If you don’t put some variety into your speaking voice, then your audience will get bored and fall asleep. Two YouTube video examples from movies illustrate how much difference vocal variety can make.
In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Ben Stein plays a high school economics teacher who calls the roll with a boring monotone drone. His student’s replies of “here” convey way more emotion than anything he does.
Contrast that with Meg Ryan who plays Sally in When Harry Met Sally. In the famous delicatessen scene she puts a load of emotion into the word “yes.”
Rate, volume, and pitch are three main dimensions of vocal variety.
But rate, volume and pitch may appear under other names, typically all beginning with the letter p, as a silly organizational device.
Rate (or pace) can range from slow as molasses to faster than an auctioneer. The December 2016 issue of Toastmaster magazine had a brief unindexed Advice from the Pros article by Bill Brown titled Don’t Race the Pace. On July 31, 2017 Gavin Meikle had a longer article titled Vocal Variety Tip Part 2 – Perfect Your Pace. On September 1, 2017 September 1, 2017 Christian O. Lundberg had an article at at Pinnacle Persuasion titled Speech myths busted: Speed kills? Or, what is the best rate for a compelling presentation.
Volume (intensity, loudness, power, projection) can range from a whisper to a shout. The March 2017 issue of Toastmaster had another article by Bill Brown titled The Most Common Technique – Volume. On July 18, 2017 Gavin Meikle had another article titled
Six Elements of Vocal Variety and How to Master Them Part 1 – Volume.
Pitch (frequency) can range from low to high. In the February 2017 issue of Toastmaster Bill Brown had an article on Reading a Prepared Text that suggested adding pitch up or down markings. On September 5, 2017 Gavin Meikle had an article titled Vocal variety tips, part 3 – pitch and resonance.
The May 2014, issue of Toastmaster has a two-page article by Craig Harrison on Hearing Voices (use characters, personas, puppets and animal sounds to boost your vocal variety.
The Toastmasters International basic manual on Competent Communication covers vocal variety in the sixth speech project. Andrew Dlugan discussed it on November 1, 2009 in a post at his Six Minutes blog on Toastmasters Speech 6: Vocal Variety. Toastmasters International covers vocal variety in their very detailed manual on Your Speaking Voice (Item 199, 22 page pdf).
The National Communication Association has a 49 page pdf document called
The Competent Speaker Speech Evaluation Form 2nd Edition 2007. Vocal variety is one of eight competencies considered in their evaluation:
“Competency Six: Uses vocal variety in rate, pitch, & intensity (volume) to heighten & maintain interest appropriate to the audience & occasion.”
Songs provide great examples of vocal variety, like the soaring electropop of Something Just Like This. Using vocal variety also can spice up a potentially boring subject like a weather forecast. The National Weather Service has an eight-minute YouTube video by Brooke Bingaman on Creating Vocal Variety.
Four questionable quadrants for vocal variety
In Chapter 11 of his 2014 book, How to Deliver a TED Talk, Jeremy Donovan showed a chart with four quadrants for rate and volume. But he didn’t provide a reference for its source. Back on November 11, 2010 Rory Vaden had a blog post at Southwestern Consulting on 4 Voice Quadrants.with some different titles. A November 21, 2011 article by Cal Habig on Vocal variety in preaching: an important part of influence discussed Vaden’s blog post with a four-slice pie chart.