Do you speak in a monotone? – this could help

So, here’s a problem. People who speak in a monotone are not very engaging. People tune them out, and, ultimately, quit listening.

And people who speak in a monotone do not know that they are speaking in a monotone. They are pretty oblivious to the problem.

But… it is a real deficiency for any one who wants to deliver an effective presentation.

How do you fix a monotone problem?

First, you admit that it will not fix itself. You know, you have to move to Step 1 at the “Monotones Anonymous” meetings:

“My name is Randy, and when I speak, I speak in a monotone.”

“Hi, Randy!”

Then, you get to work.

Here’s the idea – to overcome a monotone, one must speak with vocal variety and verbal punch. Not all words the same; not the same volume; not the same softness or loudness. And, not the same pace, the same amount of time between words. Sometimes, the wordsarespokenveryrapidly almost on topofeachother, and   sometimes   there is   more time   between         the words.

Some have found that “singing” with vocal emphasis helps.

Some believe that reading children’s books, as though you are reading the books to a circle of young children, can help.

Say! I like GREEN EGGS and HAM!

I DO! I LIKE THEM! Sam-I-am!

In the old “oratory” days, there were marks placed all over a manuscript. Underlined words (emphasize this word), slashes between words (/) for reminders to pause.

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The King’s manuscript – click on image for full view

(Take a look at the marks on the manuscript delivered by King George VI, marks made by unorthodox but effective speech coach Lionel Logus, depicted in the movie The King’s Speech. Read more about this in this New York Times article, The King’s Tongue Twisters.

And there is a simple technique that all monotone speakers need to remember. And here it is: use notes when you speak, (maybe even a manuscript), and mark your notes with speaking tips.


Let yourpunctuation be a speaking reminder.
A comma is a short pause; a sentence a longer pause; a new paragraph another pause…

And… circle words that deserve special/extra verbal punch. And put slashes between phrases (learn to speak not in words, but in phrases) as reminders for emphasis and reminders to pause.

As you prepare the document from which you will speak, leave wide margins, for your own reminder notes; and, use large font size, and double space. And, a warning; number your pages, in case you get them out of order and can’t find your place).  Something like this might work:

click on image for full view

click on image for full view

There’s an old preacher’s story (almost certainly apocryphal) about the preacher who left his speaking notes on the pulpit, and an assistant minister saw them. In the margin next to one of the points in the sermon, was this notation, handwritten, plenty large:

“This point is weak…shout like hell!!!

Here’s the thing. You have to work hard, with a lot of practice, to get out of speaking in a monotone. It is worth every bit of effort to be a no-longer-speaks-in-a-monotone speaker.

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