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Some of my friends who have small children sometimes express exasperation. They've read their child a dozen bedtime stories and their child will not fall asleep. They always want just one more story. I like to tell my friends that they are probably being far too interesting and entertaining to put their children to sleep. We tend to use more vocal variety when we talk to people we like. A few friends have challenged me to come over and read their child a bedtime story and when I do, I make sure to speak in soft singsongy voice.
Now, as an adult listener, you might be tempted to run out of the room screaming if I talk to you like that in a business context, yet you'll find some speakers performing what I call the business speech equivalent of a lullaby. A monotonous tone and a lack of dynamic range can make your audience fight to stay awake. Instead, think of using vocal variety in three key areas. The first key area is volume, or dynamic range. The most fundamental way to gain anyone's attention is to break a pattern.
Look for appropriate areas to vary the volume of your voice within your speech. A sudden quiet, dramatic pause in your speech can capture just as much attention as if I suddenly spoke loudly. Where might you add a dramatic pause? Can you whisper an aside to the audience? Is there going to be a moment when you can possibly raise your voice? It's hard to put your audience to sleep when you look for appropriate areas to vary your volume.
The second key area to consider for vocal variety is in your tone. Often your tone of voice is driven by emotion. For an offline exercise, try saying one short sentence with various levels of feeling. For example, try saying "I won the sales contest." Say it as if you are very excited. "I won the sales contest!" You can also try an incredulous tone. "I won the sales contest?" Try saying this with various other emotions. You'll hear how much variety in your tone of voice is driven by your feelings.
A key idea to using an effective tone of voice is to match your genuine emotion to your words. Examine the emotion behind the words you choose to speak. You'll often find your facial gestures and body language will also reflect the emotions you are projecting. A third key area is with your pace. Sometimes it makes a world of sense to speed up your delivery, and sometimes it makes even more sense to slow down. I don't always need to keep the same pace. I can always pick up the pace a bit to demonstrate a sense of urgency or excitement, or I can slow it down for just a bit of dramatic emphasis.
Volume, tone, and pace: these are three key areas for you to practice vocal variety.
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