YOUR use of simple sense stress helps an audience to understand what you say. But when you make good use of variety in volume, pace, and pitch, your talk can be much more enjoyable to listen to. More than that, it may tell your audience how you feel about what you are saying. Your attitude toward the material can influence how they feel about it. This is true whether you are speaking from the platform or to an individual in the field ministry.
The human voice is a marvelous instrument, capable of great variety. Properly used, it can give life to a talk, touch the heart, stir emotions, and motivate to action. However, this cannot be achieved by simply marking your notes to indicate where to adjust the volume, change the pace, or vary the pitch. Modulation in response to such cues will sound artificial. Instead of imparting life and color to your delivery, it may make your audience feel uncomfortable. Proper use of modulation springs from the heart.
When used wisely, modulation will not attract undue attention to the speaker. Instead, it will help the audience to enter into the spirit of the subject being discussed.
Adjust the Volume. One way to vary your vocal expression is to adjust your volume. But this should not be simply a routine increase or decrease in volume with monotonous regularity. That would distort the sense of what you are saying. If you raise the volume too often, the impression will be unpleasant.
Your volume should be appropriate to the material. Whether you are reading an urgent command, such as that found at Revelation 14:6, 7 or at Revelation 18:4, or an expression of strong conviction, as recorded at Exodus 14:13, 14, appropriate increase in volume is indicated. Likewise, if you are reading a strong denunciation from the Bible, such as that found at Jeremiah 25:27-38, varying your volume will make certain expressions stand out above the rest.
Consider, too, your objective. Do you want to motivate your audience to action? Do you want to make the main points of your presentation stand out? Greater volume, used with discretion, helps to accomplish these objectives. However, simply increasing your volume may defeat your purpose. How so? What you are saying may call for warmth and feeling instead of increased volume. We will discuss this in Study 11.
When used with discernment, a drop in volume can stir up anticipation. But that usually requires greater intensity of tone immediately afterward. Lower volume coupled with increased intensity can be used to convey anxiety or fear. Reduced volume may also be used to indicate that what is being said is of secondary importance in comparison with what surrounds it. If your volume is always low, however, this may convey uncertainty or lack of conviction on your part or lack of real interest in your subject. Obviously, very soft tones need to be used with discretion.
Change Your Pace. In everyday speech, words flow spontaneously as we express our thoughts. When we are excited, we tend to speak rapidly. When we want others to remember exactly what we say, the pace of our speech becomes more deliberate.
However, few speakers who are new to the public platform vary their pace. Why? They prepare their wording too carefully. It may all be written down. Even if the talk is not delivered from a manuscript, the words may be virtually memorized. As a result, everything is delivered in a measured pace. Learning to speak from an outline will help to correct this weakness.
Avoid increasing your pace so abruptly that it reminds one of a strolling cat that suddenly leaps away when it spots a dog. And never speak so rapidly that your diction suffers.
To achieve variety in your pace, do not simply speed up and slow down at regular intervals. Rather than enhancing the material you are presenting, that style of delivery will detract from it. Changes of pace should be geared to what you are saying, the emotions you want to convey, and your objective. Deliver your talk at a moderate pace. To convey excitement, speak more rapidly, just as you would in everyday life. This is also appropriate when stating points of lesser importance or when narrating events in which details are not vital. This will add variety and help to keep your talk from sounding too heavy. On the other hand, weightier arguments, main points, and climaxes in delivery usually call for a slower pace.
Vary Your Pitch. Imagine someone playing a musical instrument for an hour or so. During all that time, he sounds just one note—first loudly, then softly, at times quickly, then slowly. There is variation in volume and in pace, but with no variation of pitch, the “music” is not very appealing. Similarly, without variety in pitch, our voice will not be pleasant to the ears.
It must be noted that changes in pitch do not have the same effect in all languages. In a tonal language, such as Chinese, changing the pitch may change the meaning of a word. Nevertheless, even in such a language, there are things that a person can do to add greater variety to his vocal expressions. He can work at improving the range of his voice while retaining the same relative values for the various tones. Thus he can make the high tones higher and the low tones lower.
Even in languages that are not tonal, a change in pitch may convey a variety of ideas. For example, a slight raising of the pitch accompanied by a comparable increase in volume may be used for sense stress. Or a change in pitch may be a means of indicating size or distance. A rising inflection at the end of a sentence may indicate that a question is being asked. Some languages may require a falling inflection.
Excitement and enthusiasm may be expressed with a higher pitch. (In a tonal language, that may call for a wider range of the voice.) Sorrow and anxiety may call for a lower pitch. (Or in a tonal language, a narrower voice range.) The emotions mentioned here are ones that help the speaker touch the heart. When you want to express them, do not simply say the words. Use your voice in a way that shows that you also feel them.
Laying a Foundation. Where, then, does modulation begin? With selection of material for your talk. If you include nothing but argumentation or nothing but exhortation, you will have little opportunity for variety in your delivery. So analyze your outline, and make sure that you have the ingredients needed for a colorful, informative presentation.
Suppose that in the middle of your talk, you feel the need for greater variety because your presentation is dragging. What then? Change the nature of your material. How? One way is to open the Bible, invite the audience to open theirs, and read a scripture instead of simply talking. Or convert some statement into a question, adding a pause for emphasis. Insert a simple illustration. These are techniques used by experienced speakers. But regardless of the extent of your experience, you can use the same ideas when preparing your material.
It can be said that modulation is the spice in a talk. If the right kind is used and in the right amount, it will draw out the full flavor of your material and make it a delight to your audience.