The Rhythm of Speaking

Years ago, one of my coaching said to me, “Craig, you have a rhythm when you speak. How can I get a rhythm into my speeches?”

I have to admit, at the time, I was stumped for an answer. I really hadn’t thought much about it. However, a few months later, it hit me. Speaking is certainly a lot like music and there is a rhythm to it.

The Advantage to Having Rhythm in your Speech?

There is also a major benefit to having a rhythm in your speech. Can you guess what that is?

It makes the speech more memorable!

Think about it. Aren’t there some songs you haven’t heard for years but, if you heard them today, you would remember the words? That’s because music has that kind of power. The rhythm helps deliver the message. Speaking can have a similar power if it’s rhythmic.


Proof of the Power of the Rhythm

Just the other day I received a phone call from a prospect who said, “Craig, I saw you speak 10 years ago and I remember when you said, ‘People buy-into what they help create.’ Well, I need some buy-in from my staff today so I want to bring you in to speak.”

Wow, 10 years! Believe it or not, I’m sure the repetition and the rhythm behind the points I drove home that day had a lot to do with why he still remembered them.

Let’s look at how you can have Rhythm in your Speaking

When I was in middle school, I remember our music teacher showing us how to put a song together. Today I look at speaking in a very similar way.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not a musician nor do I pretend to be. After all, when people hear me sing they say, “I’m glad you can speak.” However, the way a very simple song is put together has similarities with the way a speech can be put together…especially a keynote speech.

Speaking of Singing

Here’s what I remember about the structure of a song. It’s what is regularly called the AABA form.

Verse A


Verse A



Verse A


Speaking of Speaking

Now let’s look at the way a speech can be put together compared to the song.

Verse A – This is similar to the first story of your speech

Chorus – This is the Foundational Phrase (or takeaway message) of your first story

Verse A  – This is the second story of your speech

Chorus – This includes call backs to the Foundational Phrases of your first and second stories

Bridge – According to Wikipedia, in music, the “…bridge is a contrasting section which also prepares for the return of the original material section.” In other words, it is not the same as the verses but it gets you back to the verses afterwards. What does this mean for speaking?

I strongly suggest at this point that you depart from your stories and head to something different like a short activity, some questions for your audience, a discuss and debrief, or something that will change the rhythm of the speech.  This keeps your audience on their toes and energizes them.

One of the ideas I learned from Ed Tate is that once people get too used to your rhythm of speech, they start to tune you out. Therefore, it’s important to change your rhythm at times and “taking it to the bridge” will help with that.

Verse A – Once you’ve transitioned back from the bridge, you can tell your third story.

Chorus – This includes call backs to the Foundational Phrases from your three stories. When you repeat these phrases, it’s similar to the repetition of the chorus. Aren’t there some choruses you can’t get out of your head? Guess what? By repeating your Foundational Phrases throughout the rhythm of your speech, you will make them stick.

The Other Key to Having a Rhythm to your Speech

Here’s the biggest key I learned for having a rhythm to your speech:


That’s right, it’s not what you say; it’s what you don’t say that matters. It also matters when you don’t say it. This involves timing.

I’m consistently reminded of something I read years ago that, through research, I found was said by the French Composer Claude Debussy.

Music is the silence between the notes

Later, through reading Deepak Chopra and others, I learned…

Without silence between notes, music would simply be noise


I’ve always thought about those quotes related to speaking. So often speakers are worried about what they’re going to say. We need to also be mindful about when we’re going to be silent and let the rhythm speak.

For example, here is one very small section of a story I tell about a speaking hero of mine. Listen for the silence:

[audio:|titles=Silence between the notes ]

Welcome back. Did you hear it? There was a long silence between my notes and this affected my speech in several ways.

  1. When I became silent, my audience members began to experience my disappointment with me
  2. They also wondered what I would do (and what they would have done) in that situation
  3. It made them want to hear what was coming next
  4. It gave my audience time to catch up after my excitement and fast pace from intitially meeting my hero
  5. It made my audience look at my face (and other visual cues) to try to determine what I was thinking and where the story would go. This is an extreme benefit to taking silence.


Problem with Silence

One of the big problems with silence is that many speakers are afraid of it. They’re afraid their audience will tune out or think that the speaker has forgotten the speech.

In fact, think back to the silence you just heard in that audio. In one of my DVDs that includes that same story, the videographer actually edited the video and took out those several seconds of silence! I couldn’t believe it! I wanted to say, “Are you kidding me? That’s one of the most important parts of the story.” After all, I want music, not noise. So we had him put it back in. He probably saw the silence as an enemy. You should see it as your best friend.

The takeaway is to not be afraid of the silence. It will only give your speech the rhythm it deserves and provide your audience with an experience and a message they won’t soon forget.

My Question to you 

If you too see speaking as being musical or rhythmic, how are you using that to your advantage?


Final Thought

“I’ve leave you with something more important than anything I’ve said today. I’ll leave you with this…”

Craig Valentine

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