Sense Stress

How to Master & When to Use

Sense stress is the adding of increased or decreased tonal inflection when speaking. Appropriate sense stress is important to conveying ideas properly. It does more than keep speech from being monotone. It requires the right inflection on the right words or phrases in order to emphasize the message you wish to deliver.

To best understand it, give it a try and notice how the meaning of the sentence change each time you say it.

    The 8 sentences below have the same 8 words within. Read each sentence emphasizing the word in the parenthesis. Progressively each next word will get emphasized. Notice the change in the meaning.

    'I' didn’t say you stole the candy bar.

    I 'didn't' say you stole the candy bar.

    I didn't 'say' you stole the candy bar.

    I didn’t say 'you' stole the candy bar.

    I didn't say you 'stole' the candy bar.

    I didn't say you stole 'the' candy bar.

    I didn't say you stole the ‘candy’ bar.

    I didn't say you stole the candy 'bar.'

    Inadequate or improper sense stress can result in an obscure meaning of the information you present. The ability to persuade or motivate is severely hampered. Even worse, you may lose the audience when their thoughts go else where.

    Two ways to add proper stress are discussed in other pages on this site. They include pausing before a statement and after. It could also include both. This could also add drama to your emphasis. Also facial expressions and gestures will aid in accomplishing this.

    It also can be produced with mastery of the human voice.

    In the exercise above, try to extend the pronunciation of each of the words. Hopefully you remember someone talking to you that way at some time. Elongating the sound of a word, mispronouncing it, could cost credibility. There can be times when it is appropriate, such as with consonants to increase effect with out increasing volume.

    Now try the same exercise with each of the following:

    1) greater volume

    2) greater intensity or feeling

    3) stronger inflection

    4) increase pitch (unless this is a typical weakness you are known for)

    5) lower the tone

    6) slow down the pace

    This is a brief primer on how. Now where do you do it?

Where to Use Sense Stress

    As always, it comes back to the audience. What is your purpose? What do you hope to accomplish with the audience? What do you want them to walk away form the lecture with? What motivation or persuasion do you hope to effect?

    Those questions are the first to ask when considering where to give appropriate emphasis.

    The answer to those questions gives you clues for deciding where to add emphasis in what you say. Mastery of this is an art. Look at some of the great lines in great movies. Many were made famous for their proper use of this kind of inflection. Consider some of the all time great speeches. Sense stress was there.

    In a speech, first contextual consideration would be given priority in where extra stress would be appropriate. Given the practice above, decide which aspect of your speech needs added emphasis for your contextual situation.

    If it is the people that you want to emphasize, then make sure they are emphasized through the entire body of what you say.

    If you are focusing on 3 different things, let’s say people, the job and the outcome, make sure for each section, only one is emphasized.

    Think of it another way. Putting stress into a word so that it makes sense. Proper stressing of words can also be used for initiating, highlighting, or concluding the points being addressed.

    Sense stress can be used to show the personal conviction of the speaker.

    In all these, it is a way to add meaning to what is being said.

General Rules

  • Use it for the theme focused thought of each section of a talk.
  • IUse it to follow the common thread from the beginning to end.
  • Be selective, do not use it for too many words or too often.
  • It can be a group of words and not just individual words.
  • Use it to emphasize support for your proposition.
  • Use for the main points you want remembered.
  • Let the reason for motivating or persuading be the guiding force of where you place your sense stress.

    Out of these, decide and craft the placement of your sense stress.

Do you have comments or suggestions to further develop this section? Feel free to submit your ideas or suggestions

Go Back to the Speaking Skills List

Go to The Sense Stress Web Site

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