“One of our designers is brilliant and has an impressive work background. But her speech is confused – it can be difficult to know what she is trying to say or what the goal of the conversation is. Can she learn to speak in a more orderly fashion?”


It is definitely possible to learn to speak in an organized and clear manner. It takes focus and practice and often helps to start by focusing on writing where the communication can be analyzed. Depending upon whether the trainee is a native speaker or a non-native speaker, there will be some differences in what needs to be covered.

Although there are many aspects which could be addressed, here are five predominant areas which can help to make the communication clear and easily understandable.

  1. Verb tenses
  2. Sentence structure
  3. Blocking the content
  4. Framing
  5. Guiding the listener


  1. Verb tenses

While most native speakers are comfortable with verb tenses, non-native speakers often have considerable difficulty. Some languages don’t have tenses, making them seem unimportant to the person when speaking English. Additionally, since some tenses are not as common, the non-native speaker may not have learned the structure, correct meaning or usage. For example, the passive voice – it was done; the conditional – I would do; the perfect tenses – I have done; and all their combinations – it could have been done, it will have been done, he might have been doing it, etc. All of these express slightly different meanings and sometimes are quite important in making the speaker understood.

Non-native speakers learn a lot of grammar by listening which can result in incorrect verb usage being negatively reinforced for several reasons. On one hand, contractions often go unheard such as he’s, he’d he’ll and their various meanings and uses. He’d means either “he had” or “he would”, for example. “He would have been tired” may get reduced to “hidabin tired” with the first part said very quickly and quietly. On the other hand, native speakers often speak incorrectly, for example, “I should of went” instead of “I should have gone” or “If it didn’t rain” instead of “If it hadn’t rained”, etc.

Sometimes it is mostly a matter of paying attention to the verbs and learning or reviewing when, why and how we use them. An initial assessment will identify what is known and what is incorrectly used. Focusing on writing can be the first step to clarifying usage and form. After that, drilling orally can help to get the verb structure into the client’s speech. 

  1. Sentence Structure

Both native and non-native speakers can struggle with sentence structure. For the non-native speaker, understanding the many ways verb-like words can be used is daunting. For example:

  • I am finishing the trials tomorrow.
  • While finishing the trials, my manager changed the procedure.
  • Finishing the trials was time consuming.
  • After these last finishing steps, the trials will be completed.

Locating the main idea or the main subject and verb, identifying what is extra information and what is essential, making sure the sentence structure makes sense – this takes practice and attention. And both native and non-native speakers can have issues choosing the correct structure and especially organizing the information.

  1. Blocking the content

Organizing and prioritizing information is key to easy comprehension. With email, people often launch into their thoughts without taking care to be clear and explain themselves step-by-step. As well, they rarely re-read what they have written to see if it is clear. While speech allows for a little bit more flexibility here, writing doesn’t allow for clarification without considerable back and forth.

The topic should be clear up front. Referring to any previous discussion and information helps clarify what you are referring to. Stating what you want early on can be very important. Then you can move on to the details, organized by topic. Too much information dilutes the message and confuses the audience. Three main points is generally enough. 

  1. Framing

Framing is targeting the communication to a specific audience. It establishes a framework that influences how the listener will process what is said. Framing allows the speaker to set a tone as well as clarify the context, the reason for the communication and the main message. The listener will then be better prepared emotionally and intellectually to hear what is being said.

  1. Guiding the listener

Guiding the listener can have many components. One is connecting ideas. Once the content is organized (blocked), communication becomes clearer when the content is tied together. For the non-native speaker, framing and connecting ideas involves learning and using standard phrases and transition vocabulary.

Often, when presenting information or a proposal, visual information is used, often with too much detail but that’s another topic! When the audience is reading and searching for what is being said, they can get distracted. The speaker can help by indicating what visual information they are talking about – “In the bottom left corner…” or “Looking at the red panel…”, etc.


Speaking in a clear and orderly fashion takes time, focus and practice. Learning how to communicate more clearly in writing is one step and getting that approach into one’s speech is another vital step which involves drilling and using the imagination. For more information on this phase, ask for our earlier article in this series entitled “Move Pronunciation into Daily Speech,” or read our blog post, “5 Tips for getting your new pronunciation into your speech”.