Get the most from your business speaking with vocal variety

By Dan Magill, Toastmasters International

When I recently rewatched the classic movie the Wizard of Oz it proved to be a powerful reminder that the most important asset a speaker can have is heart. To keep an audience engaged, especially when speaking online, you need heart; bags of enthusiasm, passion, energy, and vibrance.

In my view, the one true outlet for the heart is through your voice. An audience, struggling to stay awake, finds it easier to listen to poor content delivered in a lively way, than listening to important content delivered in a dreary way.

Here are some actions you can take so that you use your voice positively and powerfully in your business presentations.


Be You but exaggerated

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve suggested to clients that they add more vocal variety to their speaking, and they say, “It’s just not me. I’d be embarrassed to do silly voices.”

I said the same thing when I started public speaking. But it’s important to understand that when you speak, you should be you. But you should be a bigger, an exaggerated version of you which means exaggerating and modulating your voice. Use YOUR voice to help us go on a journey with you.


Listen Back to Recordings

Some time ago, I gave a speech about the Three Little Pigs and I really worked hard on each of my pig voices.

Afterwards, a friend called me and said, “Great talk, Dan. My only suggestion would be that you use a different voice for each of the pigs. Make it more fun and engaging for the audience.”

Watching the recording I realised she was right. All three pigs had the same voice!

Record yourself when speaking, or rehearsing. It can be tough to listen to our own voices but you’ll hear what everyone else hears and you’ll discover how much vocal variety you actually use.

Don’t be embarrassed.  We might feel we’re being silly and we’re adding too much – but to the audience, it’s probably not even enough.

Listen to yourself as often as possible.


Learn from Role Models

We begin mimicking voices from the moment we start speaking. So, why not do this with our public speaking?

I find it helpful to mimic the vocal style of people I see on TV. After all, if we’re going to be presenting online, we’re essentially looking for the same vocal qualities that broadcasting professionals have.

This doesn’t mean you should start doing impressions of them. There might just be little things here and there that you like. Small things they do that you can try incorporating into your own speaking.

Let’s look at some specific ways to use our voices to create more engaging presentations or speeches.


Dialling Volume Up and Down

Changing your volume can enhance the engagement your audience feels.

If you’re online, lean towards the camera and whisper something that might be a secret or a reveal for your audience. If you’re in person – do the same by leaning towards your audience.

Shout out the punchline to a joke or a big realisation.

Modulate your volume as you speak.  A sudden change from a lower volume to a higher one can bring them back into a speech that they might have been drifting away from.


Vary Your Pace

If we speak at one pace the entire time, an audience quickly becomes used to it. They quickly become bored and stop listening.

Think of ways you can really vary the speed as you move through your talk.

You might be telling us a story where everything is happening very fast, and you’ll speed up your voice to emphasise that.

Or to deliver an important message you can slow down and give the audience time to take it in.


Convey Emotions

Your ability to change your pitch is the most important vocal tool you have at your disposal. It is like painting a picture and adding colour.

It’ll include using a deeper voice or a higher voice, but it’s also how you’ll express your emotions as you speak, for example, sadness, happiness, laughter, pain, joy, guilt, tiredness, sympathy, sarcasm. There are so many ways of saying the same sentence but using a different pitch to convey emotions.

Have a play with the following sentence and convey happiness, then relief, fatigue, sarcasm:

“I am so happy to see you.”

By changing your intonation you’ll can get different emotions across to your audience.

Use these tips to bring YOU and your heart to your business presentations and speeches.



Dan Magill is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit