Speaking Tips: Vocal Variety


In a few recent Toastmaster speeches, I’ve been told that I need to work on my vocal variety. I’ve never been a monotone speaker, either in my own mind nor from the perspective of any audience. However, being a monotone speaker isn’t the only vocal variety concern for anyone giving presentations. The four areas that the Toastmasters Competent Communicator manual list as characteristics of a good voice include:

1. Volume
2. Pitch
3. Rate
4. Quality

As a separate item, the manual addresses pausing, which I’ve talked about in other posts. I don’t think pausing is my issue (at this time), so I’ll leave it to those other entries.

All of the following tips assume that, like me, you don’t “naturally” do everything perfectly. Also, making these ideas work in your speeches means you’ll need to run through (i.e. practice) the techniques before you speak.

Volume – Looking at the speech for opportunities to try different volume levels. Something that is attention getting or a surprise could be accompanied by a sharp increase in volume, where a topic that is controversial, or an example of telling a secret might be better served in a whisper-like voice. For me, I don’t need to build in these volume changing opportunities (and I’m guessing you probably don’t need to either), but I do need to identify them in practice and plan when I’ll make those changes.

Pitch – A couple of examples to look for in pitch is raising your pitch for excitement, and changing to a monotone pitch to make a pint about serious, boring people. Also, subtle changes to your pitch can be used to mimic other voices. I’m not of the opinion you should totally change your voice when representing conversations with others in your speech. Just a slight change will signal to the audience that you’re speaking for someone else without being distracting.

Rate – Almost every speaker speaks too fast when they start out, and it’s one thing that you almost have to manually control, at least initially, to get more comfortable. You do want to avoid being too slow, since the brain listens faster than the mouth speaks. Look at points you can make a change, such as humorous items (i.e. quick lists), or complex subjects that may benefit from a reduced pace (for emphasis).

Quality – I think this is an aspect that can only improve with overall practice. Relaxing, avoiding cold or hot drinks, and warming up your voice before a presentation can help.

For all of these, taping your speeches and watching/listening to them will help you identify when you did well and when you could have changed something in your voice to be more effective and better connect with your audience. Don’t feel that you have to make all of these changes at once to be a good speaker. Unless you’re strictly monotone, in which you should start working on that this afternoon.

For me, my first effort will be to tackle volume. What are you working on?

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