Be Vocal


A key skill in effective communication in business situations is to recognize the importance of voice characteristics in your speech patterns and to be more aware of how to use the vocal channel to aid workplace success.

When we learn our first language, our ‘mother tongue’, we are about 2 years old when we say our first recognizable word. Yet we have been hearing, and then listening, to this language for 2 years. As a baby we somehow identify patterns in the sounds we hear and eventually we can produce these sounds ourselves. As adults we are so used to these sounds that they are automatic and part of us. This vocal channel, can account for 38% of the signal received. Last time we looked at that remaining 62%, the visual channel. Can you sharpen your vocal skills to be a better communicator in the workplace? It’s not easy.

Sentence stress plays a key role in this. Look at the sentences below. Say aloud and notice how the meaning changes as the stress shifts from word to word. The suggested meanings are in brackets underneath.

  1. I think you’ve done a good job
    (but nobody else does)
  2. I think you’ve done a good job
    (but I’m not sure, give me some proof)
  3. I think you’ve done a good job
    (but not Tim)
  4. I think you’ve done a good job
    (even though your planning was lousy)
  5. I think you’ve done a good job
  6. I think you’ve done a good job
    (but the plan?)
  7. I think you’ve done a good job
  8. I think you have done a good job
    (could sound patronising)

Make the most of your voice and the vocal channel:

  • use word stress to pronounce key words correctly
  • use sentence stress to highlight important names, facts, figures and actions for the listener
  • use the right pace for your listener – too fast and they won’t be able to absorb all of your message, too slow and you can lose impact and interest
  • use pauses to mark the end of one point of information and the beginning of the other. A well-placed pause gives your listener a chance to absorb what has been said and/or get everyone’s attention for what comes next.
  • use pitch to help convey the right impression. Low pitch can help convey authority, but can also sound monotonous, too serious or unenthusiastic. High pitch can help convey enthusiasm, but can also lack authority or seriousness. The skill is for you to be adaptable – read the situation and your listener and tailor your voice to them
  • use intonation to show enthusiasm for your ‘message’ and empathy with your listener(s)
  • use rhythm to maintain interest, Together with stress, pausing, pitch and intonation, rhythm helps to highlight the key parts of the message for your listener(s)

Guy Perring is Director, Professional Development Unit (PDU), at the British Council Malaysia. The PDU offers a wide range of learning opportunities from management and communication skills training to developing English skills. Visit our website at or email me at

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