5 Vocal Characteristics for Public Speaking

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Vocal Characteristics and Glossophobia

Glossophobia - the fear of public speaking or of speaking in general. Click To Tweet

Can knowing and applying vocal characteristics eliminate glossophobia?  Its unlikely, but it may at least help.  Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking or of speaking in general.  According to the Chapman University Survey of American Fears Wave 3, Glossophobia affects over 25% of the American population. It surpasses the fears of most natural disasters, heights, spiders, illness and death, or even violent crime. There is thousands of self-help books, U-Tube videos and expensive courses aimed at curing us of the phobia, but statistics show that we aren’t making significant headway. Public speaking remains a significant fear that is both natural and common.

5 voice characteristics for public speaking mark twain quoteWith all the professional educators, counselors and therapists unable to cure the fear of public speaking, it would be presumptuous for me to tell you that I have the solution. Instead, I can offer you tools to improve your speaking skills. As you learn and practice these skills, and become more self-assured with your abilities, I predict that you will still get a case of butterflies every time you step out onto the stage or pick up the microphone. But once past those initial opening remarks, your confidence will take over and your speaking will be easier.

One of the fundamentals in public speaking is the ability to vary your voice according to the needs of the situation. You can’t do much with the voice that God gave you; it will be high or low, smooth or gravely, depending on physiology. You will never be satisfied with it when you hear it recorded. But below are 5 vocal characteristics that are within your power to alter. Knowing what they are, and how to use them to your advantage will make a marked distinction on the quality of your presentation.


5 vocal characteristics for public speaking blog title

5 Vocal Characteristics for Public Speaking


Basically said, rate is how fast you talk.   You have to adjust that speed to fit the situation. A normal rate of speech is about 120 words per minute. An average listener can take in words as much as four times that speed. An extremely slow speaker allows the listener’s minds to wander to a point that they are no longer hearing what you have to say. A slow rate can also indicate that you are uninterested in either your topic or the audience. An extremely fast speaker risks the audience missing key words. The key here is variation. Use your rate of speech to capture and hold your audience’s attention. A faster rate of speech can suggest excitement or sudden action; slower rates indicate calm. Difficult or complex topics demand that you slow your rate to allow for the audience to take in and process what you are saying. Speak more quickly when communicating about more common topics. Your job is to learn to control the rate and use variation of rate to your advantage.


You want your volume to carry to the back of the room while not overpowering those in the first row. You control it by adjusting how forcefully you expel air through your vocal chords. It takes practice to trust your judgment on whether your volume is effective. It is perfectly acceptable to ask those in the back rows if they can hear you. Microphones can help with this issue, as they permit you to speak in a normal volume knowing that everyone will hear. But besides determining whether your audience can hear you or not, your volume has other implications as well. Speaking too soft can make you appear shy or unassertive. It can give the impression that you are less confident in your topic. Or it can just wear out an audience trying to hear. On the other hand, speaking too loud can make you seem overbearing, arrogant or unpracticed with the sound equipment. But varying the volume can be an effective way to add emphasis or emotion.


Pitch is how high or low your voice is, similar to a musician’s notes on a scale. Your normal pitch is physiological, produced from the vibration of your vocal chords across your larynx. But our voices are not monotone; we all have a vocal range in speaking just the same as in singing. If something is serious, a credible speaker’s voice will go into a lower range. The higher range is used for exciting or upbeat topics. In her article “Public Speaking—5 Tips for Using your Voice Effectively,” Gilda Bonanno suggests a good practice exercise. Repeat the name of your spouse or child. Each time you say it, vary the tone to convey different meanings. How would you say the name when displaying affection? Would you say it in a moment of fear? How would you say it if you are trying to gain attention? Notice the differences in the pitch?


Pauses are your punctuation. Effectively used they provide a transition between points and add clarity to your words. They also give you a chance to catch your breath and the audience to catch up with your ideas. Pause to add emphasis, to build up to something important, or to allow a moment for an idea to sink in. In a transcript of a lesson on Study.com (Using Vocal Qualities to Convey Meaning), Kat Kadian-Baumeyer cautions against the use of “unintentional pauses” that could make an audience perceive the speaker is forgetting his lines or is distracted.

Articulation / Pronunciation

Articulation is the art of speaking clearly, making the proper sounds with your lips, teeth and tongue.  Pronunciation is saying a word phonetically correct. Whether fairly or unfairly, both influence the audience’s impression of your command of the English language. “Want to” often comes out “wanna.” “Athlete” comes out sounding like “Athalete.” “February” comes out as “Febuary.” Accents and dialect also fall into this realm. What is the correct pronunciation of “Carribean”? Articulation and pronunciation somewhat easier to correct than accents and dialect, they all have the same affect. They make it more difficult for your audience to understand you. We all aren’t born with the radio announcer’s voice, but we can make the adjustments necessary to be understood. If your listener has to stop to ask himself what that word was, he’ll miss several of the following words. If that happens too often, the listener turns off and lets his mind wander elsewhere.


Audience analysis, research and support, outlines, visual aids, and practice enable you to build a better speech and to be more comfortable giving it. They are equally vital in reducing the anxiety of speaking in front of a group. In writing, effective use of modifiers and punctuation increases the likelihood that the audience understands the message. When an author a good mastery of these tools, he becomes less apprehensive to allow others to read the text. A speaker can gain the same confidence by understanding vocal characteristics. Knowing how to use vocal characteristics to amplify meaning enables the orator to be a more poised and self-assured speaker.

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One thought on “5 Vocal Characteristics for Public Speaking

  1. elena

    May 26, 2017 at 6:23pm

    Wow these are all great tips. I always get nervous when I’m talking in public around strangers. Will definitely use them to my advantage. Thanks!

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    • Author


      June 2, 2017 at 2:19pm

      Hope some of the tips are ideas that will stay with you then you are in a speaking situation. Had a language arts teacher once tell me that it was one thing to know what you are talking about. It’s a totally separate set of skills to know HOW to talk about it.

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