How to Use Action Verbs in Public Speaking

Anyone who has had the excruciating experience of being trapped at a formal dinner listening to a bad speech knows that most speeches can be made better with a few simple changes. One such change is to use action verbs to draw the speaker into the story. Action verbs, also called concrete verbs, are vivid, immediate and specific; they give sentences more clarity and impact, two things that can greatly improve a speech. Best of all, they make a speech shorter, which is always an improvement.


  1. Image titled Use Action Verbs in Public Speaking Step 1
    Comb the text of your speech, circling every verb.
  2. Image titled Use Action Verbs in Public Speaking Step 2
    Analyze all verbs that denote a state of being like "is," "was" and "had."
    • Ignore, for now, the instances when these verbs are used in combination with other verbs to such as "had begged." Look for the verbs that are standing on their own, such as in the phrases "she was angry" or "they are happy."
    • Reword the sentences to replace these verbs with those that are more vivid. For instance, instead of "she was angry," say "she glowered." Instead of "they are happy," say "they cheer."
  3. Image titled Use Action Verbs in Public Speaking Step 3
    Look at the rest of the verbs. Ask yourself if you have used the most specific verb possible.
    • Consult a thesaurus to find alternatives to these verbs.
    • Rewrite the sentences with verbs that say exactly what you mean. For example, instead of saying "she expressed her happiness," say "she smiled." Instead of saying "he ran," say "he jogged" or "he bolted."
  4. Image titled Use Action Verbs in Public Speaking Step 4
    Go back to your state-of-being verbs that are used with other verbs. These combinations are normally used to construct sentences that help the listener know when the action occurred. For instance, if you say "he had cheated" after you say "he failed the test," the audience knows that cheating actually occurred before failing.
    • Consider that many speakers use these verb combinations when they don't need to, which is distracting to the audience. For example, a speaker might say "I had gone to the courthouse" when "I went to the courthouse" works equally well and is more clear.
    • Try rewriting these sentences to replace the verb combinations with a single verb. If you find that making the change means that the speech is less clear, change it back.
    • Pay special attention to sentences in passive voice, since these kill even the best verbs. Passive voice means that there is no one causing the action in the sentence. For instance, "a man was murdered" does not tell the listener who committed the murder. Unless it's absolutely necessary to use passive voice in the interest of political correctness, such as admitting to a mistake without blaming your boss for it, change all sentences that are in passive voice.
  5. Image titled Use Action Verbs in Public Speaking Step 5
    Practice your speech with the new verbs, keeping in mind that the core of a sentence is the verb. Emphasize the verbs and listen to how your speech has become shorter but more powerful.
  6. Image titled Use Action Verbs in Public Speaking Step 6
    Consider acting out your verbs. Depending on the occasion you're speaking at and the size of your audience, you can do this a little or a lot.
    • Search out the vowels that are representations of the action they describe. For instance, the word "zoom" sounds a lot like what you hear when something zooms past you. Don't just say "zoomed," but draw out the vowel as if imitating the sound of the car speeding past: "Zooomed!"
    • Add inflection to verbs that describe emotion. A little bit of a growl in your voice, for instance, will help emphasize a word such as "angry."
    • Keep in mind that although you may be standing behind a lectern, you are nonetheless performing a speech. Be a voice actor.


  • Don't sacrifice the timing of a good joke for the sake of using action verbs. Remember that the most important word, the one that makes the joke funny, must be the last word. Arrange your sentences accordingly.
  • Resist the temptation to add to your speech. Instead, slow your pace, because many public speakers talk too fast.

Sources and Citations

Article Info

Categories: Public Speaking