When Is it Your Turn To Speak?

We know that people send out signals that say: “Your turn to talk!” whether speaking to another or to a group. Duncan and Fiske (1977, 1979) noted that there were “turn-taking” signals when people spoke to each other so this is based on science! Things happen when one person is speaking and s/he wants another to “chime” in. First there is a change in their tone of voice. It could be either a rising or falling voice tone at the end of the sentence. Or, the last syllable is drawn out or my sister always using the phrase “what have you” with a drop in voice pitch to signal that she is finished speaking. Some people use the term “you know.”


There are also nonverbal indicators which we call eye gazing. When you are ready to yield your turn speaking, you will look at the person you want to speak next as an indicator that it’s now their turn. You might also turn you head toward the person you want to speak next as another indicator. This is a pretty obvious indicator but some people may ignore it.


If you want to speak, turn your head towards the speaker. In school or seminars, we raise our hands as an indicator that we want to speak. However, the speaker still has a chance to say “not yet” nonverbally if s/he wants to continue. The speaker will then turn his head away from the person or look at another person to signal this. As a speaker, if I ask my audience a question, I can always tell who does not want to speak—they will look down or look away from me and so I call on someone who has made eye contact with me.


Turn taking signals during a conversation are a way to control the conversation and the people involved and can use verbal and nonverbal signals. Using these signals provides a smooth transition from one speaker to the next, but you must be aware of these signals. Most of us are intuitively aware but for those who are not, share this article, if appropriate. If not, you may just have to jump into the conversation and tell someone that you want to say or add something to the conversation.



Duncan, S. and Fiske, D. (1977) Face-to-face Interaction: Research, Methods and

Theory, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.


Duncan, S. and Fiske, D. (1979) Dynamic patterning in conversation, American

Scientist 67, 90-98


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