It is far too easy to slip into a monotonous speaking tone when conducting meetings or speaking to an audience. Perhaps you do this in an attempt to control your nerves, or to appear more serious and in control of your material, but you’re not a boring person, so don’t speak like one.
If you want people to really hear you and remember what you have to say, you should make them want to listen to you. Simply embrace your voice’s musical quality the same way you would use volume adjustments to create a more dynamic and joyful experience for your listeners. This is called prosody. In other words, the rhythmic and melodic quality of speech.
I recently heard a beautiful example of prosody in the movie “Saving Mr. Banks” with Tom Hanks. In the movie, Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney, and the voice he uses for his character is so rich, and so deliberate in its pace and rhythm, that it is a joy to listen to. He uses deep throaty lows but also gracefully leans on his higher range for a bouncy jovial cadence. The voice is the voice of an entertainer, and it entertains.
Why are we so responsive to the musical qualities in the human voice? Perhaps it is because humans may have begun communicating to each other in sing-song much before we developed spoken language. According to archaeologist Steven Mithen, in his book “The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body”, this possible earlier form of communication may have resembled a modern day mother speaking in baby sounds to her newborn child. Why do babies respond to cooing the way they do? It may have something to do with the human mind’s instinctive ability to interpret changes in vocal pitch. Let’s use this natural ability to our advantage.
By exercising prosody, we can become much more engaging speakers, and our listeners’ ears will be thankful.
Feature image credit: Photo by Christian Guthier / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
- Julian Treasure – How to speak so that people want to listen (TED talk)
- Six Pixels of Separation Podcast, Episode #433
Michael Folkerson - January 19, 2015
Interesting. Love the blog!
Wendy Cherwinski - January 20, 2015
Hi David – You’re right. Vocal variety is critical to maintaining engagement with an audience. During my speechwriting workshops I teach participants techniques for writing scripts to encourage vocal variety, (A lot of speakers need help.) In February I’m leading two speechwriting workshops in Ottawa – Write Out Loud: Practical Speechwriting Skills and Value Beyond Words: Advanced Speechwriting Skills. For details please see my 68-second video at http://echeloncomm.ca/resources/Echelon-Promo.mp4
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