On the infamous occasion that the American Senator Strom Thurmond spoke on the floor of the US Senate for over twenty-four hours, he spoke in a quiet monotone throughout.
Thurmond was seeking to prevent the passage of a civil rights bill, and needed to speak until the opportunity for a vote passed. His speaking style was therefore dictated by an unusual requirement – to save his voice across an entire day. His fellow Senators were bored – but that didn’t matter.
Few speakers, however, can make such a choice. Indeed, Thurmond is a great example of not what not to do for that reason: if you’re not planning to speak at length and to an audience for whom it matters less what you’re saying than that you take a long time about it, don’t choose a monotone delivery.
Hopefully all of us are speaking to get our message across not to pass time, and so the importance of inflection becomes obvious. I use this word to refer to the pitch and modulation of your voice: the way in goes up and down or gets faster or slower to convey meaning.
For example, how do we indicate when speaking that we are asking a question? Say that sentence out loud, and you’ll notice you instinctively raise your voice towards the end. This is the way your audience will know you’re asking about something rather than stating it.
In other words, the importance of inflection, lies in its variation. Most importantly, raising and lowering your voice should mirror the pace and patterns of your content. In other words, inflection is a way to emphasise the most important things you are saying. Your voice will help make your ideas more memorable.
This effect operates on a micro and a macro level. On the micro level, if you say, “The weather is lovely,” you are enthusing about the climate; if you say, “The weather is lovely,” you may be comparing the temperature favourably with something – the company? – that is less impressive. Word emphasis can entirely change the implication of a sentence.
On a macro level, taking an important passage more slowly, or seeming more exciting during a key portion of your speech, will cue the audience to sit up and take special notice at that crucial juncture. If you’re an inflection expert, you can achieve the effect without the audience consciously noticing it.
Why not record yourself speaking and try speaking in a lower and a higher voice, or with emphasis at different points? Understanding your own voice will help you improve it. Of course, there’s one rule of thumb it’s always worth following: never speak in a monotone, even to a Senator.