How is it that humans are physiologically and psychologically fitted for speech?

A variety of theories exists, few that satisfactorily explain why humans would develop such an unusual capability. I will digress briefly to discuss the one theory that, to me does satisfactorily explain such an aberration.

Helen Morgan, in her book, THE DESCENT OF WOMAN, advances the theory that humans did not evolve, as current anthropological thinking goes, by descending from the trees and going out on the savannas of Africa, but descending from the trees and going to the seashore.

I must admit at this point that this idea is contrary to and disagreed with by most if not all the experts in anthropology today, from Asimov to Richard Leakey. Nonetheless, I feel it explains many things that mainstream anthropology does not explain. However, the following discussion is a prime example of what I mentioned earlier -- that thinking and communication is not just a matter of reiteration or regurgitation of mainstream thought, but examining evidence and trying to find an explanation. Such is what follows.

Morgan's idea is that human evolution, from ape to protohuman capable of upright walking, tool using, and speech, took place not on the savannahs as the great hunter strove for greater cooperation in the hunt, but by the female going to the seashore and running into the water to avoid danger. Here she had to learn to stand upright to avoid drowning and learn to manipulate pebbles and stones to open the shellfish for food. Those that had a genetic predisposition to learn these skills effectively survived and procreated, thus passing the skills on genetically .

Speech, however, is an oddball. The two examples above are physiological adaptations to physiological necessities. Where does speech fit in? For speech to evolve there must be a physiological necessity leading to a greater chance for survival. What necessity is there for speech to evolve? If it is so unusual, obviously most animals have gotten along fine without it (other than the accepted use of sound as warnings or desire, etc.) How did complex meaning in sound evolve?

Morgan's idea is that, since protohuman was in the water, complex meaning was even more complex. The usual way that land animals (such as those from which humans evolved) use visual, auditory and scent signals (pheromones) to communicate with others of its species. However, in water, land species lose two of the three most important ways to communicate: sight and scent. (If you don't believe this, how well can you get a facial expression across to someone who is looking at you in water or through the glare of sunlight on the surface of water, or how well do you smell something when inhaling water? You can wave your arms, but what, besides "pay attention to me", are you communicating that way? Once you've waved your arms to get attention, what do you do next? Yell? Yell what? Words? Son of a gun!)

I must grant that the original "Wave your arms and yell" did not communicate a great deal to whoever paid attention and heard the yell. However, over time (perhaps three or four million years) the yells took on meaning. The meaning may have perhaps been "You're about to be eaten" or "there's a lot of dead fish over there", but eventually a sound that meant "leopard" may have come to be recognized by the local group, and those that could recognize the sound, and produce it, were more likely to avoid being eaten by the leopard than those who could not.

I'm sure that most early sounds that became organized speech were nouns, such as "lion" and "food", and verbs such as "run" and "eat". Nonetheless, they were sounds that carried meaning far beyond those of fear and hunger. And since, in water, only sound and not visual or olfactory senses, those that are so readily and almost exclusively used by other land animals, are available, I contend that that is how humans gained the power of speech. Those that are vital to survival are those that develop, those that aren't atrophy or do not develop (see Chapter 1, Somatic Input). Speech was vital to the shore dwelling ancestors of humans, and thus we learned to speak.


Since this is not a treatise on vocal production (there are classes in any music or theatre department for that), I will only discuss those aspects of speaking that you are currently aware of, just don't know you are.


There are, of course, opening your mouth and breathing. You will find how much easier it is to speak when you open your mouth. Many people seem to think they can communicate by mumbling through their hats through their beards at the wall. They keep their teeth clenched and their lips together. That might be fine for Clint Eastwood, but for average people without the benefit of sound engineers and close-ups such is insufficient.

In addition, since sound is produced by passing a column of air through the vocal cords and manipulating that column with lips, teeth, tongue and soft palate, inhaling once in a while helps (you would be amazed at the number of people in public speaking situations that ignore that most basic attribute of speech). Controlling the amount and pressure of the air used when speaking greatly enhances what is said.

The sounds of speech are produced through the enunciation of the letters in the words. In conversation many of the words can be elided over. That means that many of the sounds, such as final consonants (p, t, d, g, n) and initial syllables (f, th, g, etc.) are ignored as unnecessary to clear understanding of the words. This is quite true -- as long as you are no more than three feet away from your listener and are redundant enough to repeat words that were not understood the first time you said them.

