A manner of speaking


In his thought-provoking article The Price of Poor Listening, Dan Bobinski wrote: "Truly trying to understand another's point of view; a task that requires focused attention to get accomplished and, active, conscious choice."

Well, maybe in one-to-one or small group discussions the responsibility for taking in what is being said rests with whoever is doing the listening. But when information has to pass from one voice to many ears, the responsibility for connectivity shifts firmly onto the shoulders of the person doing the talking.

Think about it! Your neck which rises out of the middle of your shoulder girdle, contains all of the following:

  1. The uppermost vertebrae of the spinal column topped by the heavy brained skull;
  2. the shaft that splits to allow for nutrition and air-intake and outlet, and the flap that stops any of the above going down the wrong way;
  3. the flexible tongue and its anchor;
  4. the voice box with your vocal cords inside it;
  5. the ears, eyes, nose, jaw bones, sinuses, teeth and lips.

Once you learn to shoulder all of these structures firmly, your voice will be more firmly under your control and you will be better able to match your manner of speaking to all manner of audiences.

Set out below, are some ways to help you do this.

Firstly: check out how Martin Luther King voiced his ideas in his famous, "I have a dream" speech. And then how he voiced ideas for a person who planned to write his memoirs.

In both clips Dr. King's message is clear, authoritative and seriously persuasive. The declamatory manner of speaking designed to inspire a huge crowd in the first clip is, however, nowhere evident in the second. For that encounter with a would-be biographer - though the timbre of King's voice is recognisably the same - the manner is explanatory. Try out your own material in a declamatory and then an explanatory style. Try it out as a stand-up comedy routine and then as though it were part of a Greek tragedy. Deliver it as though for a local trade fair and then for a prestigious international conference.

Secondly: Using only a strong whisper, mouthing your words more pronouncedly and attacking each consonant more distinctly than you would ever do in daily speech, deliver one or two sentences as though to a deaf person who is sitting at least two metres away from you. Follow that immediately by powering up your voice and driving the same words with the same exaggerated mechanics, across the same distance.

You'll probably be taken aback by the volume and resonance of the voice you now hear. But get used to it because it's what listener's need from you - And anyway, words never sound as rich and powerful once they have crossed an open space as they do when encased in the bones of a skull.

Thirdly (and finally): speak all your lines exaggeratedly quickly, then exaggeratedly slowly while using a confiding manner or a dictatorial one; an overtly enthusiastic manner or one of blatant disinterest - in fact- any style of delivery you choose.

Those of you who work out seriously in these ways and then apply the lessons you've learned during actual encounters with audiences will discover that the only listeners unable to take-in what you say are those who were determined to close their ears in the first place.

And since no manner of speaking is going to benefit that manner of person, no speaker need shoulder responsibility for that manner of failure.

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About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.