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  • Writer's pictureTom Otstot

Lesson 3: It's How You Say It!!!

Your speech content may be excellent. It may be compelling, useful for your audience, authentic and interesting.

BUT…your DELIVERY of that content will mean the difference between an engaging, well-received speech or a speech that bores your audience and puts them to sleep.

The most effective tool we have in the SPEAKER'S TOOLBOX is the use of VOCAL VARIETY!

VOCAL VARIETY is the way we use our voice.

There are FOUR ASPECTS OF VOCAL VARIETY we can focus on to become effective speakers. We call these the "FOUR P's": PACE, PITCH, POWER, PAUSE.

1. Pace (Rate of Speaking)

Almost every speaker speaks too fast when they start out - and even experienced speakers speak faster in front of an audience. Pace is an important concept that you almost have to manually control, at least initially, to get more comfortable.

You do want to avoid being too slow - something we also tend to do at times in public speaking - especially when we are trying to be "perfect", since the brain listens faster than the mouth speaks.

Look at points you can focus on to change your pace. Humorous points are effectively communicated with an increase in pace, serious or complex points may benefit from a reduced pace (for emphasis).

2. Pitch (HIGH/LOW)

A couple of examples to look for in pitch is raising your pitch for excitement, and changing to a monotone pitch to make a pint about serious, boring people.

· Pitch is often used in combination with PACE to effectively communicate appropriate emotion and emphasis in your speech. Speaking rapidly in a higher pitch takes your audience into an exciting place in your speech or story, while a lower pitch in a slower pace designates a seriousness, a sadness, a somber point, a reflective thought.

· Also, subtle changes to your pitch can be used to mimic other voices (we talked about characters in your speech, especially in your use of story, and the preference for DIALOG over NARRATION).

· You can change your pitch to represent a character in your story without trying too hard to completely imitate the character. Just a slight change will signal to the audience that you’re speaking for someone else without being distracting.

Pitch experiments

Say the sentences below in your high, middle and low pitch range.

Notice what happens to the intensity and the way you perceive the emotional content of the sentences. There will be a distinct variation between each.

1. Her Grandmother died yesterday.

2. I want a new car.

3. This dinner is delicious.

4. People should love their neighbors as themselves.

3. Power (Volume)

Volume is a very powerful tool for your speaking voice. It is easy to recognize the POWER in a LOUD volume level. There is also a POWER in a QUIET volume level when used correctly. Review your speech for opportunities to try different volume levels. Something that is attention getting or a surprise could be accompanied by a sharp increase in volume, where a topic that is controversial, or an example of telling a secret might be better served in a whisper-like voice. If you can identify them and practice you will see a real effect on the connection with your audience and clarity of your message.


There is a real POWER in the PAUSE in speaking!

· "It's the space between the notes that holds the music, not the notes themselves"

· "It's the space between the bars that holds the tiger"

A pause is not a moment of nothing. It can build an emotional or intellectual connection with your audience. It is an emphasis, a defining moment, a thoughtful break, it allows your audience to think, reflect, then want more from you.

Different types of PAUSES include:

· Transition Pause - separates one thought from another. It's the "period" between sentences.

· Dramatic Pause - used to set up or spotlight what you say next. "Do you know what happened then?" - pause - then deliver…

· Reflective Pause - time you give the audience to think and reflect. "Imagine how that felt"

There are others, but PAUSES are used for EMPHASIS, EFFECT, SPONTANEITY and most importantly they combat SAMENESS by breaking up the rythym of speaking.

I wanted to include a great example of using VOCAL VARIETY in a speech. Below is what I consider to be the best CONTEST SPEECH of all time - Darren LaCroix's 2001 Winning Speech in the World Championship of Public Speaking "OUCH!". Darren did a masterful job of Vocal Variety in this speech, going from excited to thoughtful to funny to conversational and he hits all the marks of great vocal variety. This is a masterful presentation, great use of story, quotes, anecdotes, humor, and real value for the audience in everything from entertainment to a compelling lesson delivered from personal experience. I've watched this speech literally over a hundred times, it is just great. Please watch and try to incorporate Vocal Variety into your presentation for our next class!


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