An old kindergarten game proves the above. You whisper a common phrase to a person. That person whispers the phrase they heard to the next person, etc. By the time the phrase has been whispered through several people it willbe completely unrecognizable as the original phrase.

This is fine as a parlor game. As a form of communication it is terrible. If words are not clearly enunciated there is not much point is saying them -- no one will know what you're talking about.

Thus, it is necessary for you to pay attention to how you actually produce speech in a way that is not only clear, but also allows each word to have significance beyond the mere word itself. In other words, you must learn to orally interpret the words.

There are four basic characteristics of the human voice that are manipulated to create speech. In addition, by mixing these four characteristics it is possible to be interesting while speaking. The four are rate, pitch, timbre, and volume.


Rate is quite simply how quickly or slowly you speak. It is possible to s p e a k q u i t e s l o w l y orquitequickly. By altering the speed at which you speak it is possible to increase excitement or tension. For example, a gradually increasing tempo can generate excitement about what you are saying. On the other hand, speaking slowly can increase tension because the audience is waiting for each word.

There is, however, a problem with tempo. Altering it at random has the effect of disconcerting whoever is listening; they are not sure how to react.

In general, you want to use the slower pace for moments of importance, when what you have to say must be heard and understood. It is particularly useful for intellectual points or moments of deep emotion. For example, when discussing Einstein's Theory of Relativity, use the slow pace for the conclusion, what the theory means to the audience. When you want the audience to feel deeply about your ideas, whether it be love, hate, or sentimentality, slow down and let the feeling grow within them.

Whatever you do, avoid maintaining the same pace throughout what you have to say. This has the monotonous effect of counting sheep or the Chinese water torture. Either way, you lose your audience.


Pitch refers to how high or low on the musical scale you speak. Most Americans have a tendency to speak in a very narrow pitch range, about a fifth on the musical scale. Why this is, I have no idea. Europeans, Africans, Asians, and Australians tend to speak in a wide pitch range.

Listen to music. Singers vary the pitch according to how they want the audience to react. A low pitch can generate tension, a high pitch excitement. A monotone is a special effect, not a standard way of singing.

Singing is a special case of speech, sometimes called sustained talking. However, it is possible to regard speech as unsustained singing. In both cases, the impact of any word can be increased by choosing an appropriate pitch range.

In addition, any word with more than one syllable has one of the syllables accented. The accent is usually produced by raising the pitch of that syllable. For example, take the word "inflammable." By choosing which syllable to accent, the meaning is changed. Accent the first, it means "will not burn." Accent the second, it means "will burn." Accent the first and fourth, it's a question, "It will not burn?" Accent the second and fourth, it's a question, "It will burn?" Accent all or none, it's a noise.

Choosing where to put the accent, and how strongly to accent, can alter not only the meaning of a word, but how interested the audience is in hearing the word. Words are rarely used by themselves. Usually they are placed in sentences with other words.

Pitch is particularly useful in emphasizing the importance of a word in comparison with others. Every word in a sentence is not of equal importance. Some are symbols for the concept the speaker wishes to convey to the audience. Others are used syntactically to show the relationship between concepts. Emphasizing a word in a sentence by setting it apart from the other words through a higher or lower pitch clarifies the importance of the words.

For example, let's change the emphasis of each word in the sentence, "He went to town." He went to town emphasizes who did something. He went to town emphasizes what happened. He went to town emphasizes the direction in which who did what. He went to town emphasizes where he went. A lack of emphasis reduces the specificity of the sentence so an audience is unclear what is important to understand in the sentence.

Pitch is also used for vocal punctuation. A written sentence clearly shows syntax and grammar through symbols such as periods, commas, parentheses, colons, and semi-colons. These symbols are not apparent in speech. However, by using pitch it is possible to produce vocal parentheses, quotation marks, etc.. For example, a parenthetical phrase can be separated from the rest of the sentence by using a slightly lower pitch duringthe phrase and a normal pitch for the rest of the sentence. Quotations are produced by a slight pause and lift in pitch, periods by a descending pitch, question marks by an ascending pitch.

