This post was contributed by Susan Dugdale of Write-Out-Loud. Thanks Susan!
Here’s the problem and its remedy is vocal variety.
You are giving a speech or presentation and, although the content is excellent and matches your audience’s expectation and needs, nobody is listening.
Vocal variety can cure your bored audience.
Instead you are looking at blank, disinterested faces. Someone is checking their watch, another is doodling, and that person in the front row is struggling to stay awake.
Your voice is turning ears off. To put it bluntly, it is boring.
The cure for deaf by monotone, (mono-speed, mono-pitch or any other one way or no way), is vocal variety. You need it if you want to be actively heard.
Vocal variety is achieved through varying your voice pitch, tone, volume and speaking rate.
It’s the combination of these elements that gives a voice its vocal signature. Lack of variety in any one of them can make you boring to listen to.
To understand pitch think of music. It has high and low notes as do people’s voices. Everyone’s voice has a natural pitch and a women’s voice is generally higher than a man’s. In addition, everyone has a pitch range, the number of notes they habitually use. When that range is very small the effect is monotonous to listen to.
Tone refers to the emotional content carried by our voices. It is not the words themselves but how we say them. To speak expressively is to fill or energise our words appropriately. For example, a person who puts very little energy into their speech no matter what they are talking about is often described as being ‘flat’. By contrast someone who fills their speech to overflowing with energy is described as ‘exuberant’, ‘enthusiastic’ or ‘passionate’. If you think of a word as a basket to carry its meaning, you’ll get the idea. Some people put very little in their word baskets. Others stuff them to overflowing.
Volume is how loudly or quietly you speak. If you are either habitually loud or quiet, you need to learn how to consciously turn down or up the volume.
Speaking rate refers to the rate words come out of your mouth: how fast or slow you speak.
Your goal as a speaker is to have people listen. To achieve that you need to use the most appropriate expression or vocal delivery, matching both your content and your audience’s needs.
Banish boring monotony with these 10 vocal variety tips.
1. Try this experiment for Pitch
Say the sentences below in your high, middle and low pitch range. Note what happens to the ‘intensity’ and the way you perceive their emotional content when you alter the pitch. There will be a distinct variation between each.
Her Grandmother died yesterday.
I want a new car.
This dinner is delicious.
People should love their neighbors as themselves.
2. The Tone Ham Sandwich Exercise:
Repeat the words ‘Ham Sandwich’ in as many varying ways as you can. For example say it angrily, happily, sadly, lovingly, despairingly, laughingly, importantly, slyly, snidely, shyly… This is a fantastic exercise to share with a partner. Take turn about giving each other the way to say the phrase. Repeat until you run out of variations. NB. Listen for emotional truth or believability!
3. Telephone Book Readings for Improving Tone:
Open the telephone book at any page. Select a style* or emotion and read aloud whatever is there. Sustain each feeling state for at least a minute. This gives you time to get into it. Listen to yourself to make sure you are filling those words with the appropriate emotion.
*Style? For fun and variation read your page in the style of a newsreader, a race commentator, a preacher, Marilyn Munroe…
4. Reading Children’s Stories:
Take a familiar story and read it aloud. As you do make sure your voice carries the meaning of the words. If a scary voice is asked for, use one. If somebody is bossy, sound bossy. If someone is teasing, put a teasing tone in your voice. If there’s a beat to the words, go with it. Find and emphasize it.
This a great exercise to record. When you listen to yourself, be alert for areas to improve. Record it again with the changes. And remember to try out your new improved reading skills with a child. Their feedback is direct and honest. You’ll soon know whether they enjoy the story or not!
5. Listen to Recordings of Novels,Short Stories, Autobiographies…
Many of these are read by highly skilled actors. Apart from enjoying the story, you will learn a great deal about expression. You can find audio tapes or CD’s at your local library or download them from the net. Many are free!
6. For Volume:
Use the following exercises to learn to project your voice naturally.
The skill involved with getting louder (or softer) is to maintain tone and pitch while altering the sound level. Many people lose them both, particularly when they get louder. Shouting may guarantee you get heard but it doesn’t usually mean heard with pleasure. And the other down-side to shouting is straining your voice. Good breath control is one of major keys to upping the volume while maintaining tone and pitch.
Practice Breathing Using your Diaphragm:
Stand in front of a mirror. Make sure your feet are a comfortable shoulder width apart. Pull yourself up straight and let your head sit square on your neck. Place one hand on your stomach. Breathe in. You should feel your stomach rising and then breathe out. This time your stomach falls. Watch your shoulders. If they rise and fall noticeably you are most likely breathing off the top of your lungs. Try until you can see and feel a definite rise and fall of your stomach while staying relaxed.
7. Distancing Technique for Volume Projection
Maintain the breathing technique outlined above and add voice. While watching yourself in the mirror to check for tension, (tightening of muscles), practice greeting yourself at ever increasing distances from the mirror. The first ‘Hello Susan, Bob’ (insert your name) is right up close. Then take two steps back and repeat. Now step back another two steps and greet yourself again.
(If your room is small, do the exercise outside and imagine the mirror! It remains in the same place all the time.)
If you feel any tension in your throat or chest from forcing the sound, stop. Breathe and begin again. It helps to imagine the sound arcing through the air, in a concentrated focused stream to reach its target. The further away you get the more control you need to have over the outflow of air carrying your words.
8, When you think you have a neutral ‘Hello Bob’ mastered, add emotional color. Say ‘Hello Bob’ nastily, lovingly, sweetly etc. while remaining relaxed.
9. Laugh Out-loud
Stand in front of your mirror breathing easily. On your out breath begin a series of ‘Ha-ha-ha-ha’s’ until all your breath is used. Take an ‘in’ breath and start again. Vary your laughter. Make it louder, make it quiet and then build it up again. Repeat until you are laughing loudly and easily without any strain.
10. Read Out-loud
Make sure your stance and breathing is good. Pin point a place at the far end of your room to talk to and now read aloud from a book, making sure you maintain your relaxed state while using as much vocal variety as you can.
A good way to test you’re working as you should is to do this exercise with a partner. Have them stand at the far end of the room you’re practicing in. Give instructions to give you feedback on clarity, variety and pitch.
If you find yourself rising in pitch, check your breathing. When we tense, we strain the throat and when that happens our vocal chords are restricted. The result is we force the pitch up and limit the range or color we can put into our words. If you are straining will feel it in your upper chest and throat. In addition your shoulders will lift and you will run yourself out of breath easily.
To color and control your voice the way you want to, practice and then practice some more. Play. Experiment. Exaggerate, have fun and you will make them listen.
Have you got the power of the pause? Silence in the right place speaks louder than any word can ever do. How is your articulation and pronunciation? Is it clear? Can people understand you? Are you a motor-mouth? If so, can you put the brakes on? You’ll find more vocal delivery help tips and exercises at write-out-loud.com