Boring ? ! ? ! . . . You Share Responsibility!

boring 2   You Share Responsibility!


Effectiveness Is Clearly Related To

Vocal Variety!

No, this preacher is not boring.  Just the opposite.  He is an example of how to hold attention!

In our example of Rhetorical Techniques today, we are pointing to one of the most solid of biblical commentators and speakers of our era.  If you struggle with the interpretation or understanding of a passage, surely he is one of the men to listen to or read.  He is also a man of high integrity on multiple and different levels!

Someone sent me a link to the audio of the message, and I listened to it this week.  It is a message which is just worth your time to listen to!  But if you are part of the group he is calling out, you will probably stop way short of hearing out what he has to say!

As I listened –  and later watched –  I not only enjoyed it from a theological, informative, and instructive perspective but then I went “analytical.”  When a speaker catches my interest, attention, awareness, curiosity, thinking, emotions, etc. I stop and go back (then or later) to that portion of the speech or message and ask — “Why?”

“What did he just do that pulled my thinking – attention – interest – focus.”

“What caused my response at that point?”

If I can quantify what a speaker did, in a meaningful way, then I can reproduce or duplication that methodology.  I am not speaking about the actual content, which is a whole other discussion – and it is.  I am looking for the rhetorical techniques which made what he said effective or more effective.  I can then use those same rhetorical techniques in preparing or delivering a message which has nothing to do with what Mac Arthur specifically addressed in his message.

In this example, you will see how important vocal variety is to effective public speaking!  You will also see how it is connected to eye contact.

Vocal Variety matters!

Vocal Variety Maintains Attention!

The Use Of “Pause” Is A Meaningful Part Of Vocal Variety!

Vocal Variety & Eye Contact Typically Exist together!


Mac Arthur began by stacking up reasons for stating that — “This is critical.”  When I first listened to just the audio, I was again reminded how vocal variety matters and what you can do with your voice to capture and hold the ears of the listener.  If you just listen to the audio, you will see how this is done by . . . .

 breaking up the arguments into distinct phrases or statements (the use of pause)

√ as well as by a vocal accenting of the reasons (volume & tone).

The transcript below is typed out in a format that reflects the vocal phrasing and breaks.

Dr. John Mac Arthur demonstrates that throughout.  Here is a small clip in which you will see/hear his use vocal variety, and you will also see that vocal variety is connected to eye contact.  There are times when you know he is briefly and visually relying on his “notes/manuscript,” but NOT when he exhibits vocal variety because vocal variety and eye contact typically go together.




(starting @2:49) –  Link

This is critical

It is critical because . . . .

Satan exists,

and because demons exist,

and because they operate a kingdom of lies — that dominates the world.

Satan is the god of this world, the prince of the power of the air, the ruler of spiritual darkness in heavenly places,

and he has been allowed to run loose in this world, going about as a roaring lion, seeking who he may devour.

He and his agents are disguised — as angels of light,  — according to the apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians.

And we should not be surprised  — that Satan operates 99 percent of the time in false religion, 

in lies and deception.**



As I have stated before, the art of public speaking is different than that of writing.  You can do things in public speaking that you cannot do in writing.

In the art of writing, you would have to go about this differently.  The writer would have to write out a word description of the vocal pattern to help the reader visualize or image what was being done. . . .


i.e. Something like this . . . .

“As John emphasized each short and terse phrase with a distinct vocal force, piling up reason after reason for his assertion, it was clear that he spoke with a personal conviction about the critical nature of understanding the point which he was trying to make to those listening . . . .”



The use of the voice is a valuable asset

in the art of public speaking!  


When I taught and teach classes in public speaking or homiletics, one of the first assignments I give to the students in “Speech 101” is a “dramatic reading.”  Typically, I have them select a “story poem” such as  – “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” or “Casey at the Bat,” or “Touch of the Master’s Hand.”

What is no longer a surprise is that the overwhelming majority of the students struggle with vocal variety!  They just read the lines of the poem and fail to call up any meaningful imagery except what is found in the actual wording.  It is the difference between vocally reading it in a way that a child’s imagination is stirred by its telling, and by just reading the words written on the page.

This happens because people do not use much vocal variety in their “talking.”  Where it changes is when a person shares an amazing or shocking story about what happened.  Then that person exhibits a good measure of vocal variety, which includes . . . .

  • pause
  • pitch
  • speed / rate
  • volume
  • intonation


Vocal variety creates interest!  Make no mistake about this — it is part and parcel of effective public speaking!    If your voice is vanilla — one-flavor-fits-all sounding, it is boring, and it will spark no to little interest!  It will not draw people to listening, but will over the length of the speech or message turn people off.   An expressive voice, which is marked by vocal variety, keeps people listening and focused listening is half the battle of an effective message.

If your voice is vanilla — one-flavor-fits-all sounding,

it is boring, and it will spark no to little interest!

There will be one or two students who have no trouble with using their voice as they stand and give their reading of that selection, and who ALSO standout as — what the class thinks as naturals — good public speakers.  The reality is, they seem to be “a natural” because . . . .

  1.  They are comfortable using their voice (using vocal variety).
  2.  However, because they have come to enjoy “working with an audience,” realizing that an audience  (consciously or unconsciously – it doesn’t matter) is affected by vocal variety, they appear to be “a natural.”
  3. Because they also have developed the ability to read their audience (consciously or unconsciously receiving and understanding feedback) and have come to grasp what vocal variety does.
  4. Because they understand that reading an audience requires sufficient eye contact.


We have all seen this play out.  There are some, what we call, “natural storytellers.”  That is, they can tell a story in such a way that everyone is listening.  It seems like when they tell a story, everyone listens, responds throughout, laughs, feels, and enjoys the story.  Why is that?

They understand that listeners want and enjoy vocal variety, a vocal variety which calls up the imagery beyond the actual words used.

They are gauging the listener’s response — feedback.  They somehow “know” when they need to heighten and change the vocal tones which keep the listeners with them, which helps keep them focused, engaged, and following!

Such “naturals” are looking at those gathered around (maintaining eye contact).  If the listeners are showing some signs of disinterest, they “know” that (consciously or subconsciously reading the feedback) and then they work on pulling everyone back into their story!

If one of the listeners is showing signs of pulling away, he/she knows how to pull them back by connecting again with that person’s eyes.*

You can tell, without even seeing the speaker, whether he is reading from a manuscript or not (There are exceptions, but not many).  If you are listening to an mp3 or an audio message on the radio, you typically know if he is reading.  There is a distinct difference in delivery, grammatical flow and accuracy, and tone when one is reading from a manuscript which has been “written” – written in a way that it would take little revision to make a chapter of a book or a magazine article out of it.

Vocal Variety matters!

Vocal Variety Maintains Attention!

The Use Of “Pause” Is A Meaningful Part Of Vocal Variety!

Vocal Variety And Eye Contact Typically Exist together!


Before Your Message Can Transform, It Must Be Heard!

[And you have some responsibility for it being heard!]



A Negative Example

Do you know someone who “can talk!”  They won’t let go of you – as uninteresting as what they have to say is!  As you try to get away – they pull you back in, else be rude in turning away to another conversation and/or leaving.  How are they doing that?  Vocally!  It is not that they actually say – “Don’t leave –  I want you to keep listening!”  But they vocally tell you I am not finished.


** As with many of our examples of various rhetorical techniques, only one brief example is provided.  John Mac Arthur’s ability regarding this vocal technique could be repeatedly illustrated throughout the whole of the message.

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