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Varying the voice III: Play with pace!

May 21, 2014

Grizzly paw croppedLet me tell you what I love most in public speaking… … … … … … the pause!  Yes, it is the simplest and most dramatic way in which you can draw the audience into your speech.  It adds that frisson of excitement, that element of tension.

Varying the pace of a speech is the third main tool of vocal variety, along with volume and pitch, which we have discussed in earlier blogs.  You can speed things right up in passages of excitement and slow things down in passages of seriousness.  And you can use the pause in both.  In either case the pause magnifies the effect – in an exciting passage, it can be the prelude to a punchline and in a serious passage it can help amplify the gravity of the situation.

This club was founded 24 and a half years ago by an American couple, both highly experienced speakers, but with entirely different styles.  Lee Wagner was tall, slim and elegant, with a fluid, eloquent, articulate, lively, textbook American speaking style.  Her husband, Bob, was short, bald and possessing of the kind of paunch sported by middle-aged cowboys in checked shirts and baggy Levis leaning on the fence at the county rodeo.  She looked like a TV presenter, he looked like her chauffeur!

But when Bob spoke he captivated the audience.  He spoke………. liiiiiiiike…… thiiiiiiiis.  He took his time. He was never in a hurry.  In a seven minute speech he got through about one third the number of words of his wife.  He made you wait, and wait some more, and when he got there you were seldom disappointed.  Then every now and again he would double or treble his pace – and you were almost leaping out of your seat in excitement!

So try and play with pace.  Speed things up, slow things down, vary things – and don’t forget the pause. Which reminds me – did you hear about the huge grizzly bear that escaped from London Zoo a few weeks ago.  After a few hours he was discovered ambling along Sloane Street.  He pushed his way through the front door of the Cadogan, padded through to the bar and asked the barman for a scotch and, after a long delay, soda. “Fine”, replied the barman, “but why the big pause?”  “I don’t know”, replied the bear, “I was born with them!”


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