Get Rid of the Queen Voice in your Public Speaking

Voice, tone, and use of inflection are the most important skills to master to become a powerful speaker.

Voice is the chief instrument for public speaking. We can conceptualize the voice as an instrument, and use some of the same language we use to talk about music to talk about the voice.

Phrasing

In music, it’s the length of the notes before a pause and there’s another melody that comes out. In speaking, it’s the length of a sentence or phrase before you stop or take a breath.

To improve your phrasing, think about how long your sentences are. People typically fall into phrasing that each sentence is of similar length. If your sentence lengths don’t vary, you’ll fall into a monotonous cadence, and it’ll be like house music to listen to. It’s so consistent and predictable that your audience will tune out.

Rather, it’s better to vary length of sentences to create emphasis. Try these examples and hear how the meaning and feel of your sentences change:

  • This is how I phrase things.
  • This is how I phrase things because it’s very, very important to sometimes go a little bit longer.
  • This is how. I phrase. Things.

Start to really think about your sentences. Identify where your important words are, and then create emphasis around those words with strategic pauses so your sentences aren’t all of equal length. It’s the same with writing, too. We fall into a consistent verb-noun structure when we write. So, if we’re memorizing our speeches verbatim, we’ll fall into a consistent pattern when we speak, too.

Pacing

Try this exercise: Record yourself speaking and then go back listen. Snap along to the beat of your own voice. You’ll likely notice that your speaking falls into a certain tempo or rhythm. Noticing is the first step to changing it.

If you add purposeful variety to the speed of your speech, we’re not talking about the get-nervous-so-talk-really-really-fast thing; we’re talking about intentional speed changes to make your speech more interesting. Speed the tempo up or slow it down depending on the mood you’re trying to convey and then watch yourself. You’ll then be able to make adjustments to how fast or how slow your delivery is, and then practice so you can nail it.

Pitch

Key Takeaways and Questions to Ask Yourself

Prepare your content and then record yourself, ask these questions:

  • How is my phrasing, is it ever varied?
  • Do you slow down or speed up, how is my pacing?
  • Is that predictable and am I changing speed with variety?
  • And, then finally, where are my pauses (or rather, where; are; my pauses?

Beginning speakers often use the same voice over and over again. Usually hitting a higher note at the beginning of a sentence and then decreasing loudness at the end, or diminuendo. If you do this every time you’ll get into that singsong pattern or queen voice that’s often heard.

To add variety, vary your pitch. It doesn’t have to be every single sentence, but enough that you don’t drone on---think about the teacher in Charlie Brown. Examples of ways to add variety are to start softer and increase your pitch, also called on accelerando. Then go into a diminuendo, or start high and decrease pitch. You can also hit a higher pitch in the middle of your sentence to emphasize a particular word. Again, think about your sentences, the words you want to draw attention to, and then make adjustments.

Pause

In public speaking, a lot of people think they’ll compete well because they say more words than someone else. They think they’ll win on content alone. But, that’s not true. The goal is to have more of your words heard. That’s right. You can say fewer words, with more emphasis and have greater results.

Pauses are a way to increase attention and capture your audience. Isolate your words. Build pauses into sentences to set your words apart on an island so to speak. This helps make the content more digestible for people, and also brings attention to a word or words that you’ve chosen to highlight. This means intentional pauses rather than I-forgot-my-speech pauses. These active pauses will be more powerful and engaging than if you spew words.

These four simple techniques will add vocal variety to your speeches and you’ll speak much more musically.


Johnny Rowing CWI

Johnny Rowing is an associate professor of communications and media arts at the College of Western Idaho.

He played an integral role in the development of the school's communication department and the competitive speech & debate team. Through his and others' efforts as both a coach and director, the speech & debate team has earned five of the last seven Division II National Collegiate Forensic championships, and finished reserved in the other two.

He's also coached numerous state-titleholder hopefuls to success, including 2018 Miss Rodeo Idaho Sydney Butler who won the contest's speech portion. 

When not coaching or teaching, Rowing enjoys playing music and spending time with his wife and daughters.