Effective Public Speaking
Effective Public Speaking

Effective Public Speaking

Lead Author(s): George Griffin and Contributors

Student Price: Contact us to learn more

Top Hat Intro Course - Designed to teach the skills and build the confidence your students need to become effective public speakers.

What is a Top Hat Textbook?

Top Hat has reimagined the textbook – one that is designed to improve student readership through interactivity, is updated by a community of collaborating professors with the newest information, and accessed online from anywhere, at anytime.

  • Top Hat Textbooks are built full of embedded videos, interactive timelines, charts, graphs, and video lessons from the authors themselves
  • High-quality and affordable, at a significant fraction in cost vs traditional publisher textbooks

Key features in this textbook

Effective Public Speaking gives students the confidence and competence in preparing and presenting speeches with real student videos, a comprehensive glossary, up to five in-class activities per chapter, and a full chapter on controlling speech anxiety.
Using Bongo for Top Hat, students can practice their oral communication skills and get feedback from instructors or their peers.
Built-in assessment questions embedded throughout chapters so students can read a little, do a little, and test themselves to see what they know!

Comparison of Public Speaking Textbooks

Consider adding Top Hat’s Effective Public Speaking textbook to your upcoming course. We’ve put together a textbook comparison to make it easy for you in your upcoming evaluation.

Top Hat

George Griffin, Effective Public Speaking, Only one edition needed


Stephen Lucas, The Art of Public Speaking, 12th Edition


Beebe & Beebe, Public Speaking: An Audience-Centered Approach, 9th Edition


Beebe & Beebe, Public Speaking Handbook, 5th Edition


Average price of textbook across most common format

Up to 40-60% more affordable

Lifetime access on any device


Hardcover print text only


Hardcover print text only


Hardcover print text only

Always up-to-date content, constantly revised by community of professors

Content meets standard for Introduction to Anatomy & Physiology course, and is updated with the latest content

In-Book Interactivity

Includes embedded multi-media files and integrated software to enhance visual presentation of concepts directly in textbook

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost


Ability to revise, adjust and adapt content to meet needs of course and instructor

All-in-one Platform

Access to additional questions, test banks, and slides available within one platform


Average price of textbook across most common format

Top Hat

George Griffin, Effective Public Speaking, Only one edition needed

Up to 40-60% more affordable

Lifetime access on any device


Stephen Lucas, The Art of Public Speaking, 12th Edition


Hardcover print text only


Beebe & Beebe, Public Speaking: An Audience-Centered Approach, 9th Edition


Hardcover print text only


Beebe & Beebe, Public Speaking Handbook, 5th Edition


Hardcover print text only

Always up-to-date content, constantly revised by community of professors

Constantly revised and updated by a community of professors with the latest content

Top Hat

George Griffin, Effective Public Speaking, Only one edition needed


Stephen Lucas, The Art of Public Speaking, 12th Edition


Beebe & Beebe, Public Speaking: An Audience-Centered Approach, 9th Edition


Beebe & Beebe, Public Speaking Handbook, 5th Edition

In-book Interactivity

Includes embedded multi-media files and integrated software to enhance visual presentation of concepts directly in textbook

Top Hat

George Griffin, Effective Public Speaking, Only one edition needed


Stephen Lucas, The Art of Public Speaking, 12th Edition


Beebe & Beebe, Public Speaking: An Audience-Centered Approach, 9th Edition


Beebe & Beebe, Public Speaking Handbook, 5th Edition


Ability to revise, adjust and adapt content to meet needs of course and instructor

Top Hat

George Griffin, Effective Public Speaking, Only one edition needed


Stephen Lucas, The Art of Public Speaking, 12th Edition


Beebe & Beebe, Public Speaking: An Audience-Centered Approach, 9th Edition


Beebe & Beebe, Public Speaking Handbook, 5th Edition

All-in-one Platform

Access to additional questions, test banks, and slides available within one platform

Top Hat

George Griffin, Effective Public Speaking, Only one edition needed


Stephen Lucas, The Art of Public Speaking, 12th Edition


Beebe & Beebe, Public Speaking: An Audience-Centered Approach, 9th Edition


Beebe & Beebe, Public Speaking Handbook, 5th Edition

About this textbook

Lead Authors

George Griffin, Professor of SpeechKeiser University

George Griffin earned his degrees at the University of West Florida and Auburn University. He has been teaching college, business seminars and workshops for over 30 years, while still doing public speaking engagements for non-profit organizations. Currently, he is serving as the Professor of Speech at Keiser University, Orlando, and as Adjunct Professor at Stetson University. George is also the author of “STAGE FRIGHT! A Student-Friendly Guide to Managing the Jitters.”

Contributing Authors

Wade CorneliusNew Mexico State University

Kathryn DederichsUniversity of St. Thomas

Morgan GintherInstructional Designer at Texas A & M

Luke GreenSt. Cloud Technical and Community College

María Elena BermúdezGeorgia State University

Daryle NaganoEl Camino College

Wendy YarberryFlorida State College at Jacksonville

Allen DavisIndiana University

Jasmine RobertsOhio State University

Krista MacDonaldDoña Ana Community College

Explore this textbook

Read the fully unlocked textbook below, and if you’re interested in learning more, get in touch to see how you can use this textbook in your course today.

Chapter 15: Nonverbal Communication

MLB Umpire John Tumpane [1]
"The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said"
- Peter Drucker 
"Don’t say things. What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Table of Contents

Learning Objectives

  • Recognize how your nonverbal communication can impact your presentation.
  • Understand how the use of personal space can vary by individual and culture.
  • Utilize effective eye contact to connect to an audience.
  • Identify and control nervous fidgeting and unconscious movement.
  • Use your body language to project confidence.
  • Understand how your appearance can affect your speech and your audience’s assessment of you as a speaker.
  • Use your voice effectively throughout your speech.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of cultural differences in order to avoid ethnocentric thinking. 

