Improve your Public Speaking Skills by Improving your Articulation and Diction with the Speech Stairs Strategy

Improve your Public Speaking Skills by Improving your Articulation and Diction with the Speech Stairs Strategy

Improve your Public Speaking Skills by Improving your Articulation and Diction with the Speech Stairs Strategy


By Elizabeth Peterson, M.A.,CCC-SLP

Excerpt from, How to Speak like a Broadcaster and Lead like a CEO



In the last article, we introduced the concept of intonation. Intonation is a term describing how pitch, rhythm and melody are used to group phrases together while maintaining a fluid message that sounds clear and effective to the listener. It is a very important skill for effective public speaking.  It is a technique that, when done correctly, will also enhance the interest of your listener because the pitch tones are always changing and that creates active listening. This is considered to be the model for business communication because it is so effective for negotiating, leading meetings or giving a presentation. Intonation is the blueprint for effective leadership and credibility through communication. People who speak monotone or mumble lack speech clarity. Learning how to speak with correct intonation will significantly improve how you sound to others while enhancing your professional image and credibility. This will improve your confidence and credibility when public speaking.


Multisyllable Word Practice


If speaking with pitch changes is completely new to you, practice with multisyllable words to establish what it feels like to move down in pitch and speak with intonation. This is a drill to help you move each syllable down the speech stairs and not about where the stress placement is within the word. This is helpful if you are a monotone or fast speaker and have never spoken in pitch tones. This exercise is to help you to eliminate the monotone and forcefulness and feel the new melody. Hold the vowel sound longer and notice your speech is sounding and feeling smoother and clearer. This exercise has intended purpose, to practice moving down in pitch and feel the result of intonation and notice that your jaw and lips are moving with more range of motion. Notice the result of better projection and sharper articulation.


Four-Syllable Words


Intelligent                  Optimistic                  Ballerina                    Acquaintances


Demonstration         Litigation                   Political                      Motorcycle


Simple Sentence Practice


Let’s now apply intonation to short sentences. Begin each sentence speaking from your natural tone, and then step up the speech stairs on the word or syllable where you want the pitch to rise. Next, travel down the speech stairs, moving down in pitch on each syllable along the remaining steps. The first three examples have been underlined for you, indicating where the rise in pitch could be. There is no rule for when to take the step up (rise up) in pitch. Take the rise in pitch early in the statement to begin speaking with more professional intonation. See the following example and begin to improve your public speaking skills.



  • The is





The chair is rocking slowly.                                               The bank will open at 3:00 p.m.

You can run with the bulls in Spain.                    I need change for a twenty.

There will be a party at lunchtime.                                   My newspaper is missing.


Notice after you have that rise in pitch that you have created a platform for stepping down in pitch on each syllable for the rest of your statement. When it is time for you to express your next thought, come up in pitch in the beginning of your next statement. This speaking style needs to become your “new normal.” When the cycle is repeated with each sentence, your speech will have continual melody and better articulation. If you are a monotone or fast speaker, moving your pitch up and down the speech stairs will significantly improve your clarity and control your speed. This new approach will require committed practice for about three weeks for these new pitch changes to feel and sound natural.


Homework: Practice this strategy knowing that it will take up to three weeks for it to feel natural. Do you see how this strategy will improve your public speaking skills?


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