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Using Vocal Qualities to Convey Meaning in Public Speaking

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  • 0:01 What Are Vocal Qualities?
  • 0:52 Volume, Pitch & Pace
  • 2:44 Fluency, Articulation & Tone
  • 4:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

Kat has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management and teaches Business courses.

To keep your audience engaged, it is important to consider vocal qualities like volume, pace and pitch. These qualities are what keep your speech not only interesting but also engaging. Learn about vocal qualities in this lesson.

What Are Vocal Qualities?

Have you ever called a friend only to find that when he answered the phone, he sounded like he was standing under a metal awning, during a hailstorm, speaking a foreign language twice the speed of sound and he is yelling at you? And you are like, 'Dude, are you in a tunnel in a foreign country during a rainstorm?' Well, that is what your audience may experience if you do not practice your delivery.

Get this. A speaker must consider more than just content when preparing for a speech. Vocal qualities are just as important. These are certain qualities our voice takes on when speaking, like:

  • Volume
  • Rate
  • Pitch
  • Fluency
  • Articulation
  • Tone

And, this is for good reason. Each quality acts in harmony with the others so your audience enjoys, is attentive to and understands your speech. Let's see how this works.

Volume, Pitch and Pace

Okay, look at the noise our voice makes. Think of volume as your body's stereo system, sort of like a boom box radio. It is how loud or soft your voice sounds. The volume you choose depends greatly on the venue, the amount of people in your audience and even the content to some extent.

In an auditorium with several hundred people, you may raise your volume to be sure the people in the back rows hear what you have to say. In a small setting like a classroom, a lower volume will work best. The best advice is to keep your voice at a mid-range, not too loud. You do not want to sound overbearing or brash. On the other hand, you do not want to sound too soft, either. This may tell your audience you are weak or unsure.

Pitch sort of works the same way. It is the high and low frequency of your voice, but it is more psychological. What I mean is, depending on your point or your audience, you may use different pitches. Think of this like music: singers hit high notes and low notes, depending on the lyrics. Suppose you are speaking to a bunch of women at the senior citizens' home about life insurance. This would probably not be a good time to use a high pitch. A low pitch tells the audience you are speaking about something serious. A high pitch should be reserved for something more upbeat and exciting.

Look at us! We got the volume right and the pitch just perfect. Nice going! Now, let's think about rate. This is how fast or slow we speak. A fast rate of speech can be a problem. Your audience may not get every word. A slow rate may tell your audience you are unprepared or just not very interested in your own speech. It's best to speak at a moderate rate, take pauses and be conscious of your coming lines. So, now that we like the sound of things, let's see what we need to know about the way in which we say things.

Fluency, Articulation and Tone

Fluency is the flow of your words and can have a profound impact on whether your audience follows you. Speeches should flow smoothly and have limited breaks. Think of it like this: if a speaker constantly makes unintended pauses, the audience may perceive this as being forgetful of his lines, distracted or even uninterested.

Now, don't get me wrong, intended pauses are important. These are purposeful stops in a speech used to transition. Whatever you do, don't be tempted to add verbal fillers like 'um,' 'duh' or 'er' to your speech. These will definitely get under your audience's skin. And, truth be told, you have to have your verbal filter radar on at all times. If you feel as though you are going to use a filler word, opt for the less annoying intended pause.

Speaking clearly is important too! Articulation is just that; it is how clearly we speak. Suppose a speaker uses the term 'wanna' rather than 'want to.' It may come across like the speaker is a bit lazy. Maybe he is not even aware of it. One way to way to overcome poor articulation is to practice tongue twisters. Try this one out: 'Sally sells seashells by the seashore.' There, that was easy.

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