First, a short language lesson - the word ‘monotone’ which means a continuous, droning, and unchanging tone comes from the Greek word monotonia – meaning "one tone". That word is also the root from which we get the word ‘monotonous’ - meaning dull and tedious. And that’s no coincidence.
It’s no secret that the monotone voice is just that – expressionless, dull, tedious. It’s boring.
And if we know anything about people and their ability to pay attention, connect, learn, you name it, it’s that we never consciously lead with boring.
Which is why your natural ability to shift the variety of your voice – rate, tone, and pitch - is your secret weapon in the business of people and the art of connection. We must each serve as a strong advocate for dynamic, voice variety.
Dynamic voice variety simply means changing the variety of your voice – whether that be rate, tone, volume or emphasis. It has a lot to do with the setting you’re in and the people with whom you’re speaking. You will naturally (or you should!) speak differently in different environments to match not only the current situation or surrounding, but also the expected outcome of the conversation.
A good example – you will choose to use a different voice in the very first, opening conversation with a prospective client than the voice you choose to use when you’re trying to close a sale. You’ll perhaps open with a slower, more open and inquisitive tone; you then might be more dynamic, energetic, and deliberate as you’re pitching them for business.
Those are choices you must make for yourself given the respective situation or people involved. The emphasis there is choices you make for yourself. You are responsible for your dynamic, voice variety.
I say that because there are some people who choose to approach almost every possible scenario with the exact same style of voice. The two strongest culprits? The valley girl and the mountain man.
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We often associate the valley girl voice to teenage girls in movies from the 1980s; it’s a light, airy, whimsical voice that always ends on an up-note regardless of whether it is a question or a declarative statement.
As is often the case with dynamic, voice variety, ending on an up-note can be powerful and valuable – when it’s done in the right scenario. Use that technique every time – and it’s annoying.
In today’s culture, I hear the valley girl voice on the radio a lot; and it drives me nuts. It’s a casual, perhaps even sloppy approach, that never accounts for the actual content of the conversation.
The kicker is though that we oftentimes don’t realize we’re doing it.
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At GCS, we’ve been talking about and coaching to the valley girl voice now for 15 years. And it all started with a customer service representative named Lisa.
GCS has a program called the F.E.E.D. Program that touts the importance of giving constructive feedback to each associate each day. Because we’re in the audio business, we record all our calls, so there’s nothing better than being able to give associates the ability to listen to themselves – and their voices. That becomes the feedback in and of itself.
One day, Lisa’s manager, Dee, delivered her feedback on her calls – she said Lisa uses “up talk” - meaning the valley girl - where she ends every conversation. She noted that Lisa ends sentences consistently on an up-note – otherwise known as “up talk”. Lisa listened to the recordings of herself, and heard it, as well, proving one of the hallmarks of the F.E.E.D. Program - when we coach to dynamic voice variety, we can help people get away from it.
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Another example of dynamic, voice variety we fall into is the mountain man. The mountain man ends sentences with a lowered voice. So, he (or she) will begin a sentence in a natural, comfortable range, and instead of elevating their voice at the end of a sentence the way the valley girl does, he (or she) will lower their voice.
When the mountain man voice is done right, it’s a strong sign of confidence. The best example of the mountain man voice in modern history is former President Barack Obama; President Obama often (perhaps even too often) utilizes the mountain man voice in a variety of settings. The mountain man voice needs to be timed well and appropriately – it can make the key element of a sentence inaudible immediately which is detrimental in a key, delivery moment.
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If we know anything about dynamic voice variety, it’s this – when we overuse one particular method or technique, it loses its impact. And the key is always to use your voice to its greatest impact. Make the choice to slow down and articulate clunkier sentences; use your playground or stage voice when you need volume; use up-talk at the end of sentences – when there’s a question; utilize the mountain man approach when need bold confidence.
Again, you choose your words – and pitch, rate, and volume.
So, how do you begin to figure out how you speak and how you use your voice? I know this sounds old fashioned, but get out a sheet of paper, and write down the things you want to be able to do when it comes to speaking skills; then, ask a friend or colleague (someone whom you trust), and ask them to write down what they think you do well and what areas for improvement exist for your specifically.
When we coach to it, we support people (and ourselves) in the process of using their voice to make the greatest impact.
No one in the history of the world has ever led any serious, sustainable change with a monotone voice.
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