When I coach beginning public speakers, I sometimes have them read children’s books out loud to me. Here’s why I do it. I want to get a feel for the amount of expression they naturally have in their voices. Children’s books are specifically written to be read with a lot of vocal expression. If the speaker has a monotone voice and lacks the ability to read expressively, even an entertaining kids book becomes incredibly boring. So what exactly is a monotone voice and why is having one such a problem?

What It Is

First, let’s define what it is. A speaker who is monotone lacks vocal variety. “Mono” means one. “Tone” refers to the musical quality of the voice, which includes pitch (high/low) and volume (loud/quiet) and tempo (fast/slow). So a monotone speaker lacks the changes and variety in these things which are normally present in the human voice. Without these variances, the presentation lacks interest. Imagine trying to write a song with just one note. Or bake a cake with just one ingredient. Or tell a story with just one word. It doesn’t work. At least not very well.

Why It’s A Problem

Listeners are incredibly sensitive to the vocal quality of a speaker. In fact, one study from Quantified Impressions which conducts communication analytics found that 23% of listeners’ impressions of a speaker have to do with the quality of the speaker’s voice. Only 11% of impressions are formed by the content of the what the speaker was saying. That makes how you say something more than two times more important than what you say.

Watch this brief video from The Wall Street Journal in which columnist Sue Shellenbarger explains why certain voices (Kim Kardashian, Marge Simpson, and Michael Jackson) tend to bother us.

But it’s not just about getting your ideas across and not boring your audience. Another study found that executives with more pleasing vocal qualities, in this case men with deeper voices, could make up to $187,000 more a year. That’s a lot of cash riding on your voice.

So What Can We Do?

The good news, as Shellenbarger reports in the video clip above, is that your voice can almost always be changed through support, education, or therapy. Most of the time, speakers aren’t aware that their voice is monotone. They simply think it sounds the same as everyone else’s.

Once you become aware that you have a monotone voice, try one of these methods to improve it:

  • Go higher or lower. Say exciting or intense sentences with a slightly higher pitch and serious or somber sentences with a lower pitch.
  • Remind yourself. Give yourself written reminders on your speaker’s notes to be vocally expressive.
  • Make it a game. Ask a friend how he or she would say a sentence and then say the same sentence the way you normally would. Note the difference in expression and try to match your friend’s vocal variety.
  • Give yourself some homework. Check out this article from The Balance for a few vocal expression exercises that can help you work your way out of that monotone voice.
  • Get help. Enlisting the services of a vocal coach or presentation coach can pay off big time when it leads to you becoming a more expressive speaker.

If your monotone voice is derailing your effectiveness as a speaker, it’s time to recognize that and work to fix it.

Not sure how expressive your voice is or whether you tend to be a monotone speaker? Perhaps you could use the guidance of helpful feedback from a presentation coach. Get in touch with one now.


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