The last two, for periods and question marks, are not hard and fast rules. If the rules are invariably followed, boredom invariable follows as well. Always ending a sentence with a downward inflection becomes monotonous and singsong. It is advisable to vary the inflection just to ensure variety.


Timbre (pronounced TAMBER) is the quality of the voice. The timbre can vary from round, mellifluous pear-shaped tones to an edge that would crack plaster at twenty paces.

Alterations in the tone are produced by opening and closing the back of the throat. Try it: say aaa ("a" as is "as"), then ahhh ("a" as in "ahvocahdo"). Feel the change in the back of your throat. These are changes in the timbre of your voice.

Changes in timbre are also produced through changing the amount of air used when you speak. A breathy tone is produced by exhaling while speaking. A full tone requires tightly controlling the amount of air used, not by reducing the amount but by increasing the pressure and allowing only as much through the vocal cords as is necessary to make the sound.

The purpose of timbre changes is to alter the emotional content of the words spoken. A breathy tone can be gentle, persuasive, urging. A hard tone is commanding, insistent, or angry. A conscious choice of timbre can imbue words with such emotional overtones, even when the words themselves are not emotional. For example, the words "come here" can have different feelings depending on timbre: a breathy tone can be seductive, gently urging. The same words in a hard tone demand the action be done.


Volume refers to how loudly or softly you speak. Volume is important because if no one can hear you speak, you might as well not bother speaking at all.

Most people are used to talking in conversation. In a conversation you are rarely more than three or four feet away from your audience. Thus you have a tendency to speak quietly; if you speak loudly you attract attention to your private conversations, something that most people avoid. However, when speaking to more than your intimate friends in conversation you must speak loudly enough to be heard by everyone in the room. That is your aim.

Nonetheless, do not confuse volume with projection. High volume (better known as shouting) is annoying or painful to your audience, unattractive, and hard on the blood pressure. Projection, on the other hand, has the same effect of making what you say audible without the drawbacks of shouting.

The easiest way to consider projection is to imagine your voice as part of a slide projector. The projector is a device that takes light, shines it through a slide to create an image, focuses it through a lens and thus throws that image on a screen.

The voice can do the same thing. The light is the breath, the means by which the image is thrown. The vocal apparatus (vocal cords, tongue, and lips) are the slide. And where is the lens? That is the part that most people have a problem with. There is no physical part of the body that corresponds to the lens of a projector: the lens is away of sending the voice forward, projecting it to the audience (thus, vocal projection).

Most people, when they speak, do not let their voices travel much beyond their teeth, letting their words dribble down their chins and form a puddle at their feet. The focus of their voice is inside their mouths. It is sometimes called swallowing words.

However, if the voice is focused in front of the mouth, it has greater carrying power without increasing the volume. An old trick to help develop this technique is to hold up one finger at arm's length and try to hit you finger with your voice. Old opera movies show this technique being used, substituting a candle for the finger. If the singer was projecting, the flame would waver; if not, the flame remained still.

Volume, of course, is not to be slighted. By altering the volume you can alter an audience's perception of your words. Speaking loudly is useful to express violent emotions: anger, frustration, passion. A soft voice can express gentler emotions: love, insistence, compassion. In addition, a soft voice can create tension, a loud voice stir emotion.

However, as with rate, pitch and timbre, a single volume weakens the effectiveness of what is being said. A consistently soft voice forces the audience to listen closely, a very tiring job. They will often stop listening entirely rather than continue trying to hear.

In contrast, a consistently loud voice is irritating, the audience often thinking about how to turn down the volume rather than about what is being said.

A mix of loud, medium and soft volumes, according to what you want to accomplish, can increase theeffectiveness of what you say beyond just the words.


The four facets of the voice, rate, pitch, timbre and volume, are collectively called inflection. No one facet stands alone, but is used in combination with the others. For instance, you could use a slow rate, low pitch, open tone, and medium volume and create an impression of large size and phlegmatic temperament. A medium rate, medium pitch, closed tone and high volume creates an impression of a medium size and fiery temper. A fast rate, open tone, high pitch and medium volume creates an impression of small size and excitability.

Such inflection changes should not be limited to long series of words such as paragraphs or even sentences. By examining each word to determine the most effective way to inflect it, the whole can be greater in effectiveness than the sum of the parts.


