19 Oral Communication Basics

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Oral communication is fundamentally different than written communication. Your voice has qualities that cannot be communicated in written form, and you use these to your advantage when presenting your research. You can speak more informally and naturally than in written articles or theses. How your voice quality, volume, and pitch affect your listener’s engagement and understanding of the message’s content.

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Exercise: Watch some videos of good speakers

Ted Talks are a world-renowned series of engaging speakers. Click here for a playlist of short Ted Talk videos. Watch the videos and take note of the speaker’s tone, volume, word choice, and pitch.

Oral Communication Tips


Delivering a message with a happy and enthusiastic tone will have a much different impact than serious or sad tones. In most academic situations, it is appropriate to speak with some level of formality, yet avoid sounding stilted or arrogant. Also, check the tone of your words: using words like “Obviously…” can alienate your audience.


Your voice volume should be normal but ensure your listeners can hear you. If your audience includes English learners, speaking louder and shouting don’t help them understand you any better compared with accessible word choices delivered in a normal tone.

Word choice

Use simple words and short, active-voice sentences of 10-to-20 words, as well as avoid idioms (figures of speech) that don’t translate literally. Be careful not to use words that you only usually see in written text, like journal articles (e.g., “Therefore,…”), since these will make your presentation sound scripted and unnatural.


Pitch refers to the frequency of your voice, which you can raise or lower for effect. A pleasant, natural voice will have some variation in pitch—raised for lighthearted quips and lower for serious statements—to communicate nuances of meaning and keep the listener engaged. A speaker with a flat pitch will sound robotic and bored. Modulating your volume and pitch helps communicate the rich emotions of your messages.


There are plenty of resources to help you improve your oral communication. See this list from the Government of Canada, or join a public speaking group like Toastmasters.


This chapter contains adapted content from Communication at Work by Jordan Smith which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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Principles of Scientific Communication Copyright © 2020 by Amanda Bongers and Donal Macartney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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