mastering speaking skills public speaking

Your Voice Matters… mastering vocal skills

“Words. Words, when spoken out loud for the sake of performance, are music. They have rhythm, and pitch, and timbre, and volume. These are the properties of music, and music has the ability to find us and move us and lift us up in ways that literal meaning can’t.”
Martin Sheen as President Bartlet, THE WEST WING

How many times have you had to endure a monotonous speaker? The kind you fight to pay attention to and end up missing most of the information as you daydream or outright sleep. According to a number of research projects, a speaker’s voice has a significant impact on how an audience receives his or her message. A Wall Street Journal article reported:

The sound of a speaker’s voice matters twice as much as the content of the message, according to a study last year of 120 executives’ speeches by an Austin, Texas, communications analytics company.

What do we mean when we talk about a speaker’s voice? The common term you’ll hear is “vocal variety” and includes:
• Cadence
• Inflection
• Volume
• Emotion

Let’s explore ways to improve your presentation by improving your vocal skills.


    Mastering Vocal Skills – Vocal Variety

    Cadence is a vital vocal varietyskill.   It is like the rhythm of a song and part of what adds interest and texture to a talk.   Since most know more about music than speeches, read this definition of rhythm and think about how it applies to public speaking.

    Rhythm is what makes music move and flow. Rhythm is made up of sounds and silences. These sounds and silences are put together to form patterns of sound, which are repeated to create rhythm. Rhythm has a steady beat, but it may also have many different kinds of beats.

    Cadence is the speed of delivery. It includes the use of planned pauses with variations to the pace of your words. The most effective speakers have taken the time to study and master cadence.

    There is a man you’ve likely never heard of named Bill Grey. He speaks to Realtors across the country and is in huge demand because conference attendees love to listen to him talk. Mind you, his topics are often filled with boring data, yet his delivery is intoxicating. 

    Please take a listen and pay particular attention to his use of intentional pauses and changes in pace and pitch.

    Another man who used variations in speed was John F Kennedy. Listen to a collection of his speeches and note the difference in speed he employed. How did his vocal changes help convey the feelings and message?

    Experts in the use of cadence variations apply some simple rules. Speak more quickly to convey:

    • Passion
    • Urgency
    • Enthusiasm
    • Positive Emotions

    Slow down your delivery to express:

    • Sadness
    • Empathy
    • The emphasis of a point or concept
    • Whenever you are introducing new or confusion ideas.
    vocal variety training

    Let’s Work on Inflection

    Infection is next up on our study of the voice. Inflection is the change in pitch and tone of voice. It is used to emphasize statements, evoke feelings, and add auditory flavor to a talk.

    Pitch/tone has a lot to do with the believability of a speech or presentation.

    A study conducted at the University of Sterling in the UK found many people unconsciously speak in at a higher pitch when talking to someone they deem important, or socially superior.

    If you are trying to come across as strong and confident, yet you squeak out your words, the opposite impression may be felt. Learning to be aware of your voices’ pitch and tone is essential to the outcome of your presentation.

    Most of us change the pitch without much thought. Some don’t use pitch at all. I am sure you can recall a teacher who bored you with his/her monotone voice.

    There are numerous ways to practice pitch. YouTube is a rich resource for speakers and practicing pitch is taught in several videos. Below I’ve included a link to some vocal exercises that will improve both your tone and articulation.

    Pitch Exercises:

    Gaining a Deeper Voice:

    Warmup Drill:

    Do You Have a Nasal Voice?

    As part of the discussion on pitch it is important to touch on a specific vocalization, the nasal voice. The problem with a nasal sounding voice it is it does not inspire confidence or strength.

    You may not be aware your voice sounds a bit nasal. The easy way to find out is to either record a short video of you speaking and play it for several people asking them if the voice they are hearing sounds normal or nasal. Ask them to be completely honest with you. If your voice is deemed to sound nasal, it will be to your advantage to work on it.

    I’ve known people who, with the help of a licensed speech pathologist, literally change their lives and gained so much confidence.

    Can They Hear You

    Next up on our voice talk is VOLUME. How important is it that your audience can hear you? In speaking it is everything. A meek voice does not inspire confidence. On the flip side, a loud screeching speaker can be obnoxious.

    Learning to use an appropriate volume is important. Again, I suggest turning to YouTube. Barbara McAfee has a great video that explores different types of voices and the use of volume. Here is a link:


    public speaking vocal skills training

    Practicing Your Vocal Skills

    EXERCISE: Imitate Others

    Although it is important to find your personal speaking voice/style, most of us don’t have enough tools in our bag of tricks.

    In this exercise, you will listen to and imitate a few great speakers. The goal is to expand you’re your use and knowledge of powerful speaking techniques.

    Step 1. Choose one of the videos below.

    Step 2. Watch how the person uses cadence, pitch, and volume to convey their message.

    Step 3. Replay a minute or so of the talk and try to match the speaker. You don’t need to worry about knowing each word. Instead, please focus on the vocal variety that makes them compelling and useful.

    Videos for Men:

    Tony Robbins:

    Steve Jobs:

    Robbin Williams:

    Donovan Livingston:

    Al Pacino:

    Videos for Women:

    Oprah Winfrey:

    Ellen DeGeneres:

    Michelle Obama:

    Priyanka Chopra:

    Emma Watson:

    public speaking skills training

    I truly hope this information helps you become a more confident and skilled public speaker. If you have questions, toss me an email or give me a call. I am always happy to help.

    Speaking of help, we have a number of articles designed to improve your public speaking skills and confidence:

    How To Overcome the Fear Of Speaking

    Speaking with Emotion

    How To Write A Script

    Best to you… Gene Urban