When George H.W. Bush ran for president in 1988, he hired a voice coach to help him lower his voice an octave. Why? Because the candidate’s high-pitched voice had helped saddle him with the “wimp” image, even though Bush had proved his valor as a Navy combat pilot during World War II.
Fairly or unfairly, we impute strength and confidence to the person who speaks with a low-pitched, well-modulated voice.
We convey feelings, moods and attitudes through a variety of voice qualities, which are sometimes called paralanguage. Among these qualities are volume, pace, intonation and juncture.
Volume and Pace
Volume and pace should be used in a careful, controlled way. They can achieve powerful effects, especially when persuading from the public platform. You can let your voice rise to a crescendo, the pace and volume quickening until you reach a peak of excitement. Or you can drop to a dramatic whisper.
Volume should always be great enough that you can be heard by everyone in your audience. When you’re addressing a group through a microphone, that generally presents no problem. When speaking without a microphone, keep checking the people farthest from you for signs that they’re straining to hear, or that their attention is straying.
Pace should be adapted to the message. Some simple but telling points can be made effectively in rapid-fire sequence. Others can be made by slowly drawing out the words, or by long pauses to let the points sink in.
Intonation refers to the voice pitch. We usually speak in a range of pitches, from low to high. The range between high and low intonations varies from individual to individual, and from one linguistic population to another. The English, for instance, generally have a greater range than do Americans.
Juncture refers to the way vowels and consonants are joined in the stream of speech. If you listen to someone speaking in a foreign language, it sounds like a continuous flow of syllables. That’s because you haven’t learned to recognize the signs that tell you where one word stops and another begins.
Speakers of other languages have the same problem comprehending English. As I’ve spoken on different continents, I’ve formed a great admiration for the translators who render my speech into other languages. Once I was translated simultaneously into seven different languages. Either my juncture was good or my translators were superb. The audiences laughed at the appropriate points and applauded at the appropriate points.
Inattention to juncture can make your speech indistinct or hard to understand. If you tell a carpenter to build a greenhouse, make sure you don’t end up with a green house; the difference in appearance and cost can be substantial…
If you ask your secretary to get you the night rate and have it on your desk the next morning, be sure it doesn’t sound like “nitrate.” Otherwise, you may find a sack of fertilizer in your in-basket.