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  • Bruce Rule

Voice Is a Powerful Tool in Public Speaking (Part 2)

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Mariah Carey's Vocal Range is Legendary

In the last post we discussed why your voice is a very important tool you can use to improve your public speaking and become a more effective communicator (You can review the post here.) Now let’s dive into some specific ways you can use your voice to have the biggest and best impact on your audience.


Today we will look at pitch.


The natural pitch of your voice—whether you have a high one or low one—comes from the thickness and length of your vocal cords in your larynx. Male vocal cords tend to grow longer in puberty when there is a surge of testosterone.  The cords vibrate when air passes through them, creating sounds. The speed of these vibrations is what determines your pitch, with longer and thicker cords vibrating at slower frequencies. That is why men tend to have lower natural pitches than women, who tend to have higher ones.


In the operatic world, they divide singers into six basic types: soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto, tenor, baritone and bass. Soprano is the highest female voice, with bass the lowest male voice. Singer Mariah Carey hits very high notes in a number of her songs, while actor James Earl Jones is at the far end of spectrum on the low side.


It is a true but unfortunate fact that at least in the United States that a lower-pitched voice tends to be seen as more authoritative. Research has shown that listeners tend to believe speakers are more competent and confident. There’s a reason why actor Morgan Freeman, who is a natural baritone who dips his voice into the bass range, has played God in at least two movies.


As I have mentioned before, sounding confident is part of being persuasive.


The good news is that you can have some control over your pitch and, even if it is in the higher range, you can use it to make yourself sound more confident.


And to be clear: Varying your pitch also can make your presentation more effective. Ending a rhetorical question with a higher pitch can be good because helps prompt the audience to think of the answer.

The first thing, though, is for you to find your normal pitch. Record yourself speaking normally for about a minute, then pay attention to the last 30 seconds (by that point your voice should be flowing naturally). Get a sense of how high your natural pitch is and whether it sounds confident. Then record yourself again and try to speak in a slightly lower pitch for a minute. Don’t force the lower pitch or over-exaggerate it to the point where you sound absurd. Compare the two recordings. Do you sound more confident with the lower pitch? Probably. But if your natural pitch is fine you can stick with that.


Pitch Exercises


Here are some ways for you to take more control over the pitch of your voice and increase your range for variety.


1) Learn to breathe from your diaphragm. Too many of us suffer from shallow chest breathing, and research has shown that diaphragmatic breathing is much better for us overall because it increases blood flow and helps strengthen our muscles. For our purposes, it is important because breathing from your diaphragm will help you control the pitch of your voice.


2) Stay hydrated. I’ve written about the importance of drinking water every day before (see here). One way this helps your voice is that your vocal cords will be lubricated, making you sound smoother. Warm water also helps relax your cords.


3) Stand or sit up straight. I pointed out the importance of proper posture before (here). Good posture makes it easier for you to breathe from your diaphragm, which as we discussed above helps control your pitch.


4) Practice the musical scales. Just like a singer, try going up and down the scales as an exercise. There are plenty of training videos on YouTube you can watch to see how to do it. Move up and down your range until you feel comfortable varying your voice to make a point in a presentation. Minutes before you are to speak you can practice your range to warm up your vocal cords.


5) Avoid straining your voice. Yes, it is great to scream in support of your sports team, or sing along with your favorite performer at a concert, but the fact is that doing that puts a lot of stress on your vocal cords. They won’t sound right afterwards, so especially avoid punishing your vocal cords before a presentation.


6) Slow down your speaking. For many people, their voices rise when they speak quickly. The slower your pace, the easier it is to control your pitch.


In the next post we are going to discuss volume and the ways you can use it to be more effective.

Note: Please feel free to comment on this post or ask any question about public speaking and I will address it in a blog post. If you want to discuss something privately, feel free to reach out to me at




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