Speech Skill: Expression
The Speech Problem: Monotone Voice
Speaking in a monotone voice is a real communication killer. When the variety of your voice’s pitch doesn’t vary, it’s impossible for your listener to maintain any interest in what you’re saying. He tunes out – quickly. Once again, your message falls by the wayside.
But even if he did hear it, he probably wouldn’t believe it. People who speak in a monotone voice or with inappropriate expression in their voices are perceived as untrustworthy, boring, or even shifty. As a business, sales or professional person, you can see why you’d want to fix this sloppy speech problem right away!
Other Speech Problems of Expression
Now, you may be saying to yourself (with a sigh of relief), “I certainly don’t speak in a monotone voice!” That’s excellent news, but unfortunately, the obvious monotone, where there is no variety of pitch in the voice, is only one sloppy speech habit related to expression. A far more common problem is a lack of appropriate vocal variety, or tired voice.
If you have tired voice, your speech just doesn’t convey the appropriate emotional shadings and vitality that make people’s voices interesting and pleasant to hear. Think of it this way; your voice is as much a part of your signature style as the color of your eyes or the way you walk. People can identify you by these signature traits. And in some cases, people have developed “signature” voices that are grating, braying, booming or otherwise just downright unpleasant for other people to listen to – because their voices are not suitably expressive.
The good news is that having a monotonous or tired voice is not a life sentence. Everyone can change their signature voice (to some degree, barring physical complications) – just as we can change the way we walk or even the color of our eyes.
Speech Exercise: Emotion Sentences
The purpose of this exercise is to practice getting more vocal variety into your speech, so you are going to be saying these sentences in different ways.
First, say the sentence out loud as you would if you were ecstatically happy.
Then say the same sentence out loud as you would if you were extremely sad.
- I just got a call saying that I won a vacation in Las Vegas.
- I’m going to have to change that light bulb.
- Our town now has a new recycling program.
- My next door neighbor is moving out next week.
- I’ll be able to retire in only two more years.
Speech Exercise: Belief Sentences
The purpose of this exercise is to practice conveying meaning through expression in your speech, so once again, you are going to be saying these sentences in different ways.
First, say the sentence out loud as you would if you truly believed the statement.
Then say the same sentence out loud as you would if you didn’t believe what you were saying and wanted to convey your disbelief to your listener.
- You’ll never regret buying one of these.
- This extended warranty is a great deal.
- This is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
- What I’m doing now is the best thing I’ve ever done.
- I am the best at what I do.
Speech Exercise: Drama Queens and Kings
Picture yourself as a star of a long-running soap opera or TV show. What do stars do? They emote. This role-playing speech exercise will help you develop a more expressive voice by exaggerating your normal pitch and rhythm. Put as much expression into your role as you can, following the stage directions. It’s best if you work with a partner, as the script is written for two people – although trying to play both roles can be fun, too!
Daphne: (horribly upset) It’s all over, Rodney.
Rodney: (anxiously) What do you mean?
Daphne: I mean I just can’t go on like this. The sneaking around, the hiding, trying to make sure that no one sees us…
Rodney (compassionately) It hasn’t been easy for me, either, you know.
Daphne: I know… I know…
Rodney: I mean, it’s just not what we’re used to, is it? I know that you understand, but other people… What if they found out? I can’t stop thinking about it.
Daphne: (brutally) We’d never be able to hold up our heads again. We’d be outcasts.
Rodney: (firmly) If we just stick together, we can get through it. Where’s your famous will power?
Daphne: But it’s driving me mad. How much worse than this could it be? I just can’t stop thinking about it.
Rodney: So that’s it, then? You’re just going to throw in the towel?
Daphne: I have to, Rodney. Don’t you understand? I thought you of all people…
Rodney: (bitterly) Oh, I understand, all right. Go ahead then. You always do just what you want to do anyhow.
Daphne: (outraged) That’s not true! How dare you accuse me of being selfish after all the sacrifices I’ve made!
Rodney: See? All you can talk about is your sacrifices. As if I haven’t made any. And now you’re being selfish again. How do you think I’m going to be able to carry on by myself?
Daphne: (snidely) Well you were the one that was talking about will power.
Rodney: Yeah, right. As if I’m going to be able to stick to this protein only diet once you start filling the cupboards with bread and doughnuts again!
Like any star, you may rerun these lines any number of times. For more variety, change the stage directions. In the opening lines, have Daphne speak calmly and Rodney curiously, for instance.
Reading the lines of published plays and scripts out loud is another great way to practice increasing the expression in your voice – and of course, to continue polishing your clarity speech skills.
The Benefits of Getting Rid of Your Monotone Voice
As your voice expression increases, your listeners will:
- Be more interested in what you’re saying and more attentive;
- Be more likely to be receptive to you and the message you’re communicating.
Speech Lesson 3 Homework Assignment
Set aside a minimum of 15 minutes a day this week to work on your voice expression.
Start by working through the exercises on this page. You will want to go through each of these speech exercises at least three times.
In addition, you’ll want to start working with other passages. As I suggest at the end of the Drama Queens and Kings exercise, published plays are an excellent source of material for improving your expression speech skill. Reading poetry out loud is another excellent practice.
Perhaps the best source of speech exercise material to get rid of a monotone voice is children’s books. When we read one of these aloud to a child, we tend to try out a variety of different voices and exaggerate the expression in our voices in response to the child’s response as we read.
If you have no children’s books (or children) on hand, remember that any fiction will work. Reading Shakespeare aloud, for instance, is wonderful practice. Use your fifteen minutes a day to read out loud. It’s best if you read to an audience, as having an audience will help you focus on using expression to interest (and perhaps enthrall) your listeners.
Over time, as you consistently practice this speech skill, you’ll find your “signature” voice change - becoming both more expressive and more pleasing.
A speech lesson especially for those who speak too quickly or too slowly is up next.