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?
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.
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.
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.
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:
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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