Practical Tips for Becoming a More Expressive Speaker

“Expressiveness” is one of those words on the ballot….and one that can mean quite a lot of different things.  Teasing out some of those many meanings can go a long way toward helping you be more of all those different things in any kind of speech.

Expressiveness has to do with the way YOU, the speaker, deliver your speech.  When you speak, you are expressing your confidence and mental state through your posture, gestures, and facial movements.  You are expressing your thoughts through the words you’ve chosen and the sentence structure you employ.  You are expressing your attitude and passion through your tone and inflection.  The word “expressiveness” can be applied to describe your delivery physically, facially, and vocally, and it’s important to examine those different realms to understand the ways in which they contribute to your overall expressiveness.

Physical expressiveness is primarily a gross motor or whole-body type of expressiveness.  Most competitors tend to associate this exclusively with the interpretive events and that is a faulty association indeed!  In platform speeches, limited prep speeches, and debate, a speaker must enter the room, choose a spot to stand, move during the speech, gesture during the speech, and shake hands with the judges before exiting the room.  And MUCH is expressed in the way you do each of those things.  A strong stride and upright posture will suggest far more confidence and ease than a halting approach to the center of the speaking area.  Standing near – but not too near – the judge table will indicate that you are interested in engaging with them, while standing back against the back wall could suggest that you are afraid of them, and standing too close to the audience will cause them to shrink away from you.  Energized movements and gestures used during your speech tell your audience that you are “into” this topic, that you, yourself, are engaged with it, and that you want them to be as well.  Being stuck to one spot on the floor with elbows glued to your side will tell your judges that you aren’t really even thinking about your topic because you’re too nervous.  As a result, they won’t think about your topic either; they will grow increasingly uncomfortable on your behalf!

Do you want your audience to lean in and listen?  Then invite them in by using your whole body during your delivery.  Step around when you are making a point – forward, backward, side to side.  Use your hands and arms to emphasize the things that require action or that excite you about your topic.  Let yourself go  a little and perform!  When I am coaching kids, I often have them think about what kind of soundtrack they would play behind their speech.  What instruments would they choose?  How fast or slow would the music move? Would it be a major key or a minor one?  Would it be quiet or loud?  See, musical soundtracks help movie and tv audiences know how to feel about what they are seeing.  And I KNOW you can’t play musical soundtracks to your speeches, but you can imagine them when you practice.  You CAN practice to a musical soundtrack.  Find one that sounds appropriate to the tone you are aiming for and deliver that speech with a musical background.  You will likely find yourself moving along with the music, leaning in when the tension builds or sweeping along, or giving some lighthearted or humorous shoulder shrugs.  THAT, is the physical expressiveness you want!  It’s more interesting and more engaging to your audience, and you will find that they are suddenly looking at you instead of the pattern on your tie.

The second level of expressiveness involves your face and it’s many features.  I don’t group this with the whole- body kind of expressiveness because it is so much smaller and more subtle.  You will use your face to actually look at your audience and you will communicate far more than you imagine with your eyes, eyebrows, mouth, lips, etc.  Think about it…how much do you like speaking to three stony-faced judges that you cannot read?  They don’t smile or laugh, they don’t raise an eyebrow or nod, they don’t look past your suit.  Not very inspiring, is it?  Well turn that table…when a speaker is expressionless, the audience is equally uninspired.  They start to judge your appearance instead of your words because they need something to focus on.  So, give them something!  Today, we have whole catalogues of emojis, right?  So here’s a tip:  Go through your speech and draw emojis all over your paragraphs.  Change the eyebrows, the slant of the mouth, or the wrinkle lines to suggest the emotion that would be appropriate for that sentence.  Make sure you don’t repeat the same emoji over and over again!  If that is happening, you can be certain that your face is also unchanging during your delivery.  The simple act of drawing the emojis will help you associate new expressions with different lines in your speech.  It will help you identify places where you need comedic timing or want to express real sorrow over what you’ve observed in the world.  Your face is one of your most engaging assets in the world of public speaking so make sure you are using it to the full extent.

Lastly, consider your vocal expressiveness, which involves things like placing a certain tone of voice or dramatic intensity on your words where it is appropriate.  It utilizes pace and pitch to give variety to the sentences.  It suggests whether the audience is supposed to feel lofty joy or concern or anger or delight about your topic.  Here again, you have a fantastic opportunity to really reach out and get hold of your audience!  If you just drone along, you will numb their minds by the third minute of your speech.  When you are finished, they will blink and try to remember your main points. You don’t want that!  You want them to be tracking with you the whole way through.  An exercise you can use to improve vocal shading and expressiveness is what I call the “I am Groot” game.  If you are a fan of Guardians of the Galaxy, you know the character Groot, who has a complete vocabulary of three words:  I, am, Groot.  No matter what he wants to say, he uses only those three words. Try it.  Say, “I am Groot” in such a way that you are really saying, “This is awful!”  or “Whatever!”  or “That concerns me.”  or “I love it!”  To make these changes in what you mean, you will have to alter your tone of voice, your volume, and your emphasis.  Your words will stay the same.  You can apply the same technique to your platform speech or your debate case.  Try saying a key sentence several different ways.  Shift the emphasis to new words.  Change your volume or pace. Crescendo up to a big booming finish.  Play with your lines and try them out in different ways.  Chances are, you’ll strike something that sounds better than your original approach or gets a great response from your friends and family.  That is the goal!

Some other suggestions for improving your expressiveness:

  1. Sing along with Broadway musicals or Disney show tunes.  These are usually loaded with opportunities to layer emotion and facial expression into your words…and they come with music that gets your whole body moving as well.
  2. Make faces in the mirror.  These are not necessarily faces you will actually use in your delivery, just stretch your facial muscles and see how far you can push them.  Be sure to save some of the best ones in photos.  The laughs later will also help you be more expressive!
  3. Cut out a few pictures of people from magazines or newspapers.  Try delivering your speech the way you think that person would do it.  This will help you change your pronunciation, tone, emphasis.  The more differences between pictures, the more things you will try.

All in all, the goal is to push your boundaries a little more and give yourself all kinds of room to layer on more expressiveness as you reach out and get your audience right in the palm of your hand.  Enjoy!

photo by: Julianne Photography