There are other factors besides inflection that influence how others receive what you say. Some of them may not appear on the surface to have much to do with speaking. Nonetheless, all have an impact. These include enunciation, pronunciation, eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, body language, and appearance.


Enunciation is how clearly you say words. Words are a collection of letters that represent sounds. The combination of the sounds results in the words. However, if you leave some the sounds out of the word, it is difficult for a listener to understand it.

Above I discussed conversation, in which many sounds of words are elided. However, if in conversation or public speaking you are more than three or four feet from your audience, the lack of certain sounds in words make those words difficult to understand. Often the audience will mentally fill in the sounds that are missing. This too often results in the audience "hearing" something other than what you said. In this way misunderstandings arise. For example, what do you think this is: "thuh penl i muh han gru law n thi ntoo thuh sha o a brmsti; m han beka n ol struhsweeba, leen n it broo, n sle." If this seems an exaggeration, it is exactly the sounds make by one of my students reading a poem. The actual words are: "The pencil in my hand grew long and thick and took the shape of a broomstick; my hand became an old streetsweeper, leaned on its broom, and slept."

Notice that it was usually the final consonant sounds that were missing from poorly enunciated sentence. In addition, many of the internal sounds of words were altered: ee became uh, per became ba, broom became brm. When words are not enunciated, they become meaningless noises, not communication.

The cure for poor enunciation involves two steps: first, realize that you enunciate poorly; and second, overdo the enunciation. Most people think that what they are saying is clear to their audience -- after all, it's clear to themselves. However, how often do those to whom you are speaking say, "What?", or "Could you repeat that?", or "I see what you're saying," and then respond to something totally different? They are missing words or filling in the missing sounds so what you say makes sense to them even though it's not what you actually said.

The second step is to over-enunciate the words. Be conscious of the consonants, particularly the final ones, in the words you say. If necessary, spit t's and p's and d's and b's. Stretch your mouth and jaw. Too many people try to talk without opening their mouths or moving their lips. They are also often misunderstood. You may feel you're making faces at the audience. You are. You may feel ridiculous. You're not -- you're being understood.


Enunciating words is important. However, it is also necessary to enunciate the correct sounds for words to be understood.

Pronunciation involves two parts of every word: the vowel sounds, and the placement of accents on the syllables. Vowel sounds are the variety of ways you say a, e, i, o, and u. Each vowel has a long or short sound: for example, long a as in lake, short aas in lack; long e as in bee, short e as in best; long i as in I, short i as in Italy; long o as in oh, short o as in oblong; long u as in union, short u as in under.

Of course, seeing these particular letters in a word do not guarantee they are the sounds to be produced. For example, a double o, as in boot, is pronounced like a long u; oa, as in boat, is a long o; ou is pronounced like a combination of a vowel and a consonant, ow as in bout, unless it's in a word like rough, when it becomes a short u, or dough, when it becomes a long o. (Confusing, isn't it?)

Second, any word with more than one syllable has one of the syllables accented; that is, one syllable is given greater emphasis than others. For example, the word "advertisement" has four syllables. Which one gets the emphasis: ad-ver-tise-ment (long i, with a secondary stress on "tise"), ad-ver-tis-ment(short i), ad-ver-tise-ment (long i), ad-ver-tise-ment (long i)? The pronunciation changes with the stress (say each of the examples above out loud and see). If you've tried all four, you've probably noticed that you've heard three of them. Which is correct? Which is incorrect? In what situation? How do you tell?

English is a difficult language because, unlike Spanish, it is not pronounced the way it is written, unless it is. (Yes, you read that sentence correctly.) Many English words are pronounced the way they are written, such as go. However, many others are not: do you pronounce "knight" as nite or as kuh-nig-hut? "Paradigm" as pair-a-dig-mm or as pair-uh-dime? "Demesne" as deh-mez-nee or dough-main? And how do you tell? The letters in the words don't help a great deal.

The pronunciation of most words you learn as you learn the language. Later, in school, you learn the spellings of the pronunciations as you learn to read and write. That school period is often confusing to students, since the spellings often make little sense. Nonetheless, they eventually learn the rules of English spelling and pronunciation.

