Action verbs in speech writing

Shun those wishy-washy weak nondescript verbs! 

By: Susan Dugdale | Last modified: 12-01-2020 |

Strong action verbs in speech writing give your words immediacy. They carry color and passion, communicating with clarity and precision. Use them, and they'll stop your audience  inwardly groaning over yet another  ho-hum, blah, blah, blah speech.

So drop those dull, generalized verbs and choose to be distinctive!

Background Image: repetition of handwritten words - Blah, Blah, BLAH in black. Text: How long is this speech? It is definitely winning first prize in the best boring talk category.

Let's look at an example so you see what I mean.

Mary expressed her disappointment by pulling a face.

That's quite a few words and, although it does get the idea across about what Mary is doing and feeling, we can do better. Much better!

We'll rewrite the sentence using a dynamic action verb.

Mary grimaced.

or, Mary frowned.

or, Mary winced.

or, Mary glowered.

or, Mary scowled.

Each one of those verb choices is stronger because they convey more precisely Mary's reaction (face pulling) and what her mood might have been as a result of her being disappointed. 

In addition one word has replaced seven from the original sentence!  

How about these sentences?

Which one contains the power verb setting the scene and the mood so we can imagine it immediately?

John sauntered down the street.

John walked down the street.

"Walked" lets us know what John is doing but "sauntered" does so much more. It lets us know what he's doing, as well as the way he's doing it, by conveying his mood. Saunter implies relaxed, leisurely, and pleasant. John is not merely out for a walk but for an enjoyable stroll.

Saying more with less

In speech writing the challenge is always to find the words that say more while using fewer of them. A well chosen verb does just that. It slices through "blah, blah, blah" to the core of your message, and the hearts and minds of your audience. 

Use dynamic interesting language and you'll find yourself listened to and appreciated more.

Word hunting - use a thesaurus

Image: screen shot of home page of Text:One of my favorite place - - words to make you swoon with delight.

If you need a hand to jump start your action verb collection use an
online thesaurus. The link is to my favorite.

I love finding and collecting more words to use. A thesaurus is perfect for that.

Each entry word has a list of synonyms (words that are similar in meaning) and antonyms (words that are opposite in meaning). In some instances there will be even more information.

As an example for this page I searched; "shout".

Here's a sample of synonyms from the results: bawl, bay, bellow, cheer, clamor, exclaim, holler, roar, scream, screech, shriek, squall, squawk, whoop, yammer, yap, yell, and there's still more!

Now I can differentiate and be specific.

For instance: The boss shouted but exactly how did he shout?

- Did he bawl?
- Did he whoop?
- Did he shriek?

See what I mean?

Each one of those words; bawl, whoop and shriek, gives a slightly different picture. They change how we interpret the sentence, and how we see the boss! That distinction makes our language more interesting to listen to. Our stories become more precise, colorful and alive!

The challenge

The challenge is to go through what you've prepared as if you were in the audience and ask yourself these questions:

Is the language I've used interesting? Does it convey my meaning easily?

Are there words I would be better off replacing or ones that need to be taken out entirely because they are either boring or unnecessary?

Yes, it's more effort. However the rewards are worth it - a listening audience, and better speech writing.

Click for more about how to write a speech and structuring speeches using a speech outline