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Varying the voice I: Turn that knob!

April 20, 2014

Volume knobHow loud should you speak? Too loud and it’s uncomfortable for the audience.  Too soft and it’s irritating – especially if it’s a humorous speech and the people in the front are all creasing up and you in the back row haven’t even heard the gag, let alone get it!

The answer is simple.  Imagine you are having a one on one conversation with someone sitting right at the back of the room.  If he or she can hear you, so can everyone else.

Here’s another way of thinking about it.  Take your voice and roll it out along the carpet in stages until it gets to the back of the room.  Like this: hello, hello, HELLO!

Once you have found your normal speaking volume, next you need to think about varying it.  Vocal variety is the very essence of public speaking and volume is one of the three main ways of achieving it, along with pitch and pace.

Suppose you open a speech with Mr Chairman [NORMAL], ladies [LOUD] and gentlemen [SOFT].  A bit weird, I know, but you get the point.  Merely by varying the volume you are giving a different emphasis to the message.  You are clearly not interested in talking to the blokes at all. You’re hoping they’ll clear off and leave you with the gals!

There are times when varying the volume has a specific purpose.  If you want to draw the audience in, to make a point that is sensitive or secretive, lower your volume.  If you want to rouse the audience with a call to arms in your conclusion of a persuasive speech, raise the roof!

But don’t be stingy with your volume variety – try varying it throughout the speech. Imagine a knob with a range of 0 to 10. Start at 5 or 6 and run it up and down during the speech, for emphasis, mood or simply variety.

Variety is the key – in speech as in love.  Some disreputable old philosopher once said: the only true aphrodisiac is variety.  So too in speaking!


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