However, you do not learn every word and its pronunciation in school. Many times you encounter words that you haven't learned. The usual approach is to apply the rules of pronunciation you have learned to the unusual word. However, the rules may not apply. Are you sure how many syllables are in the word? are you sure how many of the letters are sounded? Are you sure of the vowel sounds (long, short, in combination)? For example, pronounce this word: POLISH. However you pronounced it, you were wrong. If you said "poh-lish" it's "pah-lish". If you said "pah-lish", it's "poh-lish". (Of course, this is a special case: written in all capital letters it's impossible to tell if your pronunciation is correct. If I write it "Polish" it refers to Poland, "polish" is what you do to your shoes, unless it is the first word in a sentence -- then what is it?) How about the word "comptroller"? According to the rules of American pronunciation, it is kahmp-troh-lr(accent on the second syllable). However, it is actually pronounced kun-troh-lr (accent on second syllable). Why? Because it is. Actually, a less flippant answer would be to discuss the entymology of the word as it came from the French, but for now take my word for it.

The cure to the problem of mispronouncing words is to, first be aware that you may not know the pronunciation, and second, look it up in a dictionary if you're not sure. This may not help if you are looking up a word you heard spoken rather than saw written since a dictionary is organized according to spelling rather than pronunciation, but it can help you avoid gaffes (look it up) when you read aloud.


A problem I've often seen among speakers, whether they are in a conversation, actors on a stage, or public speakers, is a lack of eye contact, of looking at the people to whom they are speaking. This may seem a minor detail, but it is actually a major problem in a listener's comprehension.

I have often gone to the theatre, and discovered that whether I was in the front row or the third balcony, I looked at the actor's eyes. When I asked other people, they said they did too, in a tone of amazement.

The eyes are the most expressive part of the human face. In fact, humans have facial muscles that are missing from other creatures, most of them around the eyes. For example, no other creature on earth can scowl: their eyebrows can go up, but only humans' can go down. Humans can squint. They can narrow their eyes in anger, widen them in astonishment.

(Again, I believe that humans developed these muscles as a defense against the glare of sun off the surface of the water they stood in neck deep as they evolved from protohumans. Stand in a lake or pool on a sunny day, a pay attention to what your eye muscles do to protect the eyes from the glare: they will scowl and squint. No other creature on Earth has these muscles. Your dog can raise its eyebrows, but cannot squint. The same applies to cats, birds, and apes.)

The eyes have also been called "the windows of the soul." What you really think or feel, as opposed to what you say you think or feel, is reflected in the appearance of your eyes. A good actor (or liar) has a conscious understanding and control of rher eye muscles. Phrases such as "shifty-eyed" and "steely-eyed", "wide-eyed" and "clear-eyed" are reflections of how a person looks at another when communicating. The words are understood in the context of the speaker's eye contact.

Avoiding looking in someone's eyes when you speak to them conveys a sense that what you are saying is a lie, or you don't believe it, or you are unsure of yourself. A calm gaze into the other person's eyes conveys a sense of confidence in what you are saying.

In addition, making eye contact makes a person in your audience feel that you are speaking to that individual alone, that what you are saying is important to them, and that they are important to you. People tend to pay more attention to, to be more attentive to the words of, a person who talks directly to them, a feeling created by eye contact.

Of course, avoid staring at people, locking your eyes on their's to the exclusion of all else. This makes people uncomfortable. Glance away on occasion, turn to other people. Nonetheless, don't be "shifty-eyed" by refusing to look in the eyes of your audience.

Eye contact is difficult for many people, particularly when dealing with strangers. Step into an elevator and see how many people look you in the eye (you, of course, must look them in the eye to do this test, which you will probably find difficult to do). However, with practice you will find it easier and easier to make eye contact.

Some tricks can be employed to gain practice. One is to look just above the heads of the people in the back row. Those in others rows will assume you are making eye contact with the row behind them, and will eventually get around to them. Only the back row will know better, and we can discount them for now.

A second trick is to look at the foreheads of individuals in the audience. By moving from one forehead to another it appears that you are making eye contact.

A third trick is to throw your eyes out of focus, thus turning the audience into an amorphous blur. The easiest way to do this is to remove your glasses. If you wear contacts do not remove them at the podium; that's a bit obvious. If you do not wear glasses, simply adjust your focus a bit in front of or behind the audience. Do not adjust too far in front of the audience or your turn cross-eyed, an unattractive and distracting sight.

