Imagine how boring a concert or symphony would be if they played the same note, over and over, with the same tempo and volume. A hallmark of great music is variety. Some moments are fast, others are slow. Tempo, volume, tone, pitch, mood, key—something is always changing. It makes the music exciting and interesting. It skillfully affects our moods and emotions.
Great speakers and presenters are the same. Some moments are fast and others are slow. You might experience loud and soft, happy and sad, funny and serious—all in the same presentation. Great speeches, like great music, are characterized by variety.
Just as the dynamics of music affect the mood, so your speaking dynamics should naturally support what you are trying to say. If you are telling a story about something that was quick or exciting, pick up the tempo and volume of your speech. When you have an important point to make, you should slow down and articulate your words. Variety in inflection, dynamics, and expression can be used to emphasize and illustrate the different parts of your talk.
Did you know that you can change the meaning of any sentence by the inflection you put on your voice? Try this. Read the following sentence out loud:
I did not see him throw the ball.
Now read it again aloud, each time putting a dynamic stress on the bolded word, followed by a short pause, as shown below. Notice how the meaning and tone of the sentence changes each time.
- I did not see him throw the ball. (Someone else saw it, not me.)
- I did not see him throw the ball. (Emphatic denial)
- I did not see him throw the ball. (I’m sure he threw it, I just didn’t see him do it.)
- I did not see him throw the ball. (I saw someone else throw it.)
- I did not see him throw the ball. (He didn’t throw it, he kicked it.)
- I did not see him throw the ball. (It was the bat I saw him throw.)
After this exercise, can you doubt the importance of voice inflection? Practice giving emphasis to specific words or phrases in your talk so your meaning is crystal clear.
When I was in school, I had a teacher who was fun, dynamic, and full of enthusiasm as he helped us to learn what we needed to know. However, once in a while, if he had something important or profound to say, he would squat down on his haunches, look each of us directly in the eye and speak very slowly and clearly, then pause. In this way, he emphasized the message so no one would miss it. While I don’t encourage you to squat down when you’re giving a talk or presentation, you can emphasize important points by following my teacher’s example: look people in the eye and speak slowly and clearly, then pause to emphasize your point. Notice that the emphasis was caused not just by what he did, but how it contrasted from his normal cadence, which was quick and enthusiastic. If your normal speech is slow and quiet, you won’t add much emphasis by speaking more slowly and quietly. On the contrary, you’ll likely lull your listeners to sleep. The emphasis is in the variety.
Have you ever sat around a campfire and stared into the flames? I can do it for hours. It is captivating, even mesmerizing. Why? Because it is always changing—the flames continuously vary in size, intensity, shape, and color. They are in constant motion. There is endless variety. This captures and keeps our attention. When you add variety to your delivery by constantly changing your speed, tone, volume, and mood, your talks can be just as captivating.
Success Tip: Make your presentations more engaging and captivating by adding variety. Loud, soft, fast, slow, humorous, serious, tone, and stress—all these add interest and impact to your speech.