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How to Avoid Being Monotone - Even With a Deep Voice

Posted by Mike Griffin

Jul 21, 2014, 2:48 PM

How to avoid being monotone - Charlie Brown teacherAnyone born before 1994 will probably remember Charlie Brown's elementary school teacher. She would drone on and on for what seemed like hours at a time without the pitch, inflection or emotion of her voice ever changing. She was the ultimate monotone. Dictionary.com defines monotone as “a vocal utterance or series of speech sounds in one unvaried tone… a single tone without harmony or variation in pitch.” Even the definition is boring! That's why I wanted to spend some time discussing how to avoid being monotone.  

While obviously hyperbolized to convey Charlie Brown's boredom, his teacher's monotone speaking can teach us all a valuable lesson. Specifically, it underscores the importance of vocal variety and other nonverbal communication skills. After all, a public speaker's worst nightmare is a disengaged audience. But even those of us with fine-tuned oral presentation skills may be at a natural disadvantage and more apt to fall into a monotone delivery if they have a deeper voice. And that's exactly what I've been working with for the vast majority of my life.


The Dreaded Monotone
Speaking in a monotone is a sure way to get the audience to tune you out. And make no mistake, despite everyone in the crowd genuinely wanting you to succeed, they WILL stop paying attention if they don't perceive you as being enthusiastic about your topic (and how could they, with such a flat delivery?). While some people may slip into a monotone due to nerves, others such as myself with deeper voices can inadvertently do it because it's difficult for us to vary our inflection. Knowing this is half the battle.

For one reason or another, we as humans often need someone else to help us realize when we're doing something a certain way. That's the beauty of having evaluators at each ToastMasters meeting. There was a span of time when I thought my vocal delivery was just "soothing" (thanks, Mom) and therefore I wasn't really trying to improve it. It wasn't until I received my first dose of professional criticism that I realized there was a chance for me to become a much more engaging speaker. That was a big deal because being able to actively engage with an audience is paramount to a successful speech.

Avoiding the Monotone

There are several techniques I've found useful for helping me avoid speaking in monotone despite my deeper voice:

1.) Study great acting professionals

Talented acting professionals have the ability to change not only the character they're playing, but their voice as well. Studying what words they implement vocal variety on can help you pick and choose the moments you'd like to do the same in your presentations.


2.) Mark your outline/manuscript

While I'm a much stronger proponent of trigger words, I know a lot of people prefer to have parts (if not all) of their speech written down. So why not use the outline/manuscript as more than a safety net in case you forget what you were saying? Highlight words or phrases according to what you want to do. For example, yellow may mean raise your inflection and green may mean drop it.

3) Practice reading poems/plays aloud

This is something that I find extremely helpful whether I'm working on my inflection or my plosives. Poetry is inherently expressive, and I always found it easier to use some vocal variety when reading something written with emotion. I could never image Hamlet, for example, up in front of the stage reciting his lines in a monotone. A slight change of perspective such as this can be just the thing you need to help formulate the habit of implementing vocal variety and avoiding the dreaded monotone.

To my fellow deep voiced speakers- have you ever tried similar exercises? Or, to those who don't necessarily have a deep voice but still find themselves battling against being a monotone, why do you think that is? Leaving a comment here is great, but becoming a ToastMasters member is even better!  Get a fresh perspective from a new HubSpot employee at The Invigorator blog and learn more about the benefits of public speaking.

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