How to Cultivate a Pleasant Reading or Speaking Voice
by Janice Campbell
When teaching the art of recitation or rhetoric, we sometimes forget to teach one element essential for confident presentation: a pleasant, well-modulated speaking voice. A timid, squeaky, mumbling, or breathy voice is not only tiring to use, but can be a social and business liability.
Begin by Listening to Good Models
When you begin to study any subject, a good first step can be to find worthy models of what you are trying to accomplish. In speaking, this means listening to great speeches, not only for their their content, but also to study how the speaker used his or her speaking voice to convey meaning.
You can find great models by listening to almost any professionally-performed speech, monologue, or soliloquy by Shakespeare. Some of my favorites (is it even possible to narrow the list?) include Henry V’s speech on the eve of Saint Crispin’s Day, Marc Antony’s speech in Julius Caesar, and Prospero’s rough magic speech in The Tempest. You can find links to these and more of Shakespeare’s best at the BBC’s Off by Heart Shakespeare page.
At AmericanRhetoric.com, you can listen to 100 of the most famous American speeches. Finally, History.com offers recordings of many speeches, ordered by topic. Finally, you may want to read Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History by William Safire. The remarkable examples of rhetoric within these pages are an excellent subject for model-based writing, and can help you become a better writer and speaker. As you read each speech, I recommend listening to a good performance of it on YouTube.
The 1857 McGuffey Readers, especially the fifth and sixth readers, offer detailed instruction in articulation and elocution (public speaking). McGuffey even provided extensive instructions for cultivating a pleasant reading or speaking voice and using appropriate body language and gestures.
Practical Tips for Better Speaking
Here are a few video resources with hints to help you breathe properly and work with pitch and tone in order to cultivate a voice that is both pleasant to hear and easy to use. If you have a slower internet connection, you may want to listen, rather than watch the videos. It can be distracting if images lag behind the speech. Also, you may be interested in these strategies for poetry recitation, as well as these beautiful examples from Richard Austin.
How to Speak So That People Want to Listen
A TED talk by Julian Treasure, 9.58 minutes
Speak English Clearly & Confidently: Top 10 Tips for Pronunciation Mastery
Nancy Daniels, The Voice Lady, 3.31 minutes
5 Aspects of a Powerful Speaking Voice
by Conor Neill, 3 minutes