Take a look at the YouTube clip below. The clip is of an English teacher lecturing a classroom full of bored students. Why are they bored? Their teacher is possibly the worst presenter ever! You’ve probably sat in a few lectures that you found less than thrilling, but hopefully none as bad as this.

Yes, many of you may think that any discussion of MLA formatting would be boring, but what really went wrong in that lecture was the teacher’s delivery of the facts. And that voice. Wow! Those students were sending him a clear message, weren’t they? Even if he was unaware of how he sounded, he should have seen that he’d lost his audience’s interest. No words were necessary to send the message that they were bored. It was all on their faces, in their posture, and even in their eyes. What could the teacher have done differently? How could he have improved his lecture? Have you ever been in a situation where you could tell no one was paying attention? What did you do?

How do you gain, and hold, your audience's attention? It starts with your introduction. [2].​

By the time you’ve reached this chapter, you’ve already heard how important it is to gain your audience’s attention. How a great introduction will appeal to your listeners and prepare them for the speech. You’ve even learned how to research and gather facts and examples to get your point across. You need all of these elements to put together an effective speech. But you may not have considered that it’s more than what you’re saying that sends a message to your audience. Ever heard the phrase, “It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it?” While not entirely true, there is a simple truth in this saying: the way you present yourself will impact what others think of you. Sometimes, how well you can manage the nonverbal aspects of your presentation will be the difference between an okay speech and a great one.

What is Nonverbal Communication?

So what is nonverbal communication? And why should you care about it? And most importantly, how will it impact your presentations? The term nonverbal communication means exactly what you’d think – communication without words. When you first hear this, some of you may think, “How can I possibly communicate if I don't use words?” Good question. The clip we watched earlier is a prime example. Those students could have said, “This is boring!” “I hate this class!” “I haven’t heard a word you’ve said.” But they chose not to communicate with words. They sent their message with their facial expressions, their eyes, and their posture – in other words, their “body language.”

Your audience will be giving you clues as to how your speech is going. You can use them to adjust mid-speech. [3]​

Laying your head down on a desk and sleeping in the middle of class is a pretty strong nonverbal indicator to the teacher that you are not interested - or that you are really tired. How many of you get on Facebook or text friends when you are bored? It’s not what you say; it’s literally what you’re not saying. It’s the message you’re sending without words. Nonverbal communication is all about your expression, how you move and stand, and what your overall appearance says about you. It’s also how you say it.

We judge others by their nonverbal communication all the time. Haven’t you ever looked at a person you’ve just met and made up your mind about them immediately? First impressions are often formed in mere seconds. Some people feel strongly that their first impressions are accurate, and they trust their first instinct. Whether first impressions are completely accurate remains to be seen, but it does illustrate that we, as humans, make decisions about the world around us quickly, decisively, and often times permanently. In your life, think about where you make first impressions. Perhaps on a sports team? On a blind date? In a restaurant? In your first class meeting? Do you find they are often accurate? Take a look at the picture below and consider your first impressions of the man shown. 

Whether you realize it or not, you make judgements based on first impressions all the time. ​[4]

What are your first impressions of this guy?









Here’s a great article from psychologicalscience.org that discusses first impressions. In the article, the author states that this quick “sizing up” of newcomers most likely is a survival mechanism. Early man and woman needed to decide quickly if they were in danger of being attacked - or eaten - and respond appropriately. While we may not face saber-toothed tigers anymore, the ability to quickly evaluate a stranger can still be a life-saving tool. While I doubt your audience will be that suspicious of you, they'll be sizing you up and making  snap judgments about you and your speech from the moment you walk to the lectern.

The impression you make while walking to the podium is a strong one. Plan accordingly. [5]​​

Am I saying you can lose an audience’s interest simply by walking to the front of the room? Hopefully not. But it doesn’t take much for your audience to decide to “tune you out.” So it’s important to remember first impressions count, and to consider what your nonverbal communication might be doing to wreck your carefully prepared speech. Let’s look more closely at both the vocal and visual aspects of nonverbal communication.

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Types of Nonverbal Communication

As we discussed above, some of your nonverbal communication comes from what your audience can observe – what they can actually see about the way you handle yourself. Let’s look first at the visual aspects , then the vocal aspects of nonverbal communication.

Visual Aspects of Nonverbal Communication

1. Personal Space

One of the most interesting aspects of nonverbal communication is the study of proxemics, or in simpler terms, the messages we are sending through the use of personal space. There are tons of studies out there that discuss how we use the space around us.

The way you use space will make a difference in your stage presence. [6]​

One of the first researchers to study this was the anthropologist Edward T. Hall. Hall found how humans use the space around them depended upon the setting and the relationship. He determined that we use our personal space to keep people at bay – or to allow them in – and to set boundaries and mark territory. It’s probably not surprising to you that Hall observed that we will allow a loved one (a parent, a significant other, etc.) further into our personal space – or our personal bubble –than we would a stranger. Refer to the chart below for more information on Hall's work. 

I’m sure you’ve all seen how animals mark their territory and guard it fiercely. You may be able to lean down and pet your dog, but the stranger wearing a United States Post Office uniform would probably not receive the same reception. We humans are territorial as well. Think of how quickly your classmates “claim” a particular seat as their own in each of your classes. It becomes clear almost immediately who sits where. If you want to test this theory, try sitting in a chair that you know a classmate has been occupying for most of the semester. Your classmate may not say anything, but you’re sure to get an annoyed look. Setting boundaries or marking our space is common human behavior. Did you share a bedroom with a sibling? How did you “mark” your space? How about at your apartment? Have you ever gotten in trouble for eating a roommate’s food that was clearly marked? We use markers to claim territory. When you put your jacket on the back of a chair at the library, you’ve “marked” that spot as taken – even if you’ve walked away to grab a book. It’s an unwritten rule, and we all know it. 


