How to Use Paraverbal Communication for Powerful Engagement

paraverbal communication

Paraverbal communication helps increase the impact of what you say. Follow these tips to quickly improve your communication skills.

When speaking, choosing your words carefully helps, but words alone aren’t enough. Paraverbal communication plays a big role in how your audience sees you.

Sure…the verbal content is important. You might want to convince, persuade, or motivate others to do something. You can use stories, evidence, or even statistics to get you point across.

But…you’re often saying more than you realize with nonverbal communication. Your body language and facial expressions can say a lot.

How you say your words can also impact your message.

What is Paraverbal Communication?

Paraverbal communication is how you say the words you say.

It’s important to consider this part of communication when speaking to your audience, no matter the size.

Not just what you say, but how you say it, plays a big role in how successful your communication skills are.

Presentation style plays a big role in leadership charisma and how others perceive you. Even when the words are the same.  How words are delivered has a big impact on how employees view a leader.

One good example shows up in Grey’s Anatomy. My 15-year-old daughter and I are watching the show together. When April Kepner is chosen as Chief Resident, she has a hard time getting her peers to respect her. She can’t figure out why they won’t follow her orders. When Alex Karev mocks her high-pitched voice, she finally understands. She gets the message that she needs to change her communication style.

I turned to my daughter and said, “Ouch. But she needed to hear that.”

Kepner changed her speaking style and was amazed that it made such a difference.

Why is Paraverbal Communication Important?

Great words alone aren’t enough to make you a compelling speaker. Nonverbal communication can also support or detract from your message.

And your paraverbal communication adds even more meaning to the words you say.

You can take the same message and make it boring or exciting, depending on your delivery.

It’s helpful to consider how valuable paraverbal communication is in many different types of situations:

  • When making presentations,  you can keep listeners more engaged.
  • While telling a story, you can emphasize different parts depending on how you deliver it.
  • If you’re sharing information about the impact your product has on others, you can place more emphasis on certain parts of your story to deepen interest.
  • If you’re training employees on complex software, you can alter your delivery to meet the needs of your audience.
  • Or if you’re sharing information about big organizational changes, how you deliver those words will impact how the audience feels when they hear them. You can convey worry or excitement.

All of this is not just with the words alone, but with how you say them.

And if you want to improve how you’re perceived as a leader, paraverbal communication plays a role there, too.

Research shows that presentation style has an impact on the perception of leadership charisma. Even when the words are the same.  How those words are delivered has a big impact on how employees view a leader.

You want the teams you’re leading to look to you as a trusted and competent leader.

You want your audience to be engaged in the message you have to share. This is true whether you’re giving a presentation to executive stakeholders or leading a small daily stand up meeting.

You might carefully craft your message and spend energy tweaking that PowerPoint presentation. But how you say those words plays a big role in how the message is perceived.

Let’s break down what paraverbal communication is so you can make sure you’re incorporating it effectively into your communication.

3 Key Components of Paraverbal Communication

Paraverbal communication has 3 key components, which are broken out below.

1. Pitch.

Pitch is how high or low your voice goes. You may speak in a high pitch or a low bass or baritone – or more likely somewhere in between. If you have a squeaky high pitch it can show that you’re afraid. If you have a lower pitch it can demonstrate calm. It can also show authority or anger, depending on the context.

Think about the pitch in the context of music.

Music in a higher key denotes happiness or anxiety.

Music in a lower key can denote calm or drama.

It’s the same with your voice. Often, when talking to a baby, the speaker raises her voice several octaves to a high pitch. This conveys happiness or friendliness.

But if you’re nervous before making a presentation, you’re voice might squeak a bit.

And if my daughter is upset and arguing with me about homework her voice raises several octaves (not that this would ever happen).

And if a leader wants to stress a serious point to an audience, his message may be delivered in a lower pitch.

Imagine someone saying “Everybody stay calm.” You likely imagined it said in a lower pitch.

2. Speed or cadence.

Cadence is how fast or slow you talk. Speaking quickly can indicate being nervous, or it can show excitement.

If you’re giving a presentation, you may talk quickly without realizing it. This can indicate to your audience that you’re nervous. Being afraid can automatically speed up your speech.

Speaking more slowly can show that you’re calm and more in control.

And Using pauses can demonstrate that something you’ve said is important, and gives the listener time to ponder the words just before the silence.

3. Tone.

This is a combination of factors that set or convey meaning. It can be using more inflection in your voice, rather than speaking in a monotone.

If you’re reading a speech, it may come across as flat if you don’t change the way the words sound at different times. You may use stronger emphasis in some places, faster or slower pace, and soft supportive tones.

When you vary the tone, it can keep a listener engaged.

If you speak softly, it can encourage someone to listen to you more closely. If you raise your voice, it imparts a different feeling.

This video of Margaret Thatcher is a good example of the difference paraverbal communication makes in delivering a message.

How to Improve Your Paraverbal Communication

If you’re preparing for a presentation, don’t only prepare the words you’ll say. You also need to know that your Paraverbal skills are on-point.

The easiest way to improve your Paraverbal communication is to record yourself and listen back.

For example, video record yourself giving your presentation when practicing beforehand. In this way, you can see and hear pitch, tone, and speed of your presentation.

Another benefit of practicing a presentation is that you’ll feel less anxious and more prepared.

When you get nervous, it comes through in the ways discussed above.

When you’ve practiced your presentation, you’ll be more prepared and in control.

Getting as much information as possible about the room you’ll present in, the size of the group, and what to expect from the experience can all help you feel more in control and prepared. This will also give you important information about how far you need to project your voice – another aspect of paraverbal communication.

And if your communication skills are weak, improving paraverbal communication is valuable in your day-to-day communication with peers and your team, too.


Knowing how to use paraverbal communication can improve your communication skills.  Even when you have the right words, how you deliver them can help you make the impact you desire. It plays right along with the messaging, the body language, and even facial expressions you use to get your point across.

Varying the tone and speed of what you’re saying allows you to emphasize different parts of the story or message.

You’ll have a more engaged audience, be able to stir emotions, and make a bigger impact with your words.

That’s certainly worth paying attention to.

Note: This article was updated on 10/19/2020

One Response

  1. Sofia October 20, 2021

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