I studied music in college for two years. My principal instrument was the trombone. I was lucky enough to be around some super talented people during my time in Tallahassee. It was apparent very early in my days there that I was not nearly as gifted as most of the people in my program. They could all play their instruments much better than I can.
As a speaker, your voice is your instrument. Some people are naturally gifted, just like people in the music program, and have “special” instruments. James Earl Jones, President Obama, and Oprah all have those special voices that we love to hear. They sound good, they make us smile, and they are generally pleasing to the ear. We all have very individual instruments that make us all sound different, but how can we truly use our instruments when we speak?
In toastmasters we refer to it as vocal variety. This broad heading covers pacing, tonal quality, pauses, and volume. When you see polished speaker one of the things you usually don’t notice are how well he or she uses vocal variety, but when you see someone who is not polished you ALWAYS notice that they have no concept of vocal variety.
We have all been to PTA meetings, city council appearances, and watched painful examples of people that just don’t have any variety. They are very monotonous and redundant in their speech. Imagine the teacher from the Charlie Brown cartoons. Everything sounds the same and she repeats herself over and over. Not using variety is death to the speaker.
Vocal variety helps pull an audience in. It helps emphasize an important point in your speech. You can use variety to make a story funnier or to help build the suspense for a serious moment. You can also transition from point to point by using your vocal variety. As important as content is (and content is the most important part of a good speech), great content gets lost if the delivery is dull, predictable, and quiet.
The next time you are giving a presentation try to intentionally put more variety into your speech. You will never hear an orchestra play a 15 minute piece that has the same volume, speed, and phrasing. A great soloist uses his instruments natural range and gives the music a new life depending on their interpretation. Use your instrument to help your speech come to life and breathe life into what could be a boring musical piece.