Remember the teacher who ruined your favourite subject? The professor whose lectures you always attended, but rarely made it through awake? The after dinner speech creating raised eyebrows around your table? They all fell into the trap of not questioning why we sound boring even when we have interesting things to say.
We’ve written much about the content required to keep an audience awake. But what about the noise they hear? The effect that sound has on our ability listen?
Avoiding the monotone
The biggest contributor to audience boredom is the monotone. White noise that can flatten even the most inspiring topic into something insipid. It’s characterised by a flat, repetitive vocal pitch with a complete lack of variation in tone.
When we listen, we are very simple creatures. We latch onto a bit of vocal variation or colour. Or, as the experts term it, intonation.
For most of us, intonation is a natural instinct. We intuitively alter the intonation of our voice, using low, mid and high tones, to help express to our listener exactly what we want to communicate. Particularly when we are relaxed. We’ll describe an AMAZING match; the i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-y s-l-o-w bus journey.
Inflection is an amazing tool that, when relaxed, we convey naturally and with complete and utter ease. Socially, it’s how we guess the meaning of a word or phrase; how we judge mood and tone. And it’s a crucial element in the chemistry between two people.
Removing inflection removes our personality. It’s why we sound boring. Try saying “this is brilliant” without inflection. It could mean anything. Sarcasm. Excitement. Irony. It’s left to our audience to guess – if they are still awake!
Not only does lack of colour in your voice create confusion, it also suggests you don’t care – however untrue that may be. It leaves an energy vacuum and, ultimately, a sense of complete and other boredom.
Imagine a piece of music with only one note (with the exception of this one!). We are wired to enjoy a level of colour and energy in a voice. Our ear bends to it, we become more engaged in the content.
When an advert comes on TV we are drawn to the pantomime inflection and the forced colour. This is an extreme example of course, but it’s not a coincidence that an industry that makes its money persuading us to do things leans heavily on the art of inflection.
The problem is that we are most likely to revert to monotone at the worst possible moment; i.e. under pressure, in front of a large audience.
Pressure kills the voice
In our experience, clients who sound monotone in front of an audience sound completely different in private. Pressure suffocates their voice. And a nervous public speaker will typically be more inhibited that someone who exudes confidence. It’s a problem that snowballs.
What to do
We can’t magic away the nerves, but there are some very simple tricks to create energy through inflection.
- Connect to your subject matter. If you’re not thinking about what you’re saying, you’ll sound disconnected and soulless. Think about it; believe it and you’ll find it much easier to deliver a line with thought and feeling!
- Think of your voice as an instrument. It needs to be tuned and warmed-up before you speak. Your voice is like the rest of your body – it needs a stretch before being put to use! Vocal exercises can bring you to life. Try humming from a low to a high note without pushing or straining. Repeat up and down the scale. You’ll immediately notice you have access to a much broader vocal range.
- Lastly, breathe! If you’re taking in enough breath to fuel a sentence then you’ll be able to use your voice in much more interesting ways. Lazy (nervous) breathing means we won’t have the ability to use emphasis, colour, find sentence flow, or project – so it’s generally best avoided if you want to make a good impression!
There’s so much more that can be done to help a flat, monotonous speaker become an engaging and dynamic one. The key is to help you speak under the spotlight as you when relaxed and engaged.
We can help
Alys would be delighted to work with you (discreetly) face-to-face or via face-time to put the colour into your voice! We’re on +44 (0)207 118 1600.