Hall’s work in proxemics includes:


How humans use the space around them


The territorial nature of humans


Setting physical boundaries

In public speaking, you are generally dealing with public distance. Even if you are standing closer than 12 feet to deliver the speech, we’d still consider it to be public distance. It’s a public setting. Your audience expects you to stand at the front of the room. But what happens if you move to stand right beside one of your classmate’s chair in the classroom? He or she probably can’t stand up and leave, but you can bet they’ll feel awkward, perhaps shift slightly away from you to put just the smallest bit of space between you. Why? Because you’re probably not someone they know well enough to allow into their intimate space. And because you’ve violated an unwritten rule – you’re expected to remain at the front of the classroom.

2. Eye Contact

Eye contact might be one of the most important parts of your nonverbal communication. When you have a conversation with someone, hopefully you are attentive enough to make eye contact and engage with them. Put the cell phones down, people! Making eye contact – even with a stranger you pass on campus – sends the message, “I see you.” An added smile or a slight nod connects you. As humans, we crave connections with others. Eye contact allows you to initiate a connection, keep a connection, and in some cases, to break a connection. The same is true when you give a speech. 

Click here to see the script for Video 15.01a.

Click here to see the script for Video 15.01b.

Simply staring into space gives the impression that you don’t wish to connect with any of your listeners; they don’t matter. But they do matter. A lot. What is a speech without them? As we learned in Chapter 2, eye contact not only makes you a more effective communicator, it actually helps reduce your nervousness. Making eye contact establishes a bond – even if it’s only for three or four minutes or the length of your speech. It says, “I’m talking to you personally.” Your audience is much more likely to find you trustworthy and confident when you make eye contact.

Interact making eye contact is a way of engaging your audience, but that doesn't mean ignore your notes, or stare at a specific person. [7]​

I’ve seen some speaking guidelines that encourage you to make eye contact 90% of the time, and I think that’s a great goal to work towards. But realistically, that percentage is probably more appropriate if you’re a seasoned speaker. Yes, we’d love for you to make eye contact 85-90% of the time, but if that seems a bit much – especially at first – just focus on improving every time you present. The more you have reviewed your material, the less you’ll need to look at an outline or note cards. This frees you to look around the room. Remember, the goal is to look engaged with your audience, but that doesn't mean you won’t look down occasionally at your notes, or that you won’t glance at one of your slides or a visual in your hand. Here are a few more tips to consider as you speak:

  • Try to make eye contact with as many people as possible. In a classroom presentation you should be able to make eye contact with everyone in the room at least once.
  • If you’re nervous, at least find a couple of friendly, supportive listeners and make eye contact with those few.
  • Do not stare at the back wall or any other fixed point in the room.
  • Know your material well enough that you are not forced to look down at your notes too often. Literally write “look up” on each note card if you need a reminder. 
  • Don’t fixate on one individual – “stalker” eye contact feels uncomfortable for all involved. 

Click here to see the script for Video 15.02.

Click here to see the script for Video 15.03.


Strive to make eye contact ​________ % of the time.




100 %





3. Posture

Posture is key. Good posture immediately improves your stage presence, and will help your confidence. [9]​​

Some of you may be thinking, “What can they possibly say about posture? Stand tall?” Yes, of course, standing tall is a given, but here are a few other suggestions:

  • Strive for a tall posture, but not stiff – you should not look like a soldier standing at attention – relax just a bit.
  • Don’t relax too much – you should never slouch or hunch your shoulders.
  • Balance your body weight by standing with your feet just a little wider apart than you usually stand. This helps eliminate weight shifting, knee popping, body twisting, or looking like a toddler doing a “pee-pee” dance.
  • Don’t lean on the lectern – you don’t want to look like you need the lectern for support. 
  • Be natural, yet professional.

Click here to see the script for Video 15.04.

4. Movement

Locomotion is moving to get from one spot to another. Remember we discussed that your audience is watching – and beginning to make some judgments about you – from the moment you leave your seat to walk to the front of the room, so make a strong first impression. Some instructors require students to do an exercise called the “lectern walk.” Students are simply asked to stand, walk to the lectern, pause, smile, and then return to their seats. 

No speech, no words, just practicing the process of getting there confidently, claiming their space, and taking a moment to mentally prepare. If you can do that one thing well, you will feel more successful, and your audience will immediately begin to identify you as a confident speaker. Getting to the lectern sets the stage for what is to come. Keep in mind the following:

  •  Don’t shuffle your feet.
  •  Don’t walk with your head hung down.
  •  Walk at a comfortable pace – not too fast or too slow.
  •  Be ready – don’t wait until your name is called to get your outline from your bag or to find your thumb drive.

Once you reach the lectern and begin your speech, it’s okay to move – as long as you’re aware that you’re moving. If you want to move to another spot or closer to a section of the audience, do it. But many speakers allow nervousness to take over their bodies, so many move without even realizing it. Swaying from side to side or pacing back and forth across the front of the classroom is distracting. There’s a fine line between natural movement in your allotted space and marching to and fro like a soldier on patrol. Simply put – move when necessary to connect with others in the room. And do it naturally, move with purpose.

Click here to see the script for Video 15.06.

5. Fidgeting

Tapping your pencil or pen is one of many ways in which nervous energy manifests itself. [10]​​

Fidgeting is restless movement. It is often distracting and is a dead giveaway that you’re nervous. You know fidgeting when you see it – it’s small but repetitive movements. Here are some movements to avoid:

  •  Shuffling your notecards or outline pages.
  •  Playing with jewelry.
  •  Clicking a pen while you speak.
  •  Adjusting your clothing or your hair constantly.
  •  Tapping your fingers on the lectern or desk.
  •  Swinging one of your feet or legs back and forth.
  •  Any other repetitive movement made without conscious thought.

Click here to see the script for Video 15.07.

