Nobody wants to listen to a robotic, monotonous voice. It’s boring, unconvincing and, frankly, difficult to listen to for any length of time.
As much as 38% of our message is relayed by our voice, according to research undertaken by Dr. Albert Mehrabian, a UCLA professor and researcher. That means that how we speak has a big impact on how the message is received. In fact, the voice is not just a vehicle for the message, it can also reflect what we are thinking and feeling. By simply changing the way we say something, we can sound enthusiastic or bored, sincere or sarcastic, happy or sad.
So, how do you bring more interest and colour into your voice? How do you increase your vocal variety to ensure your audience remains engaged and your message has the impact that you intended?
Pitch, Pace, Power and Pause
There are 4 basic elements of vocal variety – the 4 Ps: Pitch, Pace, Power and Pause.
Pitch is how high or low your voice is. We all have a natural pitch and many of us keep within a relatively small range of pitch when we speak. However, when you present, you can increase this range to add interest to your voice. Speaking in a higher pitch can show that you are scared of something. By contrast, speaking in a deeper voice can convey a sense of authority.
Pace is how quickly or slowly you speak. When you speak in front of an audience, you need to speak a bit slower than when you’re talking one-on-one. This gives the listeners time to catch up with you and to process what you’re saying. You can slow down through key statements so that the audience focuses more on the point that you’re making. You can also speed up to create a sense of excitement or energy.
Power is how loudly or quietly you speak. You need to project enough so that everyone in the room can hear you, but you can also vary your power throughout your speech. For example, if you speak very loudly, you will demonstrate anger or joy. If you speak quietly, you can demonstrate fear or sadness.
Pause can be used as punctuation in a presentation, with short pauses at the end of each sentence and longer pauses at the end of paragraphs or at transition points. You can also use long or short pauses between words and sentences to create suspense or emphasis.
Combine these four elements to add more variety and colour to your voice.
To sound more authoritative, speak slowly and loudly. Sound more animated by speaking quickly and loudly. To demonstrate authenticity, speak slowly and quietly. Speak quickly and quietly to create a sense of anticipation.
Bringing more variety into your voice takes practice. One great way to extend your voice is to play around by saying the same sentence in many ways. For example, you can practice saying “the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” with anger, sadness, surprise, fear, power, and so on. Really exaggerate the differences in pitch, pace, power and pause and see how that affects the sound of your voice.
One of my favourite ways to practice vocal variety is to read a children’s book, out loud. Again – exaggerate and have fun! Play around with your voice and you’ll be surprised at how much variation you can bring into it.
Colour and variety help you engage your audience. Gone are the days of a monotonous, robotic voice, lulling your listeners to sleep. With a little practice, your audience will soon be hanging on your every word, ensuring that your message is received loud and clear.