Article Category: Delivery Techniques

Toastmasters Speech 6:
Vocal Variety


Toastmasters Speech 6: Vocal Variety

Does your voice put your audience to sleep? Does it put you to sleep?

Do you find it hard to convey emotions with your voice?

Are you easy to listen to, or does your voice let you down?

The sixth Toastmasters speech project guides you to harness the power of your own voice. This article of the Toastmasters Speech Series examines the primary goals of this project, provides tips and techniques, and links to numerous sample speeches.

  1. The Ice Breaker
  2. Organize Your Speech
  3. Get to the Point
  4. How To Say It
  5. Your Body Speaks
  6. Vocal Variety
  7. Research Your Topic
  8. Get Comfortable with Visual Aids (coming next)
  9. Persuade with Power
  10. Inspire Your Audience

Why is This Speech Important?

The aims for this speech project are to use your voice to complement your message by enhancing your:

  • pace,
  • pitch,
  • power, and
  • pauses.

Your voice is the best tool in your delivery toolbox. You must learn to use it effectively to enhance your presentation.

Tips and Techniques

1. Plan Around the 4 P’s: Pace, Pitch, Power, and Pauses

Be conscious of all four major vocal variables, and work all of them into your speech.

  1. Pace — One of the easiest ways to incorporate variable pace is to slow down through key statements.
  2. Pitch — A convenient way to hit different pitch points is to play with different emotional content. A sad voice takes on a different pitch than a content voice, which is distinct from an excited voice, and so on. Stories are good speech building blocks for many reasons, including how they bring a speaker’s voice alive through different emotions.
  3. Power (Volume) — Don’t overdo it with changes in volume. Again, align your variations in volume with emotional content. Anger or joy tends to bring out a loud voice. Fear or sadness calls for a quiet voice.
  4. Pauses — There are a multitude of ways to incorporate pauses in a meaningful way (watch for a future Six Minutes article dedicated to pauses). For this speech, keep it straightforward. Make sure you’ve got short pauses following every sentence, and longer pauses at the ends of paragraphs or transitions within your speech.

2. Be Deliberate (Keep Score if You Have To)

Your voice is the best tool in your delivery toolbox. You must learn to use it effectively to enhance your presentation.

Don’t just write a speech and try to incorporate vocal variety on the fly as you deliver it. You won’t get any value from this speech project if you take that approach.

As you write, edit, and rehearse your speech, select words or phrases where you will consciously vary your voice in each of the four P ways. As you grow as a speaker, you’ll hit all four of these unconsciously, but when you are learning, it’s okay to be a little more deliberate.

Consider annotating your speech with colored pen to highlight vocal variation opportunities.

You might even consider making a “scorecard” in the margin of your page, and giving yourself one point for each vocal manoeuver. Shoot for a score of at least 3 for each P.

3. Align Your Voice with Expressive Gestures

One of the best ways to bring out your most expressive voice is to use expressive gestures, particularly facial gestures!

If participate in teleconference calls or webinars, you may have learned this trick. Even though nobody can see you, it really helps to stand up in your office and give body, hand, and facial gestures as you talk on the phone. Your voice will naturally come alive, as if synchronized with your gestures.

The same trick applies to face-to-face presentations as well. If you are expressive with your face and other gestures, your voice tends to naturally align.

4. Ditch the Notes, Keep Your Head Up, and Project Your Voice

Maybe you have used notes for the five previous Competent Communicator projects, but now is a great time to break free of your notes.

  • When you glance down to read notes, your neck and throat bend and can get contorted. Your voice tends to be low, or poor quality, and low volume.
  • Without notes, you’ll be able to keep your head up high and your eyes on your audience. With your head high, your neck and throat will be stretched out, and the quality of your voice will be much more resonant.

5. Exaggerate Words

If you are expressive with your face and other gestures, your voice tends to naturally align.

If your speech allows, find some words where you can play with the pronunciation to add some vocal spice to your delivery. For example:

  • Instead of saying “The car was a long way from the beach,” you could say “The car was a looooooong way from the beach”.
  • Instead of saying “The hamburger was delicious,” try “The hamburger was deeee-licious.”

6. Don’t Speak About Vocal Variety

When choosing your topic for this speech, avoid the temptation to speak about vocal variety, like this guy (who admits he “cheated”). If you do, you are missing the point of this speech project.

Your objective for this speech project is not to educate your audience about vocal variety. Your objective is to incorporate vocal variety to enhance your delivery.

You have infinite speech topics at your disposal… explore!

What I Did for Speech 6

I chose to deliver a biographical speech about Theodor Seuss Geisel, the children’s book author better known as Dr. Seuss.

This topic was fantastic as it begged for me to use my voice in a wonderful variety of ways:

  • My “normal” speaking voice was used for “bones” of the speech — the biographical details which formed the framework. Even in this section of the speech, I used vocal variety to emphasize key words, phrases, and points.
  • I included numerous quotations from his stories, each carefully selected to both (a) illustrate the biographical details and (b) allow me to convey a different emotion or mood. Each of these required varying the pitch, pace, and volume. For example, I included:
    • Happy, sing-songy passages from Fox in Sox and The Cat in the Hat
    • A stalwart, committed passage from Horton Hatches the Egg
    • An angry passage from The Lorax (this was one of my all-time favorite moments in Toastmasters as I used one of the audience members as a “prop” to be the source of my anger)
    • An optimistic passage from Oh, the Places You’ll Go

Reading Dr. Seuss books and other stories with my daughter is one of my favorite activities. Therefore, this topic revealed an inherent passion, and I knew this would come through in the quality of my voice.

Toastmasters Speech 6 Examples

  1. The Ice Breaker
  2. Organize Your Speech
  3. Get to the Point
  4. How To Say It
  5. Your Body Speaks
  6. Vocal Variety
  7. Research Your Topic
  8. Get Comfortable with Visual Aids (coming next)
  9. Persuade with Power
  10. Inspire Your Audience

Here are a few sample video speeches which may provide inspiration for you. As you watch some of these videos, ask yourself which speakers are using vocal variety to enhance their speeches, and which are missing opportunities. Then, try to emulate the best behaviors in your own speech.

Next in the Toastmasters Speech Series

The next article in this series examines Toastmasters Speech 7: Research Your Topic.

This is one of a number of articles related to Toastmasters featured on Six Minutes.
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