Why vocal variety energizes your talk—and how to achieve it

Implementing pace, power, pitch and pause will add vim and vigor to your presentation, stoking audience interest in your subject matter, and in you.

How to use vocal variety in your talk

Is it best to talk slowly or fast when giving a business presentation?

Is it best to talk loudly or softly when public speaking?

How about your pitch: low or high? How about no noise at all or talking continuously?

The answer to all those questions is, “Yes.”

That’s right; audiences want it all. Too much of the same thing becomes boring, and your audience will quit listening to you.

Vocal variety is essential to adding energy to your content. It breaks down into four categories: pace, power, pitch and pause. Here’s how you can use them to be a great speaker:

1. It’s easy to get into a steady rhythm when speaking, and that can become boring to your audience. Slow down to emphasize key points. Speak a little faster when presenting supporting thoughts or to convey excitement.

2. We know we can get attention by raising our voice for emphasis, but sometimes you can get more attention by whispering, especially if you’re saying something in a soft voice such as, “Do you want to know the secret?”

3. No one likes to listen to a monotone; we prefer pitch variations. Change your pitch slightly when quoting someone as you’re telling a story. Though we like pitch variety, no one likes “upspeak” (adding an up pitch at the end of a declarative sentence making it sound like a question). Real questions, however, are a natural way to vary our pitch. You can use rhetorical questions or self-questioning: “Should we do it? You bet we should. Can we do it? You bet we can!”

4. Perhaps the most powerful tool in a public speaker’s toolbox is saying nothing at all. Pause after key points to let the message sink in. Pause after questions to let the audience consider how they feel.

Paul Barton is a public speaking expert based in Arizona. A version of this post first ran on his blog.


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