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Understanding the application of grammar and style

Read this article about understanding the application of grammar and style in oral communication.


Grammar extends to spoken language, and while there is no visible punctuation, we still punctuate our speech by pauses or intonation (the rise and fall of the speaker’s voice). Therefore, it is important to speak with correct punctuation because it will influence how your audience digests the message.

Read the below sentence out loud:

  1. The project plan will need to change because our parameters are not the same anymore our staff capabilities have changed and we no longer have the correct resources is this okay with you

Did you subconsciously pause where there should be commas and full stops? Did you notice that your voice rose in pitch when you asked “is this okay with you”?

Your voice reveals the punctuation in oral communication. It is important to consider this when speaking and use pauses and intonation purposefully to regulate how your message is delivered. You can do this by slightly pausing where commas, semi-colons, and full stops are, raising your pitch at the end of a question, and changing your intonation when speaking quotes or providing emphasis.

All of the grammatical conventions discussed throughout this course also apply to spoken communication, and they will actually smooth out your speech even if you don’t notice it. This is because language is mainly constructed verbally, so the conventions you have learned will often sound better than if you used the wrong one, even if no one you’re speaking to consciously knows why. You don’t have to know the theory behind subject-verb agreement to know that the sentence “the projects has finished” doesn’t sound quite right.


Style can actually be easier to convey in oral communication because you have more control over your tone, intonation, and voice, and you also have body language.

The most important part of style in oral communication is your delivery rather than the actual words you say, whereas this is the opposite for written communication. Delivery includes our voice pitch, attitude, rate, articulation, pronunciation, and body language.

The sentence “just get it done” could be received very differently if it were delivered in a soft, slow tone with a smile than if it were delivered in a rough, monotonous tone with no eye contact. Say this sentence out loud in a soft, slow tone with a smile and then in a rough, monotonous tone. What meaning would you take from each of these deliveries?

Body language is another vital part of in person communication, as it may often carry more meaning than your actual words. Body language includes nonverbal signals such as posture, facial expressions and gestures to convey meaning. Being aware of these nonverbal signals in your own body will help you control the message you are trying to deliver.

If your body language contradicts the words you are speaking, a person may be more likely to receive the message your body language is giving rather than your words. For example, if you asked your colleague how they were, and they responded with “I’m well thanks, how are you?”, you would assume they meant what they said. However, if they were slumped at their desk, didn’t make eye contact with you, and had their head down, you might assume they were not actually well.

Therefore, it is important for your body language to match what you are saying in all oral communication, but especially when you are trying to persuade someone of your point of view. Your body language should match the confidence of your voice and knowledge.

During professional communication, and especially in meetings and presentations, it is important to keep your tone neutral but engaging, have a moderate rate, clear articulation and pronunciation, and neutral or open body language. Presenters will often slow down words and use body language to place emphasis on important words and pause for effect.

Body language can also work against us if we are not thoughtful about how our language is representing us. To address this and ensure we are always presenting our best selves, it can be useful to use the Stop, Think and Do framework (Peterson, 1995).

stop do think framework

This is an effective technique for ensuring the intent of your message comes across accurately. Like tone, body language contributes meaning to our words, and it is important to think about how this will influence the audience’s perception of our message. Equally as important is the reflection of how your body language and style of communicating is impacting the other person’s communication style. If they are reacting negatively, it is beneficial to reflect on your communication style to analyse how you may be contributing to this. People often reflect the communication style of the person they are talking to, so if you are calm and respectful, it is more likely that the other person will reciprocate this.

Peterson, L. (1995). Stop Think Do. In: van Bilsen, H. P. J. G., Kendall, P. C., Slavenburg, J.H. (eds) Behavioural Approaches for Children and Adolescents. Plenum Press.
© University of Southern Queensland
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