Recently in feedback on a speech, an evaluator likened vocal variety to horse riding. How changes in speed can be thought of as galloping, cantering, trotting. I appreciated the analogy as a way of making a concept more lifelike and understandable. It made me think about vocal variety further throughout my daily activities. I don’t horse ride regularly, but I do play the piano most days.
When I first started learning the piano, I only cared about getting the notes right. When it was challenging to work out where to put my fingers to play the right notes, I only had the capacity to concentrate on getting from the start to finish of a piece.
As I’ve become a better player, I’ve been able to add what’s referred to as the articulation or dynamics – playing at different volumes and speeds throughout the piece. Whilst my method of learning a new piece is still to make sure I know how to play the right notes first, I now enjoy experimenting with the articulation. Playing louder, softer, faster, slower is how you add your own interpretation to a piece of music. It also makes it a lot more interesting to listen to. How you convey the emotion and energy of a piece of music. Using dynamics in my playing gives me the satisfaction that I am improving as a pianist.
Translating to speaking
This is much like vocal variety in public speaking. A speech might have good content, be well structured and spoken clearly, but if it is delivered all at the same level, it is in danger of being seen as quite boring. Vocal variety adds your personality, interpretation and emotion to a speech. It draws your audience in and makes your delivery more interesting.
Everyone is different, but I generally approach a speech in the same way as learning a new piano piece. I start by working on the structure, content, language. Essentially getting the words (notes) right. Once comfortable, I add the dynamics. Where the delivery should be louder or quieter, faster or slower.
The vocal variety in your speech needs to be appropriate to the message and content. If you are doing a business presentation about a serious subject, it’s probably not going to be appropriate to oscillate dramatically between quiet and loud. But that doesn’t mean you should read from your notes in a monotone (one of the biggest complaints about presentations). Try speeding up when giving an example. Slowing down when it comes to emphasising your most important points. Pause, let the audience take these in.
Vocal variety is one aspect of speaking that I find harder online. In a room, you can hear how your voice sounds to the audience and temper that immediately. Online it is not as easy to tell how quiet or loud you can get and how it will come across. Everyone’s set up and technology is different and you do not have the unifying nature of all being in the same room. Like many aspects of in person verses online speaking, you can’t quite do it the same way. But the thing that you can do to speak most effectively remains the same – practice! Recording yourself and watching it back can be uncomfortable, but it is also a sure-fire way to learn and improve.
Whilst I understand and appreciate the analogy between horse riding and vocal variety, linking my experiences playing the piano and speaking makes a better connection to me personally. It’s helped me appreciate the power of dynamics/variety in both types of performance. What learning experiences can you connect to help you improve across different skills?