How to Make Your Speech Come Alive Using Subtext

Famous Russian actor and theatre director, Constantin Stanislavski was quoted saying, ‘Spectators come to the theatre to hear the subtext.’

This came to mind recently I was working with a young relative on her lines for her upcoming play and we discussed how to use different acting techniques to bring meaning to the words and the character to life. 

Subtext can be described as the unspoken thoughts and motives of a character; what they really think and believe. How a character feels about what they’re saying is revealed through gesture, intonation and expression. It is this expression that brings the words to life and makes a character interesting to watch.

You can use the idea of subtext to enhance your public speaking. Often when I’m working with clients on a pitch or presentation I’ll ask them how they feel about a certain point they are making. For example, if someone says ‘I’m passionate about skiing’ yet every essence of their being communicates that they really couldn’t care less about skiing, then the message is incongruent and will confuse an audience. If they do truly feel passionate about skiing, the audience need to experience the emotion of the subtext – what is it about skiing that the speaker loves? Is it the beauty of the scenery, pushing themselves physically or the thrill of speeding down a mountain with the wind in their hair? Once the speaker starts to get in touch with their feelings associated with skiing, their communication takes on a new energy; their tone of voice changes and their posture, gestures and expressions are charged with the passion that they are aiming to express.

Here is another example: Imagine you are pitching your company to an investor and explaining that you have tripled your turnover in the past 12 months. That’s a significant achievement! But if you just say the words in your pitch without any subtext or feeling behind them, you lose the opportunity to properly communicate this achievement. By thinking about the magnitude of the achievement and what this means to your business and to potential investors, you are more likely to emphasise the words and automatically use effective gestures to reinforce the point.

Focusing only on the words can lead to a flat and uninteresting presentation. Thinking about the subtext can bring emotion to your speech which will enable you to connect with your audience on another level. So next time you are required to speak in public try incorporating the subtext, the meaning behind the words, and your speech will come alive.

If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’

Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction.

Mel's book 'The Authority Guide to Pitching Your Business - how to make an impact and be remembered... in under a minute!' is available on
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