Intonation refers to the way in which we use rising and falling pitch when we speak.

Effective intonation can be a great tool to make your public speaking clearer and more confident, as well as adding colour and variety. When we speak to one-another, we naturally incorporate changes in our pitch in order to convey particular emotion or meaning. For example, the pitch of our speech rises at the end of a sentence when we ask a question.

Without changes to the intonation of our sentences, you can come off sounding boring, uncomfortable, or disinterested. And, whether or not that’s the case, controlling your intonation can help to give more authority or emphasis to what it is that you’re saying.

One common pitfall to be aware of is the increase in pitch at the end of a sentence when you’re not intending to ask a question. This has the effect of sounding uncertain. Instead, using a downward pattern towards the end of the same sentence can help to add greater confidence and become clearer for your listener.

Word stress

Whilst we normally think of intonation in terms of the whole sentence, it’s also important to consider how emphasis on each word (that is, ‘word stress’) can help you make your point. The three aspects of word stress to consider are:

  • Changes to pitch for a given word or syllable;
  • Making a word or syllable longer than normal;
  • The way in which each syllable is articulated.