Tip #6

Public Speaking Basics: Adding Vocal Variety

Learn how to juggle projection, pace, pitch, and pausing in this primer about keeping your delivery fresh.

Do you like jigsaw puzzles?  So far, we’ve looked at several pieces, volume, articulation, timing, pitch, and vocal quality.  They’re all important, but how do we integrate them into one winning composition?  That’s the focus of this video.  If you add the right touches, your speeches will shine.

Let’s begin with the most common problem.  Most people know that the fastest way to put an audience to sleep is to use a monotonous tone and pace.  Despite this, they drone on and on anyway.  Sometimes, it’s the content that’s really boring, but, without vocal variety, it just makes matters worse.

The first place to start is to remember that change is good.  Metaphorically speaking, change-ups are good.  Major league pitchers throw lots of fastballs, but they also know how to throw curves, knuckle balls, sliders, and change-ups.  Pitchers who jump from the minor leagues to the majors within a short time discipline themselves in becoming less and less predictable.  If you want to improve as a speaker, you should, too.

The first aspect of vocal variety to consider is changing how loudly or softly you speak.  You have to use judgment, of course.  You can crescendo to emphasize part of your speech.  By the same token, a well-timed decrescendo can add just the right touch.

Another consideration is variation in timing.  Speed up when you want to add a sense of excitement, and please slow down when you want the audience to drink in the heaviest part of your content.  This is especially true at the end of a story or presentation.  Leave a lasting impression by allowing the audience time to fully appreciate your final words.

In addition, if your speech is fairly long, consider the length of your pauses.  Some pauses should be short, but others need to be longer. Complex ideas and deep messages require long pauses.  Are you giving people enough time to consider your main ideas, or are you distracting them by racing through your speech?  You are in control of the moment.  If you run off the edge of a verbal cliff at 160 words per minute, the audience’s attention level will dive bomb with you.  Practice staying in the moment and focus on the needs of the audience.

Another variation you can try is changing your vocal quality.  Start by listening to your daily conversational tone, and, whenever it’s appropriate, add touches of pizzazz here and there.  One technique you can use is accenting the first syllable of an important word.  “This spirited race horse can run like the wind.”  Here, the first part of the word “spirit” gives us a pop of energy to wake up listeners.

What else can we change?  Try quirky voice. “Did you remember to do your paperwork?” Practice the ones that your audiences tend to like.

There you have it, the basics of vocal variety.  Are you ready to put the pieces together and create a masterpiece?  Good luck!

Last modified: July 2, 2020
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