Vocal Variety

Yawning Monkey FaceThe 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 naturally. 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

ViolinTrumpet and SaxophoneGirl Speaking with Sound WavesMan with Megaphone



Cropped Violin

Pitch, when referring to a musical instrument, is the particular note played by a  musical instrument. Similarly, like a vibrating violin string makes a sound when plucked, your stretched vocal chords vibrate when air passes over them. The frequency of the vibration determines the sound or note.

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 tightens 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.

Cropped Trumpet & Saxophone

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.

Cropped Up & Down Curving Arrows

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

Cropped Man with Megaphone

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.


Cropped Girl Speaking with Sound Waves
The way you speak is very much part of vocal variety. However it’s important to speak clearly, avoid complex words, long sentences and jargon, unless purposefully, for impact.

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.


Author: Henk van den Bergen

I have been speaking on Champagne for 20 years and decided to improve my speaking skills by joining Toastmasters International 13 year ago. I'm still a member today and I'm passionate about sharing what I’ve learned. I’m also proud to be the 1998 “Vin de Champagne Award” winner and being a three time Australian finalist in the International Speech contest.

3 thoughts on “Vocal Variety”

  1. BOYCOTT AMERICAN WOMEN! http://www.BoycottBitches.com I am an American man, and I have decided to boycott American women. In a nutshell, American women are the most likely to cheat on you, to divorce you, to get fat, to steal half of your money in the divorce courts, don’t know how to cook or clean, don’t want to have children, etc. Therefore, what intelligent man would want to get involved with American women? American women are generally immature, selfish, extremely arrogant and self-centered, mentally unstable, irresponsible, and highly unchaste. The behavior of most American women is utterly disgusting, to say the least. This blog is my attempt to explain why I feel American women are inferior to foreign women (non-American women), and why American men should boycott American women, and date/marry only foreign (non-American) women.

    1. Wow, you must have met more than half of all American women. Which is great as you are not just arguing from an emotional perspective, but have gone about it logically and scientifically. It so seldom happens these days.

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