6. Gestures

There are many types of gestures, but for our purposes, let’s focus on three: emblems, illustrators, and adaptors

Thumbs up! [10]​

I. Emblems are hand gestures that are commonly used and typically universally understood within a specific culture. Most emblems have a direct verbal translation and can be used in place of words. If you nod your head, we’d usually take that gesture to mean “yes” whereas shaking your head could replace the need to actually say the word “no.” Another example might be giving a thumb’s up – or thumb’s down – gesture to someone. In gladiator movies, the symbol is the difference between life and death. These days, we don’t take it quite so seriously. Typically, the symbol conveys approval or disapproval. Generally, a thumb’s up means, “I’m good to go."

II. Illustrators, on the other hand (no pun intended), are gestures that do not stand alone. Illustrators do not take the place of words; they add to the spoken word. If you brag to a friend about the huge fish you caught on your last trip to the lake, you’ll probably want to use an illustrator when you say, “It was this big.” We need you to provide a frame of reference for us. Just how big was it?

"It was this big." [11]

Another example might be giving directions to a lost student on campus. As you’re talking, you might point your finger in the direction they should go. Simply saying, “It’s over there,” gives little actual insight into the location. Your words only make sense when you point in a specific direction while speaking.

III. Adaptors are gestures that are not used intentionally but are quite commonly seen during speech presentations. Technically, an adaptor is a gesture that probably once had a purpose but is now a nervous habit. For instance, you might have a friend who constantly plays with her hair, pushing her hair behind her ear or twisting it around her finger when she’s preoccupied. Or you might have a friend who is constantly adjusting his glasses when he feels nervous. These adjustments began as natural movements. Getting your hair out of your face or pushing your glasses back up when they slide down your nose are necessary movement at times. But when these gestures become repetitive, are unconsciously done, and happen during moments of stress or uncertainty, they become adaptors. 

Click here to see the script for Video 15.08.


Match the following gestures with their type








Finger Point




Readjusting Your Shirt


Adaptors are unconscious movements.





As a side note, you’ll want to be aware as you’re giving a speech that not all gestures translate across cultures. We’ll be discussing this in greater detail a bit later in the text, but don’t assume that a gesture used in one country will have the same meaning when used in another country. As an example, to signal 'yes' in North American culture we nod our heads up and down. To signal 'no' we shake them side to side. However, did you know that in Bulgaria it's the opposite? That could lead to a pretty confusing conversation between two people who may not speak the same language. 

7. Facial Expressions

Your facial expressions should be appropriate to your topic. [12]​

While it might seem obvious, your facial expression should align with your mood and your conversation. Typically, your eyes, nose, eyebrows, and mouth – essentially your entire face – work in unison to reflect your emotions. A smile, accompanied by the words, “I got an A on my exam!” makes sense together. Your face is reflective of your mood, and your words reinforce your reason to smile. As you read in Chapter 11, professor and psychologist Paul Ekman is well known for his research on facial expressions, especially micro expressions. Micro expressions are very brief facial expressions – lasting only a fraction of a second. The TV show, Lie to Me, was based on his research and the company he created. You may recall that according to Ekman, there are seven emotions that have universal signals: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, contempt, surprise, and happiness. Ekman’s work is often used to detect deception based upon reading these common micro expressions. If you’re interested, Ekman has an interesting blog that discusses his work on micro expressions, his thoughts, and his opinions. You can find it here

While his work is fascinating, it is doubtful your audience will be focused upon your micro expressions. The best advice for you, as you deliver a speech, is to be natural. As you’re telling a funny story from your childhood, smile at your audience. 

Click here to see the script for Video 15.09.

If you’re sharing a sad memory or alarming data from your research, we wouldn’t expect to see you smile. We’d expect you to be somber and serious. But do be sure to share some emotion; your face needs to mirror your words. Leave the deadpan, emotionless face for poker night.

Poker player Tom Dwan demonstrating exactly the face you DON'T want to make while giving your speech. [13]​

8. Adornment

To “adorn” something is simply to enhance it, or decorate it. As humans in the 21st century, we have a variety of adornments: our clothing, jewelry, tattoos, piercings, etc. It should not surprise you to learn that we often form first impressions – good or bad – based on someone’s appearance. Choosing what you will wear each day may be carefully planned or haphazard – grabbing the first thing you see. What you wear certainly depends on where you’re going. College students seem to have a standard uniform: jeans (or shorts), shirt, tennis shoes (or flip flops), and there’s nothing wrong with that. Sitting in lectures, walking to and from class, or grabbing a bite to eat doesn’t require fancy. But think of the times you’ve gone to a job interview or attended an event such as prom. You probably made sure you were dressed to impress! And you probably felt pretty good about yourself.

Your outfit adds to the overall impression your audience creates of you. [14]​

There’s plenty of research that says when you feel good about yourself, you’ll feel more confident and empowered. New research goes a step further. We’re now finding that how you dress could actually influence how you think and perform. It’s called “enclothed cognition.” The link for the article can be found here

Researchers found that subjects wearing a doctor’s white coat performed better on tests than others who wore a painter’s coat or simply saw a doctor’s coat. Imagine that! What you wear could impact how people see you, how confident you feel, AND how well you perform!

"Know, first, who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly." 
- Epictetus

It sure seems, then, that how you dress when you give a speech could be important. If you feel good knowing you look good, that’s a huge bonus. While no one is suggesting that you need to go out and buy a new outfit for a speech, it is important to dress appropriately. Your professor may even have guidelines for how you should dress for your speech. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  •  Choose something you feel confident wearing.
  •  Dress in clean clothes, free of wrinkles or stains.
  •  Plan to dress just a half step nicer than you expect the audience to dress, to set yourself apart. Add a tie or a jacket – even a suit – so you are dressed just a touch more formally than your audience.
  •  Don’t dress too provocatively or show too much skin.
  •  Don’t wear a hat or sunglasses or anything that would obscure your face. 

