Working on improving voice modulation and tonality

All You Need to Know about Voice Modulation & Tonality for Public Speaking

What is Voice Modulation in Public Speaking?

Voice Modulation is when you control or adjust your voice. It’s when you choose to go louder or softer, faster or slower, dramatic or emotional. Basically, voice modulation means using your voice and tone to communicate your message more effectively.

Without voice modulation, you would speak in a continuous, monotonous pitch or tone. We use voice modulation in our daily conversation as well, but the problem is that when we get up in front of an audience, stage fright dries up our throat and makes it hard for us to effectively use our tone and pitch.

You might have noticed this. Our voice strains, we struggle to speak up, we may fumble over words. But with a little bit of practice, you can make voice modulation and tonality your strongest tools when it comes to communication.

Why Tonality is Important?

When I started out speaking in public, I used to wonder why I wasn’t being effective enough. People were zoning out during my speech.

I knew my content well, I had spent a good amount of time researching and writing it, and my language was pretty much on point as well.

It wasn’t until I attended this workshop where the speaker was just killing it on stage! The audience was just waiting for him to say the next sentence. The way he spoke – his pauses, his emphasis on certain words, the way he would modulate his voice and the way his tone reflected the mood of his story.

It was then when I realized how important speech tonality can be.

The thing is, when we start out speaking on stage, we tend to talk in one tonal range. We feel comfortable speaking like that and so we stick to it.

But when we do that, we sound monotonous and the audience automatically tunes out. The audience thinks they know what you’re going to say next and so, they stop listening.

Note: Want to take your communications skills to the next level? Book a complimentary consultation with one of our expert communication coaches. We’ll look under the hood of your hurdles and pick two to three growth opportunities so you can speak with impact!

Alright…here are some things to keep in mind to grip your audience with your voice and tone using voice modulation and tonal variations:

Emphasis

This is the most basic and quickest way to add some range in your speech. Go through your speech and see which words are key to communicating your message. Pick these words and give them weight in your speech through your voice. Here’s an example:

“Let me talk to you about a word that is overused, never quite understood and most importantly, underrated. The word Millennials.”

Read this as you would read anything. Now, let’s add some emphasis to it:

 “Let me talk to you about a word that is overused, never quite understood and most importantly, underrated. The word Millennials.”

Adding a bit of emphasis on these words will help the audience understand more easily which words you want them to focus on. It’s one of my go-to techniques when it comes to voice modulation and tonality.

Pauses

pausing for better voice modulation

When we go on stage, the adrenaline is rushing through our veins. We could be excited or shaking with nervousness. And that’s normal. A stage tends to do that to all of us!

The problem is we tend to rush through our speech because of this. Being conscious about your speech and providing a few pauses can greatly improve the impact of a speech.

Here’s the same example with the emphasized words along with a few pauses:

“Let me talk to you about a word that is overused, never quite understood and most importantly (…pause…) underrated. The word (…pause…) Millennials.”

Silence

Silence is often overlooked when it comes to public speaking. But it can be one of your most powerful tools.

Starting your speech with a moment of silence, or a long pause after you say something very hard-hitting can go a long way in creating the impact you desire among your audience. As speakers, we want to do just that – speak.

But when we take a moment to let our statements just hang there, it can have an outstanding impact!

For instance, when you say something like, “The pressure got to her so much that one day she ended her own life.” After saying such a statement, hold on before saying your next sentence and just let the silence hang in there, let the message sink in with the audience. Such statements deserve a little more time, so we should give them that.

Silence. It’s underused. But when used correctly, it can be amazingly powerful.

Related article: 7 Reasons Why Pausing Makes a Great Speech

Loud & Soft (Vocal Variation)

increase or decrease your volume for better vocal variation while speaking

The volume of your speech plays a key role in the clarity of your speech and is an easy way to modulate your vocal tones. We need to be loud so that everyone can hear the words being spoken, but at the same time, we must draw the line between being loud and shouting!

Being loud and clear is not very difficult. With a little bit of practice, it’s easy to be speaking in a way that ensures everybody can hear you.

The not-so-easy part of speaking is to modulate your voice between loud and soft. Speakers go loud when they want people to listen.

But when they want people to really listen, they go soft. Changing your volume to match your content plays a key role in communicating your message more effectively.

Fast & Slow for Better Voice Modulation (Pace)

I’ve always struggled with pace. I’ve been told countless times to slow down when I’m on stage. When I’ve listened, I’ve performed well. When I ignore that advice, I usually fumble and mess up. Going slow helps us be calmer and deliver with more clarity.

But again, just like it is with volume, speaking slowly is not as important as modulating your pace. Going fast at some points and slowing down at others is a sure-shot of way keeping your audience engaged with your speech.

