Intonation & Stress in Public Speaking: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:04 Public Speaking
  • 0:31 Intonation and Stress
  • 1:48 Other Speech Issues
  • 2:22 Planning
  • 3:28 Practice
  • 4:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

Public speaking can be intimidating, but there are ways to convey your ideas and thoughts in an articulate and emphasized manner. Intonation and stress in your speech can help to create interest in your message and keep the audience engaged.

Public Speaking

Public speaking is a large part of academia and the business world. Whether you're standing in front of your fellow students arguing a point or standing at a business meeting discussing that month's performance, you need to have a way to engage your peers. Your subject must relate to those around you, and you have to make sure you are speaking with confidence and assurity. This will make your speech easy to follow and more engaging. One way to interest the public in what you're saying is through the use of intonation and stress.

Intonation and Stress

Intonation occurs when the voice changes in pitch and tone while speaking. You can compare it to music and how different songs can inspire sadness, anger, or joy. A well-written and well-spoken speech can do the same. Higher intonation is a way to excite the audience, while slowing and lowering your tone will either end a point or a speech. The low intonation is a natural way to let everyone know you are finished.

Everyone has different levels of pitch in their voice. Though some are more prone to a higher pitch and some to a lower pitch, we can all change our timbre depending on who we are talking to and why. Timbre is the overall natural quality and sound of your voice, whether it's closer to a high soprano or a low bass when you're speaking. For example, compare the sound of a two-year-old whining to that of a cop arresting a criminal. Each timbre holds a different pitch and adds to the overall tone of the message. Similarly, you can use your tone and voice pitch to change your communication with your audience.

During a speech, you can also use stress to draw attention to different parts of your message. Stressing involves putting more emphasis on a word or sentence to draw attention to it. Say you're discussing world hunger in your speech. In this case, you would want to emphasize words like 'hunger' and 'poverty' to make sure the audience is drawn to the main idea of your speech.

Other Speech Issues

There are other issues to consider as you compose and present your speech that will make your message flow well and help you communicate your ideas to the audience more effectively:

  • Rhythm: how the words move. In a bad speech, the words are choppy and make the audience stop at every other word. If the speaker has a regular cadence, then the speech flows easily, without being too slow, too choppy, or too fast.

  • Speech Artifacts: ways that people take a break as they speak to gather their thoughts. Words like 'uh' or 'um' or even 'you know' can disrupt the overall smooth flow of the speech.


So, how do you use all of this to your advantage? First, when writing out your speech, notate where you will use intonation, and where you need to create a climactic moment within your talk. Usually, you will want to do this when you are in the biggest point of your speech. Raise your voice only slightly, add a deep timbre, and emphasize words precisely. This changes your speech pattern and makes the audience take notice.

Secondly, use intonation to make your speech easy, lyrical, and rhythmic, so it's not only easy to hear but easy for you to remember and say. The more it sounds like you talking to a friend about a subject you're passionate about, the better the speech will be.

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