Click here to see the script for Video 15.10.


It doesn’t really matter how you look for your speech. It’s your words that will influence your audience.





Keep in mind, even something as simple as the jewelry you wear could impact your presentation. Don’t let your jewelry outshine you; keep it simple. A bunch of bangles on your arm may be pretty, but they sure can make a lot of noise when you move around while speaking. Remember, good speakers never create their own distractions.

Tattoos and piercings are very common these days. It almost seems that these are the newest forms of adornment, even though, ironically, these practices go back to ancient times. Did you know tattoos have been around for roughly 10,000 years? Nina Jablonsky, an author and anthropologist, says that ancient Egyptians, Greeks and even a couple of British monarchs had tattoos. While some tattooing was simply practical (e.g. keeping track of slaves and criminals), these days most people choose a tattoo that has some meaning for them. Many choose a symbol that they feel represents who they are, memorializes a loved one, or reminds them of a past event. A tattoo can even be a work of art. Here’s an interesting article on the subject:

Don't let your body art outshine the art of your speech. [15]​

Body piercings are popular as well, and again, date back to early man. The Aztecs and early Native Americans were known for body piercing. We see examples in their art and other cultural artifacts. So, it would seem that the adornments we choose in our modern world are not so new after all.

There are multiple ways to express yourself, and no one is suggesting that you not express yourself. But how does all this potentially affect your speech? Obviously, while you can choose what clothes to wear or which jewelry to avoid, your tattoos and some of your piercings are here to stay. When giving a speech, you’ll probably want to follow the same guidelines you’d expect in a workplace setting. Here are a few suggestions:

  • If possible, cover any tattoo that contains curse words, nudity, or any other generally offensive images.
  • Remove any piercing – such as a tongue piercing – if it makes understanding your speech difficult.
  • If possible, remove any piercings that may distract your audience. 


While listening to a speech, which would you consider most distracting?


An offensive tattoo


A provocatively dressed speaker


An elaborate piercing


A speaker with bangles that clang with every move

Vocal Aspects of Nonverbal Communication (Paralanguage)

So far we’ve discussed nonverbal communication such as eye contact, facial expressions, personal space, and movement such as gestures and locomotion. Now let’s take a look at the vocal aspects of nonverbal communication. The human voice is a wonderful thing. Our voices allow us to sing, speak, and sometimes yell. But it does so much more than that. We recognize our loved ones by their voices. We can interpret emotion and mood by someone’s voice. We can detect danger – simply through someone’s voice. How? Our voices vary based on tone, pitch, volume, etc., and those variations add to the message. This is known as paralanguage. Paralanguage is typically defined as vocal utterances that are not words – yet complement words in such a way as to communicate meaning. Paralanguage pairs with the actual words you speak to provide a fuller communication experience. This will make more sense once we look at a few. Let’s start with tone.


The tone of a person’s voice might be thought of as the “quality” of their voice - how that person sounds overall. Tone also typically helps to convey emotion and mood. Has your mother, or perhaps grandmother, ever said to you, “Don’t use that tone of voice with me?” Were you angry, yelling, or perhaps had a bit of an ‘attitude?’ It may not have been what you were saying, but rather, the tone you used that earned you a scolding.

Practice your speech. Think about how tone might affect how your audience receives your message. [16]​

Have you ever spoken to someone that had an abrupt tone or style of speaking? Your first impression might have been to think they were angry or upset. We associate these sharper tones with aggression or anger. Speakers with softer-toned voices are usually seen as friendly and helpful. Tone is so important that many businesses – especially those in the customer service industry – train their employees to avoid confrontation by speaking in a softer tone.

It pays to be aware of the tone of your voice, and the message that tone can send. When giving a speech, we encourage you to have a “conversational tone.” 

Click here to see the script for Video 15.11.

What does the term "conversational tone" mean? We want you to sound as if you’re having a conversation with your audience. You don’t need – and don’t want you – to sound overly formal or stiff. There will be times when you might have a topic that requires a sharper tone to communicate urgency or strong feelings, and that’s okay, too. Just be aware that the tone you use can be as impactful as the words.


The pitch of your voice depends on the rate of vibration of your vocal folds and the length and thickness of your vocal cords. Doesn’t that sound scientific? Pitch is basically driven by the frequency of the sound waves you produce from your vocal cords. It’s about hitting high or low notes with your voice. Basically a faster vibration creates higher voices, or higher pitches, while a slower  vibration results in deeper voices, or lower pitches. This explains why women tend to have higher voices and a higher pitch than men. Emotions can also affect the pitch of our voices. When someone is frightened or excited, they may have a higher pitch than normal.

National Public Radio did a great piece on a study done last year in Scotland that looked at how pitch can influence what we think of a person. They took a single word – hello – and asked people whether the voice they heard was aggressive, friendly, etc. Listeners made judgments about personality and trustworthiness by hearing a single, isolated word. Here’s the article if you're interested in their findings.

What’s important to know about pitch when you’re giving a speech is that you’ll want it to vary. Varying your pitch – so your voice goes up and down – will make you more interesting to the listener. Without this, you end up with a monotone voice – like the professor in the YouTube clip we saw at the beginning of the chapter. No one wants to listen to a speech spoken at one level, in one tone, for an entire four or five minutes. Nothing will put your listeners to sleep faster than that.


Your rate of speech, or how quickly you’re speaking, can also impact your presentation. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that a nervous person tends to speak at a quicker rate. Subconsciously, they may be thinking, “The quicker I say this, the sooner I can finish and sit down.” Speak instead at a steady rate. The average speaking rate is about 125-150 words per minute. If you want to calculate your speaking rate, simply take the total number of words spoken and divide them by the number of minutes it took you to speak them. 

