Read to Become a Better Speaker

There is a difference between written and oral style. Oral style uses shorter words, more repetition, shorter sentences, and even incomplete sentences. Transcribe a portion of your next speech and check out those traits.

Reading books, newspapers, blogs, and articles, however, can help improve your speaking. Here are reasons why this is true.

A speaker develops a wider vocabulary through reading novels as well as non-fiction. Stop and look up the meaning of any word that you do not recognize. If you understand it through context, jot it down so you can learn it later. Keep a list of your new words. About the time I think I have a pretty decent vocabulary, I’ll read a word that puzzles me. This reminds me that I have a lot to learn about words and their meanings.

Ideas for how to organize a message as well as different transitional material between paragraphs or chapters will give our speaking variety. Some writers are excellent with providing background material and that reminds us speakers that listeners maybe unfamiliar with our idea and need more contextual content in order to get our points.

Novels often give detail that paints beautiful word pictures, making you feel like you have been there.  James Michener is especially effective at doing that. If you can’t make a trip to Hawaii, then read his novel Hawaii and you will, in a sense, visit there.  Reading can help you paint word pictures more effectively. Read Kristin Hannah’s The Four Winds and you will suffer with the Plains farmers during the Great Depression and thus improve in making your examples more detailed and specific.

Sometimes when reading a book, you may recall something in a previous chapter that helps you understand what you are reading, so you go back to that part earlier in the book and review the material. This reminds us as speakers that our listeners cannot do that with oral style. Our words and sentences must be instantly clear. So you are reminded of the importance of summaries and repetition as you speak.

Reading a biography or autobiography can give you examples of certain traits you are seeking the audience to emulate. For example, to stress perseverance as a key to success, learning about the perseverance of a famous person that brought success might give you an example to illustrate a particular important point. For example, I read that Steve Martin’s initial interest in being a stand-up comic was prompted by working at a magic shop at Disneyland and demonstrating magic tricks to prospective customers. There he also developed his talents for juggling, playing the banjo, and creating balloon animals. He then performed at local coffee houses and at the Bird Cage Theater at Knott’s Berry Farm. So his becoming a star was no accident.

My philosophy about speaking is that I never reach perfection or even close. My mantra is that my next speech will be my best one. Reading is one way of making that happen.


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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