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April 2024
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Why Vocal Variety Is So Valuable

Use this skill to bring emotion and personality to your speech.

By Bill Brown, DTM

Illustration of a toolbox

Click play to hear author Bill Brown, DTM, give examples of how to use vocal variety to enhance your speech.

Why is vocal variety such an important tool for the speaker? Many reasons. Vocal variety is more than merely avoiding the dreaded monotone. It is, at its foundation, the life that you breathe into what you say and do onstage.

More specifically, it involves your level of expressiveness. This includes your basic energy level. While your energy level is a variable, at a minimum you must avoid sounding boring.

In addition, vocal variety is your style of expressiveness. An effective speaker allows their unique personality to shine. In a way, vocal expression is your speaking personality.

In Pathways, “Introduction to Vocal Variety and Body Language" is now a requirement in Level 1, and "Understanding Vocal Variety” is an elective project in Level 3 of all 11 paths—in some ways, a sign of how fundamental this skill is considered to any kind of communication success. It, like the other Pathways electives, is available to all members regardless of which path they are working in. (In the traditional education program, “Vocal Variety” was project 6 in the Competent Communication manual.)

It is an elective in Level 3, but my strong recommendation is that you choose it. Vocal variety is key to expressiveness, and expressiveness is essential for a speaker.

A significant component of vocal variety is how you emphasize what you say. You have various tools to affect this, including volume, pitch, pace, pause, and emotion. They can be used to build tension or add impact. Make an effort to master all of them.

You gain many benefits from using vocal variety. Those benefits boil down to three key principles.

1Vocal variety makes you more interesting to listen to.

You have, no doubt, heard many speakers of different skill levels over the years. Some of them are just plain boring. A couple of my university professors come to mind.

Most speakers are passable. They get the job done. But from time to time, you have probably heard a speech where you said, “Wow!” and hung on to the speaker’s every word. What made you react that way? Was it because of the speaker’s vocal variety and level of expressing their personality onstage?

Strive to get to the point where your listeners truly want to hear what you have to say—and to act upon it. You can do it. You can be that speaker. The key is to learn the vocal variety techniques and then give yourself permission to give them full expression. Let loose and have fun on stage. The audience members will love it. As stated in the “Understanding Vocal Variety” project, “With time and practice, every Toastmaster can become skilled at using [their] voice to move an audience.”

Vocal variety is key to expressiveness.

Voice inflection is vital. Sales trainer David Hoffeld, in his book The Science of Selling, says, “Those who use strong inflections are always able to hold the buyer’s attention better than those who use weak inflections, even when saying the exact same words. Voice inflections convey your passion and make you seem more interesting and engaging. Moreover, they also produce in others the emotions you are conveying.”

2Vocal variety is important because it conveys your emotion to the listener.

If you have ever taken a training course in sales, you have no doubt been challenged to tap into the emotions of the buyer. This is where the real buying decision is made.

If you are listening to a motivational speaker who is very excited, are you not also excited? The same is true for sympathy, anger, and other emotions. If strong wording is accompanied by expressive delivery, the effect of the words can be magnified.

3Effective vocal variety can magnify the meaning and significance of your message.

It can powerfully make your point. I mentioned earlier that vocal variety involves emphasis. By effectively emphasizing the key elements of your message, you can enhance the listeners’ understanding of it. Each sentence contains key words or phrases that carry your point. Good vocal variety points to them and says, “This is what is important. Pay attention to it.”

Communication is an important component of leadership. Strong vocal variety can greatly enhance your effectiveness as a communicator. I strongly urge you to learn more about it, especially by selecting “Understanding Vocal Variety” in Level 3 of your path.

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