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Verbal Communication Element #3 – Inflection


Did you ever hear a presenter speak in Mon-O-Tone?

Did I hear some say, “R2D2 of Star Wars fame?

If you did, you probably couldn’t wait for the talk to end, and it’s doubtful you remember anything from the speech.

Inflection, or Voice Modulation, is “change in the pitch or tone of the voice.” Varying your tone throughout the speech – raising your voice slightly to indicate a question, lowering it to end a declarative sentence, speaking louder to indicate excitement or softer to express sadness – will help keep your audience awake and alert!

There are several kinds of inflection: UpwardDownwardLevel – and Circumflex. Let’s look at each of them:

Upward Inflection

  1. This is when there is a change in pitch going from a lower to a higher note within the vowel

  2. Most often, this change in pitch indicates questioning, insincerity, surprise or suspense.

  3. Examples: Raise the pitch at the end of these words, keeping in mind what they convey with a downward inflection.

  4. No!

  5. Wow!

  6. Really

Downward Inflection

  1. This is when there is a change in pitch going from a higher to a lower note within the vowel.

  2. Most ofter, this change in pitch indicates confidence, finality, power and certainty.

  3. Examples: Lower the pitch at the end of these words. keeping in mind what they convey with a downward inflection.

  4. Done

  5. No

  6. Go

Level Inflection

  1. This is when there is no change in pitch within the vowel.

  2. Most often, this indicates disinterest and indecision.

  3. Examples: Don’t vary the pitch in these words.

  4. OK

  5. Maybe

  6. Fine

Double or Circumflex Inflection

  1. This is when there is a rising and falling, or a falling and rising of pitch within the vowel.

  2. Most often, this change in pitch indicates confidence, finality, power, and certainty.

  3. Examples: Lower the pitch at the end of these words. keeping in mind what they convey with a downward inflection.

  4. Done

  5. No

  6. Amazing

Lowering your inflection at the end of a sentence makes it more powerful and gives the audience the impression you believe your own message.

Use upward inflections in the middle of a sentence to make the sentence more interesting and bring some attention to your point.

It’s important to vary the pitch.  It will help keep your audience in tune (no pun intended!) with your message and understand its substance.

Try the following exercise to demonstrate the importance this can have in your delivery.

Say slowly, and out loud, this sentence:  “I did not say he lost the keys.”

Each time you say it, put the Inflection on the underlined word.

Exercise:

  1. I did not say he lost the keys.”           (If not you, who said it?)

  2. I did not say he lost the keys.”           (Maybe you wrote it?)

  3. “I did not say he lost the keys.”           (I guess someone else lost the keys.)

  4. “I did not say he lost the keys.”           (Perhaps he gave them away?)

  5. “I did not say he lost the keys.”           (Gee! I hope he didn’t lose the car!)

Amazing, isn’t it, how the entire meaning of a sentence can change by inflecting one of its words? Use this tool in delivering your speech and you’ll see fewer yawning faces in the audience!

One excellent way to get the attention of the audience is to lower your voice.  It’s a pattern interrupt that sends out the message, “Listen – This is important!”

This technique is particularly effective if you’re speaking with excitement and passion, and suddenly pause . . . lower your voice, and say, “ . . .”

The quieter your voice gets, the more important the message is perceived to be.

The concept is analogous to telling secrets.  We lower our voice, and the recipient must listen more intently.

This has to be done naturally and sparingly or the effect will be minimal.  Done correctly and you can create a WOW moment for your audience!

For a great description and some helpful exercises, hints and tips, from a professional voice coach, read Dr. Candice Coleman’s white paper on Using Inflection: http://www.sayitwell.com/Using_Inflections.html

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Three ways to keep the attention of your audience.

About the Author Fred E. Miller is a speaker, an international coach, and the author of the books, “NO SWEAT Public Speaking!” and “NO SWEAT Elevator Speech!”

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