Home » Communication, Preaching, technique, Uncategorized, Voice » Vocal Variety in Preaching: An Important Part of Influence

Vocal Variety in Preaching: An Important Part of Influence

21 November 2011

Most of us understand that vocal variety is important in preaching.  We have, perhaps, been subjected to the drone of a preacher or teacher speaking in such a monotone that it was remarkable when anyone was still awake at the end.

But vocal variety is also important in Vaden, Rory-2009being convincing.  To be convincing we need to involve several emotions within our listeners.  Part of the problem of the “flat” speech is not just that it is boring (although that is indeed a problem!).  The “flat” speech often creates the “so what?” reaction in the listener. To engage our audience/congregation, we need to be mindful of the various ways in which we can engage their emotions. 

Self-discipline motivator and public speaker Rory Vaden (who hails from near my hometown of Longmont, CO, rah, rah!) spoke recently at an event I attended about the importance of vocal variety.

Let’s look at it diagrammatically.

Vocal Variety6

On the above diagram, the horizontal (x-axis) axis represents the speed with which someone speaks.  We can complain when someone speaks so slowly that we are miles ahead of them before they get to the next sentence.  And we also can become exhausted when someone speaks a mile-a-minute (like those guys on the radio at the end of car and drug commercials!)

You MIGHT think that the best would be somewhere in the middle…but you would be wrong.  More later.


Vocal Variety5

The second diagram (above) has the vertical axis (y-axis) representing the volume of the speaker. Again, one might think that the extremes are “bad”:  it is irritating (at least to me) when someone always speaks so softly that it is difficult to hear what they say.  Similarly, we all shy away from the bombast who yells and speaks in a constant shout.  It wears us out, like the overly fast speaker above.   So…the best would be somewhere in the middle, right?

Vocal Variety4


Not necessarily.

When you lay the two axes on top of one another, you get four quadrants.  And by taking taking the above descriptions here is what each of the quadrants represents:

Vocal Variety3

This isn’t rocket science, people…

But according to Vaden, each of the four quadrants are an important part of every speech.  Each quadrant plays a role, not only in keeping the interest of the listener, but also of persuading the listener of your sincerity, authority as well as helping them want to take the journey with you.

Vocal Variety diag total

Thinking of each of the four quadrants, we can all think of examples of

The Slow and Loud Speaker-who is emphasizing the importance of a point and is coming across with (I think of Billy Graham’s mantra: “The…Bible…says…”)

The Slow and Soft Speaker exhibits authenticity.  It implies thoughtfulness and sincerity.  (Think of someone sharing their testimony of coming to faith in Christ for the first or second time).

The Fast and Soft Speaker almost seems breathless.  I think of the women rushing into the upper room to tell the disciples of their sighting of Jesus, “He was not there!  The angel said he had risen from the dead!  He reminded us of the words of the prophets who said that the Messiah must be handed over to sinful men, crucified and that he would raise from the dead!”  Partly being out of breath from running from the Garden Tomb, partly out of fear of the Jewish leaders and partly out of the wonder of what they had seen (at least in my imagination) they are speaking very soft, but very fast.  It communicates excitement that is tinged with anticipation.

Last, the Fast and Loud speaker. Again, I imagine Peter on several occasions.  One example would be on the Day of Pentecost as he declares, “This man [Jesus] was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”  He project energy, animation and excitement.  But it is a different excitement from the women coming from the tomb.  It exudes confidence and begs to be believed.

So which is right to use in your sermon?  Well, on the one hand, it depends on the topic of your sermon.    The preacher who speaks on Hell in an slow and soft voice is going to communicate something quite different from the preacher who speaks on Hell in a fast and loud voice.

On the other hand, however, Vaden notes that the best speeches (read: sermons) have ALL FOUR quadrants somewhere in the sermon.   In every public presentation, anointed by the Holy Spirit or not, you are taking your listener on a journey.  And in order both to keep their attention, but also to involve their emotions as well as their intellect, the careful preacher will ask how he or she is incorporating all four methods of speaking in the sermon.  It helps the listener not only pay attention (the variety), but follow along and be persuaded by your message.

In most sermons there needs to be:

…a time when we speak authoritatively.

…a time when we speak authentically.

…a time when we speak with anticipation.

…a time when we speak with excited animation.

There is much more that could be said on this, but I’ll quit now.  What are your thoughts on all of this?

Communication, Preaching, technique, Uncategorized, Voice , , , ,

7 Comments to “Vocal Variety in Preaching: An Important Part of Influence”

  1. Fantastic information. I missed Rory speaking about this. It makes a lot of sense. I’ll plan to use this in my future speeches.

  2. […] clear an explanation of vocal variety as I have ever seen.  Thanks Cal. Share and […]

  3. […] A recent post by Cal Habig suggests the use of a quadrant diagram (as modeled by Rory Vaden ) to better understand vocal variety. This illustrates how we can combine attributes to create a vocal image (though he doesn’t call it a vocal image.) Cal discusses only two aspects of sound: volume and pace (speed).   The quadrant contains a personality characteristic/quality of expression for each combination in the quadrant.  Here is his chart: […]

  4. […] his diagram, Tom lays out the four-square diagram somewhat similar to the one I had a few months back with I talked about the presentation by Rory Vaden. This one, however, deals with conflict and how we choose to respond to […]

  5. Great article that helps us see what is meant by VARIETY. Each quadrant can be used throughout a speech to create different effects. Thanks for the graphic to help us see this!

  6. […] she gestured just once or twice. But you’ll never know without some video practice.Cal Habig explains vocal variety. (Editor note: I love the 4 quadrant breakdown).Each quadrant plays a role, not only […]

Leave a Reply