V is for Vocal Variety


Anywhere in the world, and whatever the style, language is rhythm. And it has always been – speech is probably the ultimate origin of all music and dance. -William Z. Shetter

Voice and vocal variety are a critical component of public speaking

Dr. Albert Mehrabian, a professor and researcher at UCLA, reported that   38% of a message is relayed by our voice.   Psychologists and physicians are trained to listen not only to words, but to voice. The voice is a reflection of what is going on inside of us!  Why not use the voice to enhance what is going on in your next speech!

Vocal Variety can convey:

—   Enthusiasm/boredom —   Pleasure/pain —   Sincerity/sarcasm —   Happiness/sadness

Vocal variety adds rhythm to your speech. 

Using just one or two of these rhythm tips will increase the quality of your presentation dramatically.

For rhythm, think “RAPS”

-R is for Repetition: “It can be fun, fun, fun!”

Repeating words or phrases help to stamp them indelibly upon the minds of the speakers. Audiences retain more than 90 percent of information that is repeated six or more times.

-A is for Accentuating words: “It CAN be fun!” (accentuate “CAN” with a louder or softer voice)

Accentuating a few words or sounds adds interest and emphasis to your message.

-P is for Pause: “It can be fun! (five-second pause) “Lots of fun!”

Pauses go a long way.  Use them instead of “and,” “er,” and “um.”  One Gallop Poll reveals that vocalized pauses annoyed 69% percent of people surveyed.  Pause after you’ve made a point, shared a story, cracked a joke, or even if you’ve forgotten what you were going to say next.

-S is for Speech Pace – normal/slower/faster: “It can be fun” (average pace); “Let me repeat that. It—Can—Be—Fun.” (slower pace.) “So let’s do it!” (fast pace.)
Watch your pace of your speech.  The biggest culprit of  speaking effectively is speaking too fast. Gallop Poll reveals that talking too fast annoys 55% of people surveyed. Slowing down can improve a speech 100%.

The chapter titled, “How to Make Your Speech Sparkle,” from The public speaker’s treasure chest: A compendium of source material to make your speech sparkle  offers the following suggestions to add cadence in your presentation.

 – Intersperse short sentences with long ones.

– Use a series of short, crisp sentences.


More tips that add rhythm to your speech comes from James Humes, a presidential speech writer, in his book, The Sir Winston Method:

RHYME (one syllable words are the easiest)

  • Sell, tell, fell, well
  • Survive, thrive, strive
  • Buy-die, try, defy
  • Invest, divest, best, test
  • Earn, learn, yearn, turn
  • Gain pain, wane, retain

Example: “Those who first learned the market are those who now have earned the big profits”


Mix and match 12 of the simplest and oldest verbs…


  1. Bear
  2. Bring
  3. Come
  4. Get
  5. Give
  6. Make
  7. Put
  8. Reach
  9. Sit
  10. Stand
  11. Take
  12. Work

…with 11 of the simplest and oldest adverbs:

  1. Across
  2. Down
  3. For
  4. In
  5. Out
  6. Over
  7. To
  8. Under
  9. Up
  10. Without
  11. Bottom

Example: “We will reach our goal if we reach out to the upside market”


Dictionary.com defines alliteration as: “The occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words.”  Alliterations are a wonderful way to add rhythm to your talk:

Example: “The bottom line of communication is contact and communion with your audience”


Additional Considerations:

V is for Vocal Variety


If you think you don’t have vocal variety, listen to yourself when you talk about your pet peeve, favorite activity or passion.  Chances are you not only have a lot of vocal variety – but body language too!


Martin Luther King – The Master Puts it all Together

I believe one of the most powerfully effective speeches of all time is Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Dr. King employed dozens of techniques, including those of rhythm. The result? A poignant speech that is undeniably a timeless classic. Listen to the cadence in the following excerpt:

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition…

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