Voice – Non-Verbal

Your body communicates as well as your mouth. Don’t contradict yourself. Allen Ruddock


In this section we are going to look at voice in terms of Non-Verbal, which is style e.g. pauses and rate of speech and tone e.g. pitch and loudness. You can find the Verbal page here.


We are defining verbal as the words we use and nonverbal as the “nonverbal elements that accompany the spoken word” such as pause, pitch, loudness, rate of speech etc. These nonverbal elements are “as important as the actual words in creating meaning.” (Kostić & Chadee 2015 p, 92)

They are important because people are more likely to remember information that is presented by a speaker with more variable pitch and amplitude in his or her speech than one who has less. Also people are more likely to be persuaded by people who not only vary pitch and amplitude, but also speak with fewer pauses, shorter latencies, and faster speech. (Kostić & Chadee 2015 p, 105)

As depicted in the diagram above Kostić & Chadee have split nonverbal into two parts style and tone. We will cover each of these off here.

Interestingly tone and style are described as prosody or the “music” of speech. Perhaps we could view the words as notes in the music and the tone and style as the instrument.


Lets have a look at the different components of style which are more quantitative in nature. Since they are quantitative there are a number of apps that you can use to analyze your voice. In the web version of PowerPoint you can use the Rehearse with Coach functionality which will give you feedback on pace, your pace over time and filler words.

Another app called Voiceable will give you feedback on Pitch, tempo, intensity, melody, articulation and rhythm.

The website Science of People also has some suggestions on some useful voice apps.

Speech Rate

Speech rate is represented by words per minute and we speak at anywhere from 100 to 160 wpm. If you put this in the context of the importance of varying our rate as mentioned above, then knowing what rate we speak at is crucial. Record your next presentation on your phone and use an app such as Speech Master for Android and iPhone and you’ll get feedback not only on your pace but your pitch and volume as well.

Here’s a demonstration of speech too fast and then at a better rate.

Response Length

This is the amount of time someone spends talking. People who speak in shorter sentences may give the impression that they are unsure about what they are saying, therefore lacking knowledge and credibility. This is another reason to write out your presentation.

Speech Latency

This is the time it takes someone to respond to someone else. When we are presenting and there is a discussion going on, or there are questions at the end, you need to think about how you use the time to respond. Longer gaps between question and response show that you are thinking. Your body language is really important here as you want to show that any gap shows that you know the answer, you are just taking your time organising your thoughts.

This gap of silence can be useful because the person asking the question may continue to rephrase or add to the question, giving you more time to think.

Another technique is to not have a gap but fill it until you are ready to respond. Such as “that’s a really good question, one that I often ask myself, so to give you my best answer, could I clarify one thing, when you said x, do you mean y or z? etc….”


Pauses are the gaps or silence between words or phrases. Some people don’t have gaps because they speak so quickly. Other people have too many. Pauses are important because they give your audience time to think and digest what you just said. They dont need to be long 2-3 seconds is typically duration.

If you do speak quickly and have problems slowing down, keep your pace as is, but introduce more pauses to give your audience the break they need.

You can also use pauses to create an effect, for example at the end of a rhetorical question or after reading a quote.

When the pauses are filled, they are usually filled with ums and ahs. In this case we want to get rid of as many of these as we can. Having one or two in a presentation within a paragraph is ok as it would be perceived as more conversational. However ums and ahs in-between those paragraphs are not viewed the same as they give the impression that you have lost your way which impacts your credibility.

Here’s a demonstration of speech with and without pause.

Speech Errors

These are things such as repeating words, grammar errors, slips of the tongue, false starts, and any incoherent sounds. These can be due to nerves or a lack of rehearsal. If it’s due to nerves have a look at the section here on this topic.

If its a rehearsal issue, then find the time to work on those specific areas. If there is a tricky word use a thesaurus to a different word or phrase. If its a grammatical error this should be overcome by getting some one else to read or listen to your presentation. If you write out your speech then the Microsoft Editor or Grammarly, can be very useful in picking up these errors.

Rehearsing out loud will also shine a light on any gaps in our vocabulary where we find ourselves using the same word repeatedly to describe different things. The impression this creates is a lack of effort in preparation and consequently some audiences may be offended.

Here is a recording of some typical fillers.


One of the key determinants of Tone is our emotional state. And this emotional state directly effects our voice through the limbic and autonomic nervous systems. We hear this when people are upset, anxious, excited, relaxed, angry or sad. So it makes sense that we need to be able to control our emotions so that we deliver our message in a way that achieves our objective for the presentation. Once again have a read of the material in the section on managing nerves to understand how we can manage our emotional state.

But what are the individual components that we need to be aware of?


Pitch is how high and how low the voice sounds. Women speak at a higher pitch—about an octave higher than men. An adult woman’s average range is from 165 to 255 Hz, while a man’s is 85 to 155 Hz. Have a look here for more information

Knowing this range is important because we want to know what our conversational frequency is so we can stay in that range when we present. Use an app like Voice Tools to measure your conversational pitch. You now know what your normal presenting voice should be. Then you can vary it higher and lower from this point to make it more interesting and dynamic.


Loudness is the measure of the intensity or energy of the voice. You can think of this as being on a scale of 1 to 10, where one is what we call a stage whisper and 10 is really loud. If our loudness or volume is usually between 4 or 6, think about how you might sound a little louder or a little softer during your presentation.

There are certain phrases that lend themselves to changes in volume:

Louder: “this is a big opportunity” “the crowd was really loud” or “we need to drive this point home really hard”

Softer; “let me tell you a secret” “this is just a small change” or “we just scrapped through”

Typically words that are onomatopoeic, words are that sound like the thing they describe, lend themselves to changes in volume. For example: boom, crash, thump, bang, giggle, growl, whine, murmur, blurt, whisper, hiss splash, drip, spray, whoosh, buzz, rustle.

Here’s a demonstration of unmodulated and modulated speech.


Timbre is a representation of the quality of the voice. It’s everything that is not pitch or loudness. This is also an inherent trait something that you are born with as it has to do with the configuration of an individual’s mouth, nose, throat and vocal cords. So there’s not much we can do about this one – however you can always engage a voice coach if it’s a concern for you.


These are the specific pronunciation sounds of different consonants, vowels and other sounds. These sounds are created by a number of factors including the position of the tongue, lips and larynx. Singers talk about how to create different resonances by letting voice resonate in different cavities of their head such as the throat, mouth and nasal cavities. Here’s a good clip to explain this.

This is important because we have all heard someone’s voice that “really grates on our nerves”. If that grating turns people off listening to you, or they just find it annoying and distracting, then its time to do something about it!

Ask someone what words you need to change – Google “How to pronounce ….” and then practice.


Kostić, A & Chadee, D 2015, The social psychology of nonverbal communication, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.