A commonly mentioned trick is to imagine your audience is naked. This puts you at an advantage and improves your confidence. The trick does not work well if you giggle and point. It also loses effectiveness if you get mixed up and imagine yourself naked instead. It is difficult to talk hunched over with your arms crossed in front of you.

However you develop the technique of making eye contact, it is necessary and increases the effectiveness of whatever you say, no matter who your audience.


As I noted above, the human face has muscles that most other creatures do not, the eyes in particular, but the rest of the face as well. This makes the human face far more expressive than other animals'. Look at the range of possibilities: happy, sad, pensive, angry, quizzical, maudlin, unbelieving, devout, love, hatred, indifference, etc.. All of these can be seen and understood by most humans without your ever saying a word.

Since these visual manifestations of your intent are available, there is little sense in not taking advantage of them. Thus, when you speak, appropriate facial expressions can reinforce your words. Contrariwise, inappropriate facial expressions weaken your words.

On occasion, you will want to say one thing and have your audience understand another, the "smile when you say that, pardner" approach. Saying how much you like something while rolling your eyes and sneering tells the audience that you don't mean the words, that your intended meaning is the opposite of your verbal meaning. A lifted eyebrow tells the audience that the words you are using are not to be taken seriously.

A conscious understanding and use of facial expression increases the effectiveness of what you say. It may seem artificial, even manipulative, to consciously affect your audience, but any use of words, be it conversation or a speech is just as artificial and manipulative. If you wish to speak effectively, use all the tools at your command.

Of course, facial expressions are useless unless they are seen. Thus you must keep your head up and make eye contact. No matter how much muscular control you have over your hair, your face is more expressive. Do not hide your face; let it augment your words.


Gestures are the movements of your hands and arms. Some people have difficulty determining what to do with their hands when they speak: for some they assume the size of Thanksgiving turkeys flapping on the ends of their arms, for others it appears they are trying to semaphore their words. An old cliche is, "if you tie down the arms of an Italian (Frenchman, Spaniard, etc.) they can't talk at all." Although that is an exaggeration, still it is true that some people need their hands to talk.

Gestures, like facial expressions, can reinforce or weaken your words. Extending the arm, hand palm up and fingers relaxed, conveys a sense of supplication. A fist, anger. A finger pointing up, righteousness. A finger pointing at the audience, palm down, a command; palm sideways, a direction; palm up, pensiveness. When you select a gesture that reflects your words, it reinforces; select one that contradicts your words, it weakens; select one that strongly contradicts your words, it indicates that the audience should not take your words seriously.


Body language, the way you move and hold your body, has gotten something of a bad reputation due to sensational books and articles. Nonetheless, body language goes beyond projecting sexual receptiveness or interviewing techniques.

Remember that the major way in which humans communicate is words, either spoken or written. In this way humans are unique. However, other creatures do communicate, with sounds, smells, or body language. We often forget about the communicative powers of body language since we speak so often. Yet we do use our bodies to communicate. The two areas above, facial expressions and gestures, are specific examples. However, the whole body can be just as expressive.

First, let's look at stance. Stance is how you balance your body on your feet. This is necessary, of course, when you walk. However, how do you stand? Do you usually stand with you weight on one leg, the other leg bent-kneed? Do you slouch? Do you lean on things with one ankle crossed in front of the other? Each of these convey a sense of being casual, relaxed (or tired).

Do you stand tall, weight on both feet, head back? This conveys a sense of presence, or power and confidence.

There are things to bear in mind with stance. First is that how you stand influences how you breathe influences how you talk. When you lean over your diaphragm is cramped -- you can no longer take in as much air, nor have as much control over it. The column of air mentioned above has a crimp in it. The effect is the same as crimping a garden hose: the flow of water is thinned and sporadic, and may even cease completely. Thus you can run out of breath. If you wish to control your pitch, rate, timbre and volume, stand up straight.

Second, if you stand on one leg, it gets tired. So you shift to the other leg. Which also gets tired. So you shift back. And forth. And back. And forth. If you stand for more than three minutes you end up doing a bump and grind routine. If you're talking about strippers, it may be appropriate. Otherwise, it is distracting, and eventually annoying.

