Steve Boyd’s January Communication Newsletter

Develop Command of the Language

          Three elderly gentlemen were sitting together on a train out of London. The first one said, “This is Wembley.”

          The second one said, “No, this is Thursday.”

          The third one replied, “Me, too! Let’s stop and get a drink.”

Sometimes, as with these men, our words aren’t clear. People receive early impressions of you by the words you speak.  Do your best to use the best words possible.  To improve your communication skills, work on developing your language skills.  Here are some ways of making that happen.

          First, develop your speaking vocabulary.  Learn a new word a day or a week.  A free service that makes this easy is “Word of the Day” sponsored by Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.  Subscribe at Checking the word for each day gives you an intellectual challenge, and I often find a new word to add to my speaking vocabulary.  Practice writing the new word as well as using the new word in your speaking.

          Second, when reading a book or article, if you come to a word you don’t understand, stop and check the meaning in a dictionary.  See how the word is used in the context of your reading.  This will not only help you develop your vocabulary but make you more conscious of the words you use in speaking. 

          Third, improve grammatical construction in your speaking.  It is much harder to be grammatically correct in speaking than in writing because in speaking you have no opportunity to go back, analyze, and correct; you must be correct when the words first come out of your mouth.  There is no second chance for correct grammar in speaking as there is in writing.  A little book I find very useful is The Goof Proofer by Stephen Manhard. This identifies many of the typical errors people make when speaking.

          Fourth, listen carefully to newscasters as they pronounce proper nouns.  They have a responsibility to check out correct pronunciations and you can learn from them.  This will help insure your correct pronunciation of towns, nationally-known people, streets, and companies.  It is embarrassing to mispronounce proper nouns.  For example, I used to live in Illinois, and it was awkward when someone in another part of the country would pronounce it “Illinoise.”

          Fifth, eliminate “filler” words.  Make every word count as you speak.  Eliminate “you know,” “or something,” “OK,” and “All right” to mention a few.  At all costs eliminate the verbalized pause!  To improve in this area, practice silence at the ends of sentences so you won’t be tempted to use a filler word.  Another way to improve is to ask a friend or colleague to make a nonverbal signal that you recognize anytime you use the filler word. 

          Whether it is right or not, people evaluate your education background and your intellect by the way you use language.  Spend time improving your use of language and you will improve your credibility and rapport with people as you communicate.

Contents of the Ideal Speech

Thwack! A banana cream pie hit me directly in the chest, spattering my face and ruining my suit and tie. The speaker, who had aimed at her “plant” in the audience, was appalled that she’d hit her teacher instead of her friend. And what was the purpose of her pie-throwing in the first place? To get our attention. And it worked, though not in the way she’d expected!

You always want an attention device at the beginning of any speech. You cannot expect people to listen simply because you are standing in front of them. You must have a startling statement, a quotation, a visual, or a piece of humor to get their attention. This should be the way you open the speech.

          Any time you are assigned to deliver a speech, you may wonder, “What should I include?  What can I use that will guarantee a great speech?”  You realize that to a degree it depends on the audience and the purpose of your speech, but there are certain items to include that will fit most kinds of audiences and most kinds of speeches. The purpose of this article is to examine what those parts might be.

          In addition to an attention-getting device, tell a story. Every great speech has a story. Great speakers in history, such as Abraham Lincoln and Jesus Christ, were storytellers. A story touches emotions, and giving examples helps make a point clear or gives the audience time to digest the point the story supports. Audiences always give attention when a speaker gives some version of “Once upon a time….” 

          An important piece of content in any speech is the main reason you are speaking to an audience. Condense your speech into one sentence.  Have that one sentence in your mind and speak it at some point during your speech. Perhaps say it again as you conclude. For example, the one sentence that is the essence of this article is, “Learn the formula of the content of a successful speech and you will be more effective the next time you deliver a speech.” 

          Include a new piece of information in your speech. This might be a recent event that was not in the newspaper, a statistic you found from an uncommon source, a new plan that your company is introducing, or an insight you have because of a particular talent you have. You want your audience to take away something they did not know before they heard you speak.

          Every speech should have a summary. Try an internal summary somewhere in the middle of the speech to demonstrate progress toward the end of your speech. Then you can include a summary at the end of the presentation such as the last paragraph of this article.

          One final item in any speech is an exit line. Leave the audience with something to think about. This could be a quotation or a pearl of wisdom from your experience. But because people remember best what you say last, make that last sentence count.

          The formula for a great speech is difficult to determine because the audience is unpredictable and the circumstances in which you deliver a speech often affect the outcome of the presentation. But starting with an attention-getting device, telling stories, knowing the thesis of your speech, including new information, summarizing as you go, and crafting a great exit line will give you a good foundation to insure success in your next speech.


Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor of Speech Communication in the College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, Kentucky. He works with companies and associations whose people want to speak and listen more effectively to improve personal and professional success. He can be reached at 800.727.6520 or through his website at

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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