What’s Your Sing-Song?

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We each have a unique speech pattern. Some people speak with such a beautiful lilt that they almost sound like they are singing. Their voices rise and fall smoothly as if forming a melody. Other people speak in a monotone, rarely reaching beyond a narrow range of ups and downs. No matter your vocal range, it’s crucial to use your voice to make meaning of the words. I say, “Use your voice like a highlighter.” A sing-song quality can be as problematic as a monotone if it is does not add meaning to the words.

The issue becomes more complex when we look at phrasing. I have numerous clients who, once they are in “presentation mode” start speaking in a repetitive manner. It all sounds the same. It’s not that they use a monotone so much as all the sentences have the same rhythm and the same melody. When you listen to them, it’s hard to find the meaning because their speaking style is not related to the words. No matter what the content, their unique pattern obscures the meaning. And it can lull a listener into a trance state!

Falling into one’s habitual vocal pattern is especially common when a speaker either:

1. Reads from a script or

2. Has memorized the content word-for-word by practicing it aloud the same way every time

I’ll often model for clients their unique, but overused, rhythm. They hear it at first (often having no idea they do this), correct it, then fall back into the pattern as we practice. To break the cycle I have them just “talk” the presentation to me. I ask them to let go of the memorized words and present using new language. That is the beauty of speaking spontaneously to abbreviated notes. You actually have to think about what you are saying. It’s much harder to fall into a habitual vocal pattern when you are spontaneously expressing ideas than when you are reading or repeating the sound of what you’ve heard yourself practice verbatim so many times.

Ideally the presentation resembles a conversation. We don’t recite in a conversation. This kind of repetitive “Da-DA da-DA da-da dahhh…. Da-DA da-DA da-da DAHHH… sounds like an 11-year-old reciting, “In Xanadu did Kublai Kahn a stately pleasure dome decree.” Devoid of meaning, even though they are saying all the words.

If you want to hear if you have a repetitive, habitual pattern, record yourself practicing your next presentation. It can be a little frightening to hear oneself speaking using the same one or two rhythms, but there are ways around it. Try not to read from a script. Make brief notes and speak to them. Practice it a little differently every time. You can build in new examples, tell a story, use an analogy…these will loosen up the rigid patterns. So will speaking your presentation to someone, and having them respond here and there, so it’s actually a conversation.

Whatever you do, don’t let your presentation become a 6th grade poetry recital. We all remember nodding off after our turn.

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