Voice Skills

by Judy Apps


Are you fast or slow?

Many people breathe quickly from their thorax. It often goes with the ability to think and function quickly. Their breaths are relatively short and each sentence has to fit into that breath, with a resulting speeding up of the words, and sentences that come in short bursts. This can often be accompanied by a tailing off of the sound at the end of each breath, which makes the speaker sound hesitant and unsure.

Key point

If you gabble and rush your words together, you will be difficult to understand. Many people do not like to ask you to repeat what you have said more than once, so this means that you could effectively go unheard.

Other people breathe abdominally, and thereby take in greater quantities of air. Their speech, therefore, can be more measured and leisurely. This obviously has advantages, though some people who breathe in this way can be ponderous!

To make an impact, you need to be able to vary the speed of your delivery. This depends on good Breathing. Good Articulation and Emphasis also help to slow you down, and increase intelligibility and interest for your listeners.


Moderating your tempo

This reading exercise is very useful for practising your delivery when a speech is pre-prepared and needs to be delivered accurately. It also serves a useful purpose for any presentation, whether you are reading it or not, by slowing down your delivery and enabling you to appreciate the impact of speaking slightly slower than normal to a large audience.

Take a written script and scan it to pick up the first phrase or so. Then look up and say those words. Look down in silence to pick up the next phrase, and look up to deliver it. The rules of the exercise are these:

  • Speak only when you are looking up
  • Keep silent when you are looking at the script.

It can be helpful to mark the script in advance into sense-making chunks, each one breath in length.

You will find that the silences when you are looking down seem very long, unless you slow down your delivery to compensate. Gradually, you will find a way of incorporating the silences as a natural part of the sense. It just takes a little practice.

Try it out on Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I have a dream’ speech:

I have a dream

(read next line and breathe)

that one day on the red hills of Georgia

(read next line and breathe)

the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners

(read next line and breathe)

will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

(read next line and breathe)

I have a dream

(read next line and breathe)

that one day even the state of Mississippi,

(read next line and breathe – and so on)

a desert state,

sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression,

will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children

will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged

by the colour of their skin

but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.