Public Speaking Body Language Part Six: Voice

This is the sixth article in an eight-part series covering the most important elements of body language for public speaking. Click here to read the entire series.

Most people don’t have a monotone vocal delivery. That’s the good news. The bad news is that most communicators use only a small portion of their available vocal range.

Our voices are incredible tools, capable of infusing great meaning into individual words and phrases. Simply by altering our volume, pitch, pace, and tone, we can better emphasize key points and help retain our audience’s attention.

For example, imagine you’re listening to a presenter. The woman delivering the speech is speaking at a moderate volume and average pace, but suddenly slows down and almost whispers, “And right then, I knew I was in trouble.” By changing her vocal pattern, she signaled to the audience that something important was coming.

Here are five things to keep in mind regarding vocal delivery:

  1. Volume: Speaking loudly adds energy and excitement to your delivery, while speaking softly increases intimacy and drama.
  2. Pace: Most people speak between 150-160 words per minute, but many people speak more quickly when they get nervous. Speaking quickly can be useful if you’re trying to add excitement to a specific point, but be careful not to rush through your entire presentation. Speak a little slower than usual when discussing more complicated information, emphasizing a key point, or building drama.
  3. Pitch: When you ask a question, your pitch usually goes up at the end of the sentence; when you give a command, your pitch typically goes down. People tend to speak with a higher pitch when they’re nervous or excited and with a lower pitch when they feel more relaxed and controlled. Both can be effective, but be careful to avoid vocal “upticks,” which occur when your pitch gets higher at the end of every sentence.
  4. Tone: Your tone adds emotion to words. For example, try saying “Sure, I love you” aloud in three different ways: Sincerely, sarcastically, or sadly. Those versions each convey something different, and good speakers align their words with the tone they wish to convey.
  5. Silences: Well-timed pauses can add drama to your vocal delivery or allow audiences an extra moment to consider your message. You can’t be silent for long periods of time, but even a short two- or three-second pause can be incredibly effective immediately before or after making a key point. Short pauses, the verbal equivalent of “white space,” allow the audience to process your ideas on their terms, meaning you’ve effectively transferred information from speaker to audience.

Click here to read the entire series, which covers energy, tone, eye contact, gestures, posture, where to stand, how to interact with PowerPoint, and voice.

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