The cardinal sin of public speaking is to be boring. When you speak in a monotonous voice with little tone, pitch or volume variation, you won’t connect and most likely send your audience to sleep. Have you ever heard someone use their notes as if they were just reading them. “Yawn!” Just give us the notes and save everyone a lot of time. You are more likely to keep your audience’s attention and connect with them, if you use vocal variety. And vocal variety happens naturally when you speak with passion, retell and relive your stories and when you are being yourself. Vocal variety adds meaning, emotion and colour to your words.
Pitch, Tone, Inflection VOLUME & Voice
Pitch, when referring to a musical instrument, is the particular note the musical instrument is playing. Similarly like a violin string when played and vibrated, your vocal chords, depending on their tension, makes a particular note, at a certain frequency, at a particular pitch. This happens as the air passes over the stretched vocal cords to make them vibrate. That is, pitch is determined by the tension of your vocal chords. Have you ever noticed that you have a naturally high pitch when you’re excited? Unfortunately when you get nervous, you also naturally raise your pitch. This is because, when you’re nervous, you tense your muscles, which tighten your vocal chords. This raises your pitch inappropriately and is interpreted correctly, as nerves and lack of confidence. For this reason you need to learn to relax, manage your nerves and consciously lower your pitch. Normally we speak with a greater impact when we speak at a lower pitch.
Pitch and tone are often confused. The best way I can explain it, is that tone is the colour of your voice. For example, a trumpet and saxophone playing the same note, or at the same pitch, will have quite a different sound or tone. Singers often envy the sound or tone of other singers and try to emulate them. Yet, your tone is a gift you’re born with, that makes you sound authentic and unique. I can’t emphasise strongly enough to be you when you’re speaking or singing.
Inflection is related to pitch, in that it’s the rise and fall of your pitch. This adds to your vocal variety and can be used to emphasise what you are saying. However, as the comedian Adam Hill’s once said, “We Australians tend to go up at the end of every ↑sentence. As if we are too insecure of making an actual ↑statement. So we have to make it sound like it’s an actual ↑question. As we secretly need your ↑approval.” Don’t do that, as it gets quite annoying.
↑said at a rising higher pitch
The increase and decrease in volume for emphasis, contrast and impact, adds to your vocal variety. You might go louder for impact and emphasises when you are expressing anger, or even when you have something motivational or inspirational to say. Go soft when whispering and draw the audience in. Whisper or go soft when you are being intimate, secretive or just for contrast. A normal volume can be adopted when you’re being conversational, however you should still be using naturally occurring, vocal variety. Remember, as with everything in life, if you highlight everything, nothing is highlighted.
Variation and contacts in pitch, tone, inflection and volume, will help you connect better with your audience.
Clarity – You need to enunciate clearly, making sure you don’t mumble. And to prevent that, you need to practice and warm up just before speaking. Get those articulators, your soft palate, tongue, teeth and lips going. There are many sentences like “Peter Pepper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers” to get you going. The issue is, that unlike reading a book, if your listener misses something, they can’t go back.
Breathing – Singers don’t only warm up their voice, but warm up their diaphragmatic breathing for getting plenty of air in and to control it’s release. Try to hum with your mouth closed, and then hold you nose. You can’t make a sound without air movement. Singers also learn to place their sounds where it resonates. Try smiling when talking, and especially singing, and notice the difference.
Accents – For those people with accents, often you will need to speak more clearly, more slowly and deliberately. However, an accent is a wonderful advantage and a big part of vocal variety. It sets you apart and can make you much more interesting to listen to.
Please, also check out my post, “Power of Pace and Pause.”
Speak to connect, and make that difference.