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Dear Mr. Monotone

Add excitement and interest to your voice so you don't bore your audience.

By
Lisa B. Marshall,
Episode #032

Today’s episode is my response to an anonymous email that was signed “Monotone Voice.”

I have this problem when I talk or sing: No matter what I do, my voice sounds monotone. Is there any way to stop being monotone?

When I hear the word monotone, immediately I think of the voice of Ben Stein when he played the boring economics professor in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. “Bueller, Bueller, Bueller.”

So, why is a monotone voice boring? The hypnotic, repetitious evenness of the voice is what puts us to sleep. The sameness of the sound makes it bland and unemotional. The good news is this problem is fairly easy to fix. You just need to add vocal variety by combining differences in your pitch, rate, and volume. We’ll talk about each of these.

Pitch

Pitch refers to how low or high someone speaks. The average for men is about 120 Hz and for women about 220 Hz. North Americans prefer low-pitched speaking voices, like that of James Earl Jones. His voice is extremely low pitched (averaging 80 Hz). Of course, he’s the legendary actor who’s the voice of Darth Vader in Star Wars and Simba’s dad in The Lion King

Research shows that low-pitch voices in general convey authority and credibility. And this applies to both men and women. In addition, high-pitched speakers are perceived as less truthful, less persuasive, weaker, and more nervous (Apple, Streeter, & Krauss, 1979). As an example, think of the voice of Gilbert Gottfried, who in 2001 was voted as having the worst and most annoying voice.

The good news is this problem is fairly easy to fix. You just need to add vocal variety by combining differences in your pitch, rate, and volume.

So how can you change your pitch? Well, the pitch of your voice is mostly determined by nature, but it’s not entirely beyond your control. It’s important to be as relaxed as possible, so that you are able to speak at the lower end of your natural pitch. By the way, you can estimate your natural pitch by comfortably saying, “uh-huh.” 

To make your voice interesting, change the tone for certain sentences, phrases, or even just specific words. When presenting key ideas and summaries, you may want to slightly raise the pitch, because this will convey enthusiasm. An easy way to do that is to smile.

It’s the range of variety that communicates emotion and passion. Even small changes to single words can have a big impact. Listen to how the meaning changes in the following sentence: 

I want to wear the red dress. I WANT to wear the red dress. I want to wear the RED dress. 

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