Vocal Variety – The Art of Saying More with Less!

Your voice is a powerful tool. It doesn’t just spout out words; it also expresses emotion, emphasizes a message, and contextualizes a scenario.

Only second to body language (55%), vocal expression represents a large percentage (38%) of communication – especially compared to the words that you use (7%). The tone, volume, and pace of your voice all contribute to your speech’s appeal.

What is Vocal Variety?

Having vocal variety means you can manipulate the tone, volume, and pace of your speech to grab and maintain the audience’s attention. All three elements should work in tandem with each other. I’m sure you agree that even excellent intonation would be lost if the audience can’t hear you.

In this article, we will learn how to hone your best delivery tone. As a speaker, your voice is the instrument with which you’ll create your masterpiece. Therefore, it is essential to master your instrument!

Tone & pitch

Did you know that women’s voices are much deeper today than they were in the 1940s? Researchers found that this phenomenon did not occur due to any physical change in the female autonomy, but rather, due to the perception that a lower toned voice commanded authority and dominance. This perception prompted women to lower the tone of their voices to achieve better aims. Therefore, your voice is something that you can be aware of and manipulate. 

But first, some clarification on the terms we will be using. Your tone is a general reference to the sound of your voice concerning its pitch, quality, and strength. 

Pitch is more specific. It is the degree in which your sound has a lower or higher quality. Intonation is the sound changes made with the rise and fall of your voice while an inflection represents the modulation of your vocal intonation. Therefore, you intonate by inflecting a vowel in your sentence upwards, changing your pitch, and affecting your overall tone.

vocal variety, tone, pitch, intonation, inflection

How pitch influences meaning

Changing the tone of your voice for different words can completely transform the meaning of your sentence. Take this exercise as an example—the significance of the sentence changes depending on the emphasized word. 

vocal variety - power of pitch

No words were added or removed in each sentence. However, the sentiment and meaning behind each sentence changed with different words emphasized. This exercise illustrates the power of your pitch and how vocal variety allows you to say more with less. 

The effects of inflections

It is a general rule that your voice must not sound monotonous, i.e., dull, repetitious, and lacking in variety or interest. A monotonous voice can put people to sleep – think of college professors who drone on and on with no change in pitch.

Changing the tone of your voice can be done by inflecting the vowels in your words. Different inflections bring about different effects. For example,

Intonating your voice shouldn’t just be limited to inflecting one vowel in a word but should be done consistently in a sentence. Your pitch should rise and fall to suit the need. In the following sentence, try inflecting upwards, the underlined letters and inflecting downwards, the bolded letters.

 “That’s amazing! But listen, this is important.” 

Inflections let you show excitement and command authority all in one sentence! Diversifying your inflections through intonation is how you create vocal variety and avoid monotony.

Inflecting downwards at the end of a sentence makes your message more powerful while inflecting upwards in the middle of the sentence creates interest in your speech.

vocal inflection in a speech

Say it with feeling

Changing the quality of your voice also injects emotions within your words. You don’t have to express a sentiment verbally with your words when you can say it with tone instead. After all, you don’t have to SAY you are sad to communicate sadness. 

Happiness can be implied by inflecting your voice upwards and increasing the volume and pace of your voice. Sadness, on the other hand, can be shown by doing the opposite, i.e., inflecting your voice downward and slowing down the volume and pace of your voice.

Using the above technique, say the following sentences as if you were thrilled and then another time as if you were upset:

Sentence 1: My old schoolmate is coming to town tomorrow.

Sentence 2: I just won a trip to Thailand.

By themselves, neither of these sentences indicate any type of emotion felt by the speaker. Peppering the sentences with inflections help the audience understand whether you are happy or sad about each incident. 

Think also about the implied meaning of each sentence, which changes depending on if you’re happy or sad. Sounding pleased in the first sentence suggests you had a positive relationship with your old schoolmate, in contrast to if you sounded upset. Similarly, sounding sad by the trip to Thailand implies regret for the prize – maybe you were aiming for something better? 

None of these sentiments were communicated with your words, but rather, through your vocal variety.

Believe in yourself – and what you’re saying.

Changing the tone of your voice also helps make you sound more believable, confident, and sincere. When delivering your speech, you have to choose when to inflect and vary your tone depending on when you want to emphasize a point or show emotion. 

However, using that same power, you need to show belief in every single word you are saying.

A timid or nervous speaker will automatically sound apprehensive while he/she speaks. Vocal variety is also judged based on the volume and pace of your voice, not just your tone. A nervous speaker will generally speak softer and faster, preventing the use of inflections throughout the speech.

So, it’s important to practice speaking confidently. As an exercise, repeat the following sentences confidently in front of the mirror using the tips here on eye contact and facial expressions: 

1) I am the best there is.

2) You will not regret doing this.

3) This is a great opportunity.

It’s time to mean what you say and say what you mean!

Try this out!

Now that you know the importance of vocal variety, try out this intonation improvisation exercise by acting out the following scenarios.
Scenario 1: Meeting a friend for the first time in years

Scenario 2: A couple breaking up

Scenario 3: A doctor delivering bad news to a sick patient

Check this out!

This TED Talk by Julian Treasure, a sound expert, discusses how to optimize your speaking voice. Be sure to stick until the end and follow the vocal exercises he suggests!

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