Vocal variety is a great tool to add to your speaking skills kit. It includes things like your tone, your speed, your volume, and your pitch. It’s something you that already use in everyday conversation, but it can be easy to forget about it if you are nervous before you have to give a presentation. Your voice is an instrument that you can use it to great effect with just a little practice. It’s a way to add interest to your speech and hold your audience’s attention.
Turn it Up
Parents often use a whisper when they want to calm or get the attention of an upset child. Why? Because it difficult to hear what someone is whispering unless you are quiet and able to focus on the words. Try using a quieter voice to emphasize a point or regain the fading attention of an audience. Similarly, a pause can capture attention due to the absence of sound. The so-called “dramatic pause” calls attention to what you are about to say. The classic example of this is Henny Youngman’s joke, “Now, you take my wife…please.”
Slow it down
You can also drag out your words for effect. Instead of saying it was a long trip, say looooong, drawing out the middle of the word. Speeding up has the opposite effect. Think of the commercials you hear where an actor is reading the fine print at very high speeds. It can be annoying when it goes on for that long, but it’s definitely an attention getter.
Although you don’t want to go quite that fast, you can definitely play with speed to great effect. Watch how actor Danny Kaye and some of the cast of the 1956 comedy musical The Court Jester masterfully use a variety of speeds to keep viewers on the edge of their seats as they try to remember whether they should drink from the “flagon with the dragon” or the “vessel with the pestle” to avoid death by poisoning.
Sizzle. Spray. Gurgle. Onomatopoeia is a word that is associated with its actual sound. If you can weave a couple of them into your speech, you can capture the audience’s imagination and hold it. This is especially effective if you are weaving a story through your presentation. Words like these are often used in children’s books, which are a great tool for practice.
Emoting for Effect
Ham sandwich. Ham sandwich? Ham sandwich! This is a popular phrase to use when practicing using a variety of tones and varying your speed and pitch. Try saying “ham sandwich” in different ways, such as excitedly, sadly, happily, or lovingly. How does it take on different meaning as you vary your phrasing? What effect might that have on your audience?
I’m Lovin’ It!
Talking about what you love is a great way to practice vocal variety. If you have a choice of what your will speak about, choose something that genuinely interests or excites you. You will find yourself adding vocal variety without having to think about it because you want your listeners to be excited about it, too.
Give it a try! Pick a favorite topic and practice telling a friend about it. Notice how often you change your tone or speed or use more interesting words to describe the subject.
Let me know how it goes by joining the conversation in the comment section below!