Skip to main content

How to Use Your Voice

Vocal variety is extremely important in public speaking. It’s often not what you say but how you say it that counts. Think about successful communicators for a moment. How do they use their voice? Is their voice dry, weak and staccato? Or perhaps is it musical and dramatic? You’ll find that the latter traits are far more prominent in strong speakers. This post will discuss the three primary tools that contribute to your vocal performance in a speech. Volume, pitch, and rate are the fundamental factors that contribute to what is known as vocal variety.

Volume is simply how loud your voice is. Speakers must project appropriately. Think of the volume button on any of your devices. Different scenarios call for different volume levels. A powerful and booming voice engages listeners. A shift to soft and quiet moments can help accentuate a more meaningful or contemplative part of a speech. In either case, varying your volume becomes an effective way to draw listeners into your message.

Pitch refers to how high or low your voice goes in speech. A musician uses different notes to create the sounds we love. Similarly, speakers should vary their pitch to speak melodically. We can speak in a higher range to convey excitement or enthusiasm. Then, coming down to the lower part of one’s vocal register can signify the end of an important point. Again it is the mastery of this skill that matters, knowing how to vary your pitch. Try using your full vocal range when speaking on the phone or while telling stories to friends and family.

Rate is the speed at which you talk. I find that most people talk too fast when they’re nervous and too slow when they’re under-prepared. It’s all about finding the right balance between speaking fast and slow. Similar to pitch, speaking fast can indicate excitement or enthusiasm while speaking slow can create moments for reflection. In each case it is important to speak at a deliberate rate. Pauses can also be part of slowing down your speech. Give the audience a chance to catch up to your message! In all, you must know when to speak fast and when to speak slowly. Controlling your rate is key.

This may seem like a lot to take in at once. But the power of vocal variety is enormous. Think of professional voice actors. Notice the voices used in commercials or to narrate animated movies. The way their voice gets strong and soft, high and low, or fast and slow. These people are paid untold amounts of money for their indispensable voices. Listen carefully the next time you hear professionals like Oprah, Mike Rowe, or Morgan Freeman. They are masters of vocal variety. I believe we can all harness some of this power too by knowing how and when to use the elements of vocal variety as I've discussed here.