It’s probably more helpful to record yourself speaking so you can hear for yourself whether you need to slow down or speed up a bit. There may be a point in your speech where you may want to purposely slow down, or even pause for a moment, to let your words sink in. Conversely, if you want to show excitement or humor, you may want to quicken your pace a bit. Above all, vary your rate to create some vocal variety. You want to avoid the dreaded monotone voice.


Practice projecting. If you will be using a mic, try to practice with one too. [17]​

Adequate volume is critical. You can give the best speech ever, but if half of your audience can’t hear you, what’s the point? It’s very important that you speak loud enough to be heard in your speaking setting. For most of you, your speeches will probably be in a classroom, so you’ll want to ensure you are speaking loud enough to be heard all the way in the back of the room. One technique you can practice in your classroom speeches is to aim the first line of your speech at the person sitting the farthest away from you. If you set your volume level for that person, you can be confident that everyone else in the room can hear you too.

If you’re in a larger setting such as an auditorium, you may need to use a microphone to speak. It’s a good idea to practice using the microphone before you need to actually give a speech. You’d be surprised how many speakers don’t use a microphone well. You may need to adjust the microphone stand to your height, if one is being used. And you’ll want to know how close the microphone needs to be to your mouth to be effective.

You don't want your audience to be uncomfortable sitting in the front row. [18]​​

Keep in mind, though, there is such a thing as being too loud. While you want everyone to hear you, it shouldn’t hurt to sit in the front row.

So you can see that the visual and vocal aspects of nonverbal communication reveal quite a bit about you. How you come across to others will either work for you – or against you. So make sure that when you speak, it all lines up. Does your tone of voice match what you’re saying? Does your eye contact make others feel included and connected? And does the way you look, stand, and dress inspire confidence? If you really want to make a great impression, it should.

Nonverbal and Verbal Communication Used Together

We’ve discussed different aspects of nonverbal communication and how important nonverbal communication can be. Nonverbal messages are just as powerful as verbal messages – sometimes more so! If what you say and what your body language says differ, people are more likely to believe your nonverbal communication than your words. That’s why it’s so important in your everyday life – and in your speeches – to ensure that your nonverbal and verbal communication are in sync.


Having your nonverbal mirror your verbal communication is important. Specifically, you don’t want your body language to contradict your words. If you’ve ever had a conversation with someone that you thought was lying to you, you probably sensed deceit through their nonverbal communication, such as a lack of eye contact, nervous fidgeting, or a hesitant tone of voice. Perhaps they weren’t lying to you, but it came across that way because their nonverbal and verbal communication didn’t match. Maybe that person is shy or nervous instead. Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s behind nonverbal habits, but we do know that when they don’t match, listeners are confused. While we know you would never lie to your listeners while giving a speech, your body will often send messages that you are unaware of that completely negate your words. Can you imagine giving a speech about confidence if you’re trembling and sweating the entire time? Your audience will hear the words, but they’ll see someone who hasn’t mastered confidence yet – at least when it comes to giving a speech. And what they’ll remember most are the nonverbal indicators – not your words.


While some of your gestures contradict, others work specifically with your words to reinforce meaning. This is known as repetition. Repetition occurs when you use a nonverbal gesture that literally repeats what you said. We used the example earlier that pointing while giving directions helps the listener know the direction they should head in. That’s a perfect example of repetition.

Growing up in the South, people were quite fond of the phrase, “over yonder.” As you might imagine, it was just about impossible to know where “over yonder” was. Simply telling a tourist, “The nearest gas station is over yonder,” yields very few clues to the actual location of the gas station. But telling someone, “it’s over yonder,” with a finger pointed towards the suggested location might get you there.

Gestures should re-enforce your speech, not distract from it. [19]​

While presenting, you can use repetition to reinforce what you’re saying. If you asked an audience, “Should you get involved?” and nodded your head up and down as you said, “Yes, you should,” we hear the message and we see the message. So repetition works to combine your words and gestures to ensure that we “get” the message both visually and orally.


Many of our gestures are used to complement – or enhance – verbal understanding. A listener can figure out what you’re saying simply from your verbal communication, but adding gestures to reinforce your words can really help to get your meaning across. For instance, during a speech, you might tell us that it “only takes one person to make a difference.” If you hold up your index finger while making this statement, your gesture enhances your message.

Another example is if you said, “you are important,” while pointing at two or three people in your audience. It can be very effective as a speaker to use these types of gestures while you speak. These gestures clarify your meaning AND add visual interest to your verbal utterances.

Nonverbal Communication and Cultural Differences

So nonverbal communication can send messages without any words. It can enhance and clarify your messages. And it can totally confuse your listeners if you aren’t aware of a few important differences. It’s easy to forget that not everyone grew up in the same culture that you did and not everyone uses the same “nonverbal handbook” to communicate.

1. Why It Matters

Why is this important? You’re probably thinking to yourself that most people in your audience are from the same country and understand the same nonverbal cues. You might be surprised if you actually look closely and get to know a few of your classmates. The modern world is such a mix of cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds that it would be naïve to make that assumption these days. You definitely want to avoid being seen as ethnocentric. Ethnocentrism is the belief that your own culture and traditions are better than everyone else’s. You want to connect to your listeners by taking into account – and honoring – all the cultures and ethnicities present in your audience. You never want to offend any of your listeners – knowingly – or unknowingly. Why risk alienating some listeners because you didn’t pay attention?


You're giving a speech to an audience primarily from a culture you don't know much about. What kinds of gestures might you purposefully avoid during this talk? Are there any you may intentionally include?

2. Watch Your Gestures

Remember we used the example earlier in the text that a thumb’s up gesture often means, “I’m good,” or “Everything’s fine,”? And it’s true – in the United States (and maybe a few other places). But in other cultures, such as Greek and Italian, a thumb’s up gesture is the equivalent of “flipping the bird,” an obvious insult. Likewise, using two fingers in the shape of a V to indicate victory or peace is an acceptable gesture in the U.S., but using this symbol in Australia, the United Kingdom, and Ireland is offensive.

