How to Sound Better

Learn how to use pitch, speed, and word choice to pump up the musicality of your speeches and presentations.

Lisa B. Marshall,
January 29, 2010

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How to Sound Better

Today I was driving across the Walt Whitman bridge from Philadelphia to NJ and I saw three billboards in a row: The first was advertisement for WaWa, the second was for MattBlatt and the third was for Kid Rock. I smiled because all three had something in common that I was thinking about. Do you know what it is?

OK, so did you figure it out? Did you figure out what WaWa, MattBlatt, and Kid Rock have in common? Each of these names have musicality--or the quality of being musical. Specifically the names use rhythm, assonance, consonance and alliteration to make them SOUND more interesting and more memorable.

How is Public Speaking like Music?

I was thinking about this because a reader, Gabriele Boccone, used the feature on our Quick and Dirty Tips website which allows you to submit questions and ideas. Gabriele wrote and said that he had a "crazy idea”.

He said, "public speaking is an art, just like music." He continued, "I listen to your podcast with pleasure, and I believe many other people do, not only because of its content, but also because of the ‘musicality’ of your voice. It has to do with pitch, speed, but also with choice of words. As with music, it requires training and a lot of practice, but it really makes a difference."

Well, Gabriele, that's not a crazy idea. Pitch, speed, and word choice are all very important elements of strong delivery. The sounds of your words matter. So today I thought I'd talk about that in more detail--to help you understand how pitch, speed, and word choice are fundamental to effectively delivering speeches and presentations (and not crazy at all).

Use the Pitch of Your Voice to Be Persuasive & Confident

It turns out the pitch of voice matters. Yep, that's right. There's a reason why most movie trailers and TV commercials often use a voice-over artist (both men and woman) with deep voices. Remember Don LaFontaine? He’s the guy that made the phrase, "in a world," a movie trailer cliche. It turns out that, according to research, the deeper the pitch of the voice, the more persuasive, more confident, more capable, (and more attractive). That’s the reason that guy made millions with his voice!

Use Your Natural Pitch

Of course, you can't easily change the natural pitch of your voice. However it’s, still important to keep your voice as low as naturally possible by taking slow full deep breaths and by keeping your nerves under control. (I've talked about how to do both of those previously.) For a longer-term approach, proper nutrition, diet, and singing can all help to strengthen your vocal chords and deepen your pitch.

Finally when you’re delivering a talk, think about changing the pitch of your voice on certain words. When there is a change in pitch, people notice. So think about the important words, phrases, and sentences and modify your pitch to draw attention to them. You don’t need a big change, just something very slightly different or it’ll sound phony.