How You Say It Makes a Difference

Mark Twain was known for his regular use of profanity. His wife got tired of this and decided to show him how distasteful this language was by using profanity in his presence. Twain listened to this for a while. His response to his wife was, “You’ve got the words, but not the music.” 

         That line represents well what I want to say:  it is not just the message you present, but also how you look and sound as you say it. J. Robert Parkinson wrote regarding delivery in acting and speaking, “Content alone is not sufficient. If the text were all that was necessary for a great performance, everyone could be an accomplished Shakespearean actor because everyone has access to the same words.” What makes the difference is the way the words are said.

            We can tell so much with the voice. When my children were small, I would call them for dinner. Just by the way I said their names they knew if they should have come to dinner ten minutes earlier or whether they had another ten minutes to play.

            What can you do to avoid the monotone voice and show that you really care about your topic?  One way is to choose materials for your next presentation that you are truly excited about. If you genuinely believe an idea is important, this will show in your voice.

            Punch out any statistic or proper noun. This will add emotion to your voice and emphasize the importance of the statistic or name. Pause before a key word or idea, as this will usually give you more force with your next words.

            Stay away from your speaking notes as much as possible. This will help you avoid reading directly from your notes and give more spontaneity to your voice.

            Don’t make it easy for the audience member to drift off mentally by droning on in your presentation. If an audience member is going to nod off for a nap as you are speaking, be sure to make them work for it!

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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