Gestures as simple as pointing or beckoning can have entirely different meanings depending on the country. Remember the earlier example about pointing to a couple of people in your audience while you said, “You can make a difference”? Not such a good idea with a multicultural audience. While you’re researching your speech, make sure you research a few common gestures while you’re at it. You just might be surprised by what you learn.

3. Watch Your Eye Contact

Americans tend to see eye contact as a confident, welcoming form of communication. We’re known for sayings such as, “Never trust a man who won’t look you in the eye.”

Western cultures, as in the U.S., expect eye contact. We see it as an essential part of our social interactions. Someone who keeps looking away from us might be seen as shifty or uninterested. Eye contact in the U.S. denotes confidence, interest, and openness. We’ve even encouraged you to make extensive eye contact while giving your speech.

However, in other cultures, the appropriate amount of eye contact varies. In Asian cultures, eye contact is less essential to social interaction. Subordinates are not encouraged to make a lot of direct eye contact. Even students are discouraged from making eye contact with their professors. A direct stare is a sign of disrespect. In Middle Eastern countries, women are expected to avoid eye contact while in public – especially with men. It might be misconstrued as romantic interest.

Eye contact is not a globally accepted phenomenon, so be aware that it might make members of your audience uncomfortable. [20]​​

So what should you do when you’re giving a speech? You should continue to make eye contact with your audience. Keep in mind, though, that if your direct eye contact seems to make someone uncomfortable, it’s perfectly okay to find another person to make eye contact with. Give that person some space. While eye contact can give you feedback from your audience, don't let a couple of downward glances cause you alarm. A lack of eye contact while you’re speaking isn’t always indicative of a lack of interest in your presentation. It might just be a cultural thing.

4. Watch Your Use of Space

While Americans tend to feel strongly about direct eye contact, we’re not always as comfortable when it comes to our personal space. Remember we discussed personal space earlier in the chapter? Again, how personal space is used or violated – depending on your point of view – is culturally determined.

As I mentioned above, many Americans tend to feel uncomfortable with “close talkers.” We reserve our intimate – up close and personal – space for a few close friends and loved ones. Other countries, such as those in Latin American or the Middle East, require less personal space in their interactions. I once helped train a new Spanish teacher from Brazil. You would not meet a nicer man, but the more we worked together, the more I had to remind myself that cultural differences have to be considered. When we’d sit side by side at my desk while we worked on some computer training, he’d push his chair so close to mine that there was no space left in between. He would stand close when conversing, and then lean in a bit more to speak. It was just his way. He was this way with everyone – man, woman, child. While I initially felt my personal space was being invaded, recognizing that he meant no offense and that he considered it the “norm,” helped me to adjust.

Invading someone’s personal space is less likely as a public speaker because you’ll normally be at the front of the room, possibly behind a lectern. Those in a public setting generally expect more space. So keep in mind while passing handouts to your audience or moving during a speech, there is a reasonable expectation that you’ll maintain an appropriate distance. 


As you’ve seen from this chapter, nonverbal communication is just as important as verbal communication. Some would argue, more important. Your entire body is constantly sending signals to those around you. Recognize that how you stand, how much eye contact you use, and what body movements you make can impact how you are perceived. Remember, first impressions are formed in mere seconds. Use your nonverbal communication to add to your presentation. Smile. Add a gesture or two for emphasis. And take a few moments to consider what you’ll wear as you’re preparing for your speech. What does your look say about you? Let it say that you’re confident and prepared. Work to make your voice interesting. Vary your pitch, rate, and volume. Avoid the dreaded monotone voice! Finally, keep in mind that your audience may be diverse and multicultural, so it’s important to show that you have an awareness of possible cultural differences. Ensure your gestures, eye contact, and use of space are appropriate for all concerned. Yes, what you say during your speech is important. So don’t screw it up by allowing your body to betray you. Be aware of your body language, and make it work for you.

End of Chapter Checklist

After reading this chapter, you should be able to say to yourself:

  • I recognize how my nonverbal communication can impact my presentation.
  • I understand how the use of personal space can vary by individual and culture.
  • I can utilize effective eye contact to connect to an audience.
  • I can identify and control nervous fidgeting and unconscious movement.
  • I know how to use my body language to project confidence.
  • I understand how my appearance can affect my speech and my audience’s assessment of me as a speaker.
  • I can use my voice effectively throughout my speech.
  • I am able to demonstrate an understanding of cultural differences in order to avoid ethnocentric thinking. 
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Video Scripts

Video 15.01a - Video 15.01b

As you can see, these are important issues that affect all of us and that’s why I urge you to participate in this election. Make your voice heard. Register to vote and then go to the polls. It’s the only way you can make a difference.

Click here to return to Video 15.01a.

Click here to return to Video 15.01b.

Video 15.02

Jefferson’s father was a land owner and a land surveyor. Jefferson inherited land from his father and that is where he built his home, Monticello. Jefferson married Martha Skelton when he was 26 and they had six kids together. Martha died after only ten years of marriage and Jefferson never remarried. Only two of his kids survived to adulthood.”

Click here to return to Video 15.02.

Video 15.03

Symptoms can include swollen lymph nodes, a rash that gradually worsens, and fever. It’s important that you check with your doctor if you have any of the symptoms I just discussed. While it might be embarrassing to talk about, early treatment is important. What’s worse? A few minutes of embarrassment or a lifetime of health issues?

Click here to return to Video 15.03.

Video 15.04

A lot of people say Kanye West is arrogant, but I say rightly so. He is, in my humble opinion, the best rapper of our time. Today I’m going to talk about his music, a few of the controversies he’s been involved in, and his personal life. By the end of my speech, I think you’ll agree with me that Kanye is a creative genius!

Click here to return to Video 15.04.

