photo of a woman speaking in front of library bookshelves with a flipchart with Toastmasters organization

In the past, we covered how to say no and public speaking skills (all librarians need them!). Now, it’s time to think about the mechanics of your actual speaking voice.

In decades past, a well-developed sibilant “Shhh!” might be a librarian needed. Now, a day’s work in the library today might include explaining resources at the reference desk, soothing an irate patron, negotiating with colleagues, and presenting a plan to the community – and each of those demands a different tone.

Vocal quality can affect your impact at work, from whether your voice trembles when you ask for a raise to how confident you sound when doing readers’ advisory.

Traditional advice suggests a lower voice pitch conveys greater authority and leadership, especially for men. New research suggests that women can achieve better results by working on pacing and emphasis rather than pitch alone.

Cover of Toastmasters guide to Your Speaking Voice. includes image of young man speaking into a microphone.

Toastmasters International offers a handy guide to considering all aspects of your speaking voice, including pitch, projection, and pacing. They start out with tips on evaluating your own pitch:

We each have a natural pitch on which we speak. It may or may not be good. If your natural pitch needs to be lowered, work on it by consciously pitching your voice lower in all conversation. Change it a half-tone at
a time. Speaking with careful enunciation and in a relatively soft tone will help you to establish the change.

Even if you don’t have time for all the steps outlined by Toastmasters, take one day at the library and listen to your voice. Does it sound different at the reference desk versus the break room? Do you speak differently over the phone than in person? Do you shift volume levels easily between a stacks consultation whisper and a closing time announcement?

Youth librarians – chime in here! I know you’ve worked hard to create your story time voice.

Featured image of Toastmasters meeting at Biblioteca Hasdeu in Chișinău, Moldova cc-by hasdeu on flickr.

Megan Hartline


Megan Hartline (@awrybrarian on Twitter) is a librarian in Denver, Colorado. In addition to librarianship, Megan's background is in nonprofit leadership. She would love to visit your library to talk about management, workflows, or customer service.

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