Express Emotion Through Tonality (Inflection)

Voice is a powerful tool to express emotions. Try and reflect your voice with your emotion for greater impact. When you talk about happiness, success and positivity, reflect these words in the way you to speak.

When you talk about a sad situation, sounding gloomy and upset can help communicate your point even better.

Inflection is an often overlooked topic when it comes to voice modulation and tonality in public speaking. But it is HIGHLY important.

If you speak at a level inflection, you’ll sound dull and monotonous (like a boring history teacher).

If you want to speak in a manner that provokes a response from your audience or listener, use upward inflection – end your sentence on a higher note.

If you want to state a fact or make a statement that showcases confidence and certainty, end your sentence on a lower note (downward inflection).

The Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort, talks about the power of voice modulation in great length in the context of closing a sale. A must watch for anyone who wants to get a deeper understanding of the importance of voice modulation and tonality.

Using these variations will help convey your message with a lot more emotion and impact instead of just saying it as it is.

Tips to Improve Tonality

Here are some easy and quick things you can keep in mind to help elevate your speech modulation game:

Water

While you should drink plenty of water in general, having a few sips right before you go on stage can help you speak more clearly and make it easier for your voice to modulate.

Being hydrated also makes it easier for you to modulate your voice as lack of water can make your vocal folds and larynx dry.

Avoid Slurring

Slurring is when you start off a sentence strongly, but your voice fades off towards the end of the sentence. This happens to me a lot! The audience can hear the first few words, but struggle to hear the ending of the sentence.

To avoid this, practicing a little louder than normal and being conscious of your slurring can help reduce your use of it.

Practice with Music Speakers

When I practice, I blast rock songs through my speakers and practice over that sound.  This helps me to avoid slurring and ensures that I’m loud enough.

Audio Recording

Audio recording yourself is a great way to understand where you’re going right or wrong with your tonality. Audio record the first draft your speech.

When you listen to it, make notes of where you can be louder/softer, where you can go faster/slower, which words to emphasize on, where can you add some pauses for greater impact etc.

Related article: The Incredible Impact of Video Recording Yourself While Practicing a Speech

Voice Modulation Exercises (Used by Singers and Voice Actors)

Here are some voice modulation exercises to help improve your tonality and pitch variation:

Sentence Emphasis

To understand the importance of tonality and to practice it no matter where you are, take a sentence (any sentence) and emphasis each different word within that sentence.

For example, let’s say the sentence is “I told you he murdered the gardener.”

Now, repeat the sentence in your mind and each time you say it, choose a different word to emphasis on.

  • I told you he murdered the gardener.
  • I told you he murdered the gardener.
  • I told you he murdered the gardener.
  • I told you he murdered the gardener.
  • I told you he murdered the gardener.
  • I told you he murdered the gardener.
  • I told you he murdered the gardener.

You might have noticed how with each different emphasis, the meaning of the entire sentence can change (if ever so slightly).

And that’s the point of voice modulation and tonality in public speaking – using your voice effectively to convey a message with maximum impact!

Humming

Humming helps to warm up your voice and to cool it down after a long performance. Starting with low pitches and moving to higher notes is a good way to test out your range without straining your voice.

Lip Trill

Take a full breath and let the breath out as if you were blowing bubbles. Let your lips vibrate as the air moves past them. This will help coordinate your vocal folds & breath for better voice control. It will help to bring your vocal cords closer to give you a clearer sound.

A More Effective Voice (Beyond the Stage)

Mastering voice modulation is one of the keys to becoming a great public speaker.

However, learning to use your voice effectively can help in a lot more ways than just in public speaking.

Knowing when to emphasize on words, changing your pitch and pace to suit the listener, using pauses, are all things that can be used in your day-to-day life to become a better communicator overall, even beyond the stage.

Try using these tips the next time you are trying to put a point across to someone. See how much more persuasive and effective you can be using the power of voice modulation!

If you’re serious about not just improving your tonality but to improve your public speaking at an overall level, I would highly recommend you to check out this course: Acumen Presents: Chris Anderson on Public Speaking on Udemy. The 5 tools of public speaking – connection, narration, explanation, persuasion and revelation – taught here are immensely helpful and go beyond the technical aspects of voice modulation. . 

Being the founder of TED Talks, Chris Anderson provides numerous examples of the best TED speakers to give us a very practical way of overcoming stage fear and delivering a speech that people will remember. His course has helped me personally and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking to learn public speaking. 

Note: Want to take your communications skills to the next level? Book a complimentary consultation with one of our expert communication coaches. We’ll look under the hood of your hurdles and pick two to three growth opportunities so you can speak with impact!

Hrideep Barot is the founder and chief writer at Frantically Speaking, a portal to help people learn everything about public speaking. The purpose of franticallyspeaking.com is to showcase the lessons that he has learned (and still learning) from his numerous stage experiences and mentors over all these years.