Third, standing up straight helps if you do it correctly. Place your feet about shoulder width apart and don't lock your knees. Standing with your ankles together soon leads to what I call the "flag-pole in the wind syndrome." You start rotating as your body tries to adjust its center of balance over that narrow point. Locking your knees can make you fall over since you lose the ability to adjust your balance. Thus widening the stance and relaxing the knees allows you to make all those little muscle adjustments necessary to maintaining balance.

Forth, don't dance. By this I mean the constant shuffling of the feet and stepping back and forth while talking. Granted, it is a way of draining off excess nervous energy, but it is also distracting and annoying. You look like you want to run (which may be true, but don't let the audience know that).

This does not mean you shouldn't move at all. What you want to avoid is aimless wandering. If you have an impulse to move, do so -- but go someplace. At least appear to have a purpose behind your movements -- as with gestures, aimless movements are meaningless movements and reduce the meanings of your words.

The final points I wish to make applies particularly in formal speaking situations. First, about the podium. You will often speakfrom behind a podium. The podium may make you feel safer (something to duck behind when the tomatoes start flying) but it can also complicate things. First, many people are nervous when they speak -- public speaking is rated as people's number one fear, coming in way ahead of dogs, spiders and even death. Thus they tend to clutch the podium in a death grip. Don't do this. First, white knuckles are unattractive. Second, it doesn't allow you to make gestures. Third, after about five minutes your hand muslces cramp and you can't let go of the podium.

Also, when approaching the podium, don't have anything but your notes in your hand. If you carry something like a pencil or pen in your hand, you will have a tendency to use it like a drum stick, tapping the podium in an attempt to drain off nervous energy. This tapping is annoying, distracting, and, taken to an extreme, can drown out your voice.

In addition, don't hit the podium. It may make you feel better, but podia are hollow and boom like a bass drum when they are hit. Put all that energy into expressing your points, not into overcoming your fear.

Second, the movements you make will tell the audience a great deal about how to listen to you. When you stand behind the podium, it conveys a sense of formality to what you are saying, that your words are important and should be taken seriously. However, if you move out from behind the podium and stand to one side or go around in front of the podium, it conveys a casualness, a more relaxed attitude. Thus, as your intent changes, so should your position relative to the podium. Don't mix them up.


Your physical appearance can have a major influence on how your listeners accept or reject your words. People judge your words before you ever open your mouth. Remember the sections on stereotyping: a "first impression" begins from your appearance. It triggers a stereotype pigeonhole and all the information in it. Thus, if you dress like a Hell's Angel, your listeners will assume certain characteristics about your behavior, intelligence and ideas. Someone in a three-piece suit triggers other pigeonholes.

Examine what you plan to say and dress accordingly. If you go on a job interview, you wouldn't dress in rags or sweats, hair a rat's nest or with a three-day growth of beard. The immediate impression you would give to an interviewer is that you care nothing about your appearance and would probably care nothing about the job, either. You probably wouldn't get the job, no matter what you said.

This idea about appearance applies in formal, informal, casual, and sloppy situations. Dress and groom accordingly. White-tie and talls and ball gowns do not apply at a barbeque; sweats and T-shirts do not apply in public speaking.


One final point about talking -- listening. Listening may seem to have little to do with talking, but actually without listening there is no point in talking. Even when you talk to yourself, you at least are listening (it is presumed). Listening is not a passive activity, it is active. It requires a conscious effort on the listener's part. The words must be heard, understood, processed, and responded to.

Do not fall into a common trap. Often in a conversation there is one person talking, and someone else thinking of what they are going to say next. That is not listening, it is waiting for a gap in the flow of words.

Pay attention to others around you. They often have things to say that you will find useful and/or interesting. If nothing else, you will gain a reputation as a great listener, someone worth talking to.


The world is awash in a babble of words. People are constantly talking, expressing to others the thoughts they have on anything.

However, there is a difference between babbling and talking. Babbling is simply making noises, with little direction, intent, content, or interest. Talking is a means of communication, a way of letting other people know what you think, feel, believe.

Effective speech requires a conscious knowledge of how the voice produces sound, how to modulate and manipulate those sounds. It also requires knowing how the body, the face, arms, hands, feet, posture, etc., can augment or diminish the effect of the words you say.

With an understanding of the voice and body, it is possible to communicate the most esoteric, subtle, commanding, or obscure subject to your audience.

Go To Chapter Nine: Words in a Row -- Writing

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