Six Tips to Prevent a Monotone

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When you listen to someone speaking in a monotone, how long can you last? Five minutes and most people are writing a shopping list, checking emails, texting, or simply leaving the room. Don’t be the victim of your own lifeless voice.

Here are six tips that will help you effectively convey the meaning of your well-crafted speech, and ensure the audience is riveted to your every word.

1. Breathe.

It’s impossible to speak with power or presence if there is no breath supporting your voice. When people are nervous, they often take very quick shallow breaths, which leads their voice to lose its resonance. It comes out thin, weak and flat. Take a page from the yoga playbook and prepare your breath well before you start to speak.

While you’re waiting to go up there, seated in your chair or standing in the wings, do some deep belly breathing. On the inhale let your lower belly totally relax, filling it up with air like a balloon. Then on the exhale, let the air out, and let your belly flatten out until it’s empty. Try to slow down the breathing so that the inhale takes at least a slow count to 5 and the exhale takes a slow count to 10. You’ll be amazed how much calmer you feel after three deep breaths, and how much easier it is to produce a full, resonant sound.

2. Stand up straight (corollary to “Breathe”)

Yes, posture impacts your voice. If you are either slumping over or arching your back excessively, your ribcage is out of alignment and it will be very hard to take in enough breath to support your voice. So before you utter a word, make sure your back is in a relaxed, vertical position. Your knees are slightly bent, your pelvis dropped and the crown of your head held up. Your body creates a vertical line from your feet right up to the top of your head. Try your deep breathing in that position and see how much easier it is.

3. Use your voice as a highlighter

When we speak in a monotone it’s very hard for the audience to take in the meaning or our words. Key messages are lost in a wash of sameness. Everything has equal importance, so people can’t prioritize your ideas. That’s a big turn off.

Instead, use your voice as a highlighter. Vary the pace, the intonation, the volume and the range of your voice to bring meaning to the words. When an idea is especially significant, can you emphasize certain words with volume and inflection to give the sentence the meaning and importance you want? Can you slow down sections to let the audience know these are important? How about speeding up when you are reciting, for example, a long list of items you don’t care about individually, but which make an impact by their sheer number?

Vocal variety ensures your carefully chosen words relay their intended meaning.

4. Pause

One cause of monotony is never leaving any air space. If your words come out in a constant and repetitive rhythm, like an old-fashioned type writer or a machine gun, no one knows what to pay attention to. They tune out.

Vary your speech by pausing. A pause before an important statement will signal, “listen up. This is the good stuff.” Pausing after an important statement tells them, “that was important.” It then gives the audience time to reflect upon your statement’s significance and digest it before you move on to the the next point. You can also give structure to your presentation by pausing between sections or ideas. Paired with the appropriate words, pausing can be a transitional device.

5. Tell a story

When we tell a story at the dinner table, or even on the phone with a friend, our voice naturally modulates. We emphasize the important points, pause to add suspense, speed up as the climax of the story approaches, and use the full range of our voice to express emotion. If you think of your presentation as a story, and tell it like a story, your voice will respond in kind. And don’t forget about using examples and anecdotes in your presentation. That will give you sections which are naturally easy to deliver using a powerful and varied voice.

6. Have a conversation

It’s unusual, even challenging, to speak in a monotone in a personal conversation. At its best, a presentation or speech is a personal conversation with many individuals at the same time. While you practice, think of having a conversation with any member of your audience. Or imagine you will be speaking to your best friend in the back of the room.

When my clients have a hard time speaking conversationally, I’ll turn the practice session into an actual conversation. I’ll have them drop the script and tell me the gist of it, with their face close up to mine. And I will often interject comments so they have to respond to me personally while addressing their points. If you can find a colleague or friend to listen to you, practice your presentation directly to them, and try to maintain the casual tone you would when conversing with them about a random topic.

If you enlist these tips in your next presentation, you’ll be well-positioned to communicate your intended messages and keep your audience interested in you the whole time. Their shopping lists will fall by the wayside.

Until the next time…

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