Tip #4

Public Speaking Basics: Pitch and Vocal Quality

Variations in pitch and vocal quality can help speakers immensely. Here are a few fundamentals.

Music is magical.  No doubt about it.  We respond to it because it stimulates our brains and touches our hearts.  Speech is similar.  It can form emotional connections with listeners through variation in pitch and vocal quality.

Let’s take a look at pitch first.  We can create different effects by using high or low-pitched sounds and by experimenting with our vocal registers.  We do this when we ask questions, express surprise, or show irony.  For example, “You want one” “You want one” “You want one.”  The message changes each time we change the pitch, each pitch becoming progressively lower.  Be more aware of your pitch, and you’ll sound more on point.

In addition, when in doubt, please use a lower pitch.  Most people associate high-pitched voices with children or, even worse, insecure people, if you know what I mean.  If you gave Lego Batman the voice of Mickey Mouse, the effect would probably not be the same.  You don’t have to use the lowest pitch you can produce, but deeper tones will give you more credibility with audiences.  By the way, some of you are advanced speakers.  I encourage you to revisit what you know about head and chest resonance.  This will help you enhance the vocal power or warmth that you may be lacking.

Let’s move on to vocal quality.  The timbre of your voice is important.  In other words, the distinct sounds you produce are easier to listen to when they are warm, enthusiastic, and clear than when they are cold, dull, and nasal.  You can adjust the warm versus cold tones, and the enthusiastic versus dull levels by recording yourself or, even better, getting feedback from friends.  Making the shift from nasal to clear sound, however, is a bit trickier.

People with nasal voices have problems with either too much or too little air going through their nasal passages.  One adjustment is to simply assume a more upright posture.  This prevents you from forcing too much air into your nasal cavity.  Another way is to experiment with the airflow from your nose and getting into the habit of using that same amount of air whenever you speak.  How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?  It’s most likely you will have to record yourself because it’s not always easy hearing the changes while sensing the airflow.

The last tip I’d like to share about vocal quality is that you should avoid dairy products up to an hour before delivering a speech.  The fat content makes it more difficult to produce a clear sound.  In fact, one of the best things you can do to reduce phlegm in your throat is to drink water at room temperature with a little lemon juice.

These are just the basics, but they can help.  You will sound more reassuring with the right pitch, and more appealing with the right vocal quality.  If you want a deeper, emotional connection with the audience, these elements will help you create the magic.

Last modified: July 2, 2020
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