Video 15.06

“ Well, we’re supposed to introduce ourselves. Where do I begin? Umm, I was born in California, but my family moved here when I was only 3. I have 2 brothers and 3 sisters. My Dad is in the Navy, but he’s about to retire soon. My Mom works at a bank. We have a dog named Dumpster - because he’ll eat anything - and my little brother has a guinea pig he named Wolverine. I used to have a hamster but he died. This is my second year in college, and I’m not sure of my major yet. Probably communications or psychology.”

Click here to return to Video 15.06.

Video 15.07

Hi, I’m Casey. I wanted to talk to you today about Student Government. I’m on the Student Government Council here so I know a lot about it. I don’t think a lot of students know what all we do and how we help students on campus. When you see all the events on campus like free ice cream or volleyball on the quad, that’s us. We also do more serious things like when a student has a grievance, student government always has someone on the committee that helps decide the outcome. Umm, we are on a lot of committees. Our Student Government President goes all-around faculty senate meetings, things like that.

Click here to return to Video 15.07.

Video 15.08

Camping is a lot of fun. My family camps a couple of times a year. We’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. My uncle comes too with his family and I have some really fun memories of all our times together. We mostly camp at lakes. That way you can swim, fish, canoe, and everything else.  The best part is probably having a campfire at night. We all sit around it and hang out. We talk and do s’mores, you know that kind of thing.

Click here to return to Video 15.08.

Video 15.09

“Life is full of ups and downs. We all love the good times, don’t we? (smile) Some of my best memories are with my family on our vacations. Even my little brother isn’t so bad then (smile). But sometimes there are hard times, right? (serious) I’m here today to talk about one of the hard times in my life – the time we found out my Mom had breast cancer. My Mom never gets sick, so you can imagine how shocked we were when we found out. She had chemo and all her hair fell out. (serious) But she made us all laugh when she came home wearing a long wig. She said she felt like a model swinging her hair around (smile). But that’s my Mom for you. She can find something good in anything.”

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Video 15.10

Do aliens exist? A lot of movies seem to think so. A lot of people think so, too. Go on the Internet and you’ll probably be shocked to find how many sites are about UFO’s and alien abductions. Today I want to talk to you about Area 51. If you’re into SciFi, you probably know what I’m talking about. For those of you who don’t, Area 51 is a top-secret area in the Nevada desert. Officially, it’s a part of Edwards Air Force base but a lot of people think it’s more. The existence of Area 51 was never even officially acknowledged until 2005.

Click here to return to Video 15.10.

Video 15.11

“I want to talk to you today about video games. Video games get a bad rap. People say they cause more violence in our society. I understand why you might think that. But no one knows for sure if they do. Sure, there are some games that kids shouldn’t play, but that’s why we have a rating system. It’s up to the parents to know about the ratings and to decide what’s appropriate for their kid. But video games can be beneficial, too. I have better eye/hand coordination since I play a lot of games. Video games actually helped me be a better baseball player in high school. I’ve also met a lot of friends online from all over the world. I never would have met those people if I didn’t play video games. It’s a way for me and my friends to connect and it helps me relax after a long day of work and school.”

Click here to return to Video 15.11.

Image Credits

[1] Image courtesy of Keith Allison under CC BY-SA 2.0.

[2] Image courtesy of Gerd Altmann in the Public Domain.

[3] Image courtesy of Love Krittaya in the Public Domain.

[4] Image courtesy of Charlottelinnaehill under CC BY-SA 3.0.

[5] Image courtesy of National Defense University under CC BY 2.0.

[6] Image courtesy of James Loesch under CC BY 2.0.

[7] Image courtesy of Emergency Brake under CC BY 2.0.

[8] Image courtesy of CollegeDegrees360 under CC BY-SA 2.0.

[9] Image courtesy of Rennett Stowe under CC BY 2.0.

[10] Image courtesy of Jack L. Redhead under CC BY-SA 2.0.

[11] Image courtesy of torbakhopper under CC BY 2.0.

[12] Image courtesy of Jack Hills in the Public Domain.

[13] Image courtesy of Supl0v Poker CC BY 2.0.

[14] ​Image courtesy of Gideon Tsang under CC BY-SA 2.0.

[15] Image courtesy of Lukas Stavek under CC0 1.0.

[16] Image courtesy of Rochelle Hartman under CC BY 2.0.

[17] Image courtesy of Anton Ein in the Public Domain.

[18] Image courtesy of Nicki Dugan Pogue under CC BY-SA 2.0.

[19] Image courtesy of Helmuts Guigo under CC BY-SA 2.0.

[20] Image courtesy of Prakhar Amba under CC BY 2.0.

Nonverbal Communication
Elements of speech aside from the words themselves that transmit meaning.
Proxemics - noun
Messages sent through the use of personal space.
Locomotion - noun
The act or power of moving from place to place.
Fidget - verb
Unease or restlessness as shown by nervous movements.
Emblem - noun
A hand gesture that is commonly used and typically universally understood within a specific culture.
Illustrator - noun
A gesture that is used in conjunction with verbal communication to describe or reinforce what the speaker is saying.
Adaptor - noun
Unintentional gestures that are repetitive, unconsciously done, and typically happen during moments of stress or uncertainty.
Adornment - noun
Something added to a person or thing to make it beautiful or attractive, a decoration or enhancement.
Paralanguage - noun
Optional vocal effects (such as tone of voice) that accompany or modify words in order to communicate meaning.
Tone - noun
A particular pitch or change in pitch that can alter the meaning of the actual words in a phrase or sentence.
Pitch - noun
Variance in the highness or lowness of vocal sound.
Rate of Speech
How quickly an individual speaks.
Contradiction - noun
An occurrence when a person’s nonverbal cues and verbal utterances don’t match.
Reputation - noun
A nonverbal gesture that reinforces a vocal utterance.
Complementing - verb
A nonverbal gesture that enhances a vocal utterance.
A belief or attitude that one’s own group is superior.