Speaking Contains Multiple Genres: Mastering the Art of Tailored Communication

Ever thought about the different genres of speech? Speaking contains  multiple genres. From small talk to business pitches, each situation demands a unique approach.


When you open your mouth to talk, whether it’s for small talk, deep meaningful conversations, a networking event, or for a class, do you ever think about what kind of talking you’re doing?

No! Of course not! But each of those situations are actually different genres of speaking. The same applies to public speaking. Board presentations, keynotes, panel discussions, workshops, business pitches, research showcases… you get the idea.

A few weeks ago, I was working with a client, Annie, and as we were wrapping up our coaching, she asked me what feedback I’d give her overall on her presentation skills. I had already given her feedback specific to the presentations she had done for me. From a broader perspective, I told her she could bring more of herself to her presentations and trust her knowledge.

(This is something I say to people often. There are lots of people who believe that they have to put on a presentation “persona.” I don’t recommend it. Engage authentically!)

Annie was surprised by my suggestion. She said, “I always read my notes in university presentations, practically writing a script.” We’ve covered the differences between writing and speaking, so I won’t get into that here. I’ll just say that what Annie was doing for her university presentations may have been the right thing for her to do under those conditions.

But in the presentations she’s giving for work, she’s mostly speaking to her colleagues or her direct reports, and the formality she’s choosing isn’t serving her.

Similarly, we had a client call us about one of their colleagues. The colleague had given a dismal presentation to defend a big pitch. “But he is so good on panel discussions and at industry conferences,” they said. But a pitch is not a panel discussion. And a work presentation is not a research talk. Each of these different genres has different rules and conventions that affect the way the audience is prepared to listen.

These rules are determined by the host of the event or the panel, or by the audience, as in a pitch or a board presentation. You cannot make any assumptions—if you assume you know what the panel or audience might expect, that’s where you get into trouble.

So Annie may use industry jargon that her team uses on a daily basis, but she couldn’t use that language if she were speaking to a broader audience. Her company might have specific slide templates and culture, but that wouldn’t necessarily translate well to a different group of people.

As a speaker, you need to know which genre you are preparing for and adapt accordingly. Annie was uncomfortable in the genre she currently presents in, and it doesn’t align with her presentation skills as they existed.

Even if your style doesn’t align with a specific genre, you can still learn to get there, just as I saw Annie close the gap. As long as you understand the rules and norms of the genre, through study and iteration, you can make the jump. Remember, speaking is habitual, so this idea of learning a new genre is about building a new muscle. You can do it! And once you have, you can speak on any platform effectively.



About The Threshold Concepts for Learning to be an Effective Speaker

Articulation has established Six Threshold Concepts for Learning to be an Effective Speaker. Embrace all six and practice the rituals, habits and patterns associated with them to become a better speaker.

Learn more in our introduction to the Threshold Concepts.