Making conversation and small talk can be difficult enough, without having to worry about whether we sound interesting. Even if you’re engaged and enjoying a conversation, talking in a monotone can make you come across as bored, disinterested, sarcastic, and aloof.
Some aspects of your voice are biologically determined. Whether you have a deep voice or a high one is based on the length and thickness of your vocal cords.
Other aspects of your voice come down to confidence. For example, confidence can affect how animated you are when you talk, the tone you talk with, and your inflection (If you go down or up at the end of your sentences).
The good news is that you can learn to improve these aspects, giving you an expressive and animated voice.
In this article, I want to give you some ideas for giving more animation to your voice. Some of these will be vocal techniques. Others will help change how you feel about expressing yourself.
A monotone voice can be caused by shyness, not feeling comfortable expressing emotions, or a lack of confidence in your ability to vary your voice effectively. We can also come across as monotone if we are not putting enough effort or attention into our speech patterns.
If you are reading this article, you probably believe that you have a monotone voice. Before you start to work on improving this, it’s worth making sure that you’re right. Your voice will always sound different to you than it will to others.
Consider asking a trusted friend to tell you how your voice sounds. You could say, “I’m thinking of trying to change my voice because I’m not completely happy with it. I’d really appreciate your opinion on how I come across when I speak.”
This gives them the opportunity to provide honest feedback but doesn’t prompt them or encourage them to reassure you.
If you don’t want to ask someone else for feedback, you can video yourself speaking. This allows you to make your own decision as to whether you sound monotone. However, remember that you might sound more stilted than usual if you know that you are being recorded.
It may be that you have a monotone voice all of the time. Alternatively, you might find that you sound monotone with strangers or in stressful situations such as interviews but are actually very animated during conversations with your close family.
You might even find that you have the opposite pattern, being animated with strangers but monotone with people you know and care about. All these variations are normal. They just need slightly different approaches to make it easier for you to improve your monotone voice.
If you are monotone in all situations, you will probably benefit from focusing on learning techniques that will help you develop a more animated voice.
If you only have a monotone voice some of the time, you are probably very aware of it when it happens, and this can make you feel pretty self-conscious. In this case, it’s usually because you feel uncomfortable expressing your thoughts or emotions around particular people.
If you find yourself being monotone around new people or in stressful situations, it may be helpful to work on your underlying confidence levels in those situations.
Many of us struggle to have an animated voice because it feels like we are going to come across as overly emotional. If you feel uncomfortable with your emotions, it can feel safer to keep your voice carefully neutral.
If you are typically fairly reserved, you might feel that allowing your voice to carry your emotions comes across as extreme. This is partly because of the spotlight effect, where we think that other people pay far more attention to us than they actually do. It can also be because expressing your emotions feels risky.
One way to start becoming accustomed to expressing your emotions is to allow your words to communicate your emotions. Even if you are struggling to allow your emotions into your voice, try to get used to telling people how you are feeling.
For example, here are some phrases you could use:
- “Yeah, I’m pretty frustrated about it, actually.”
- “I know. I’m super excited about it too.”
- “I’m actually a little embarrassed about that.”
The aim is to become used to telling people how you feel. That way, you will hopefully feel less like you need to hide any emotions that could come through your voice. You don’t have to only express big or personal emotions. Practice dropping an “I love that too” or “That made me really happy” into casual conversations when talking about things you’ve enjoyed.
Whilst you are learning to feel safe enough to express your emotions during conversations, you can also work on practicing how to communicate those emotions. For most people who are monotone, this can feel difficult or uncomfortable.
Try experimenting at home to see just how extreme a range of emotions your voice can carry. It can be helpful to use a single phrase that you repeat with different strong emotions. An example might be to say “I told you they would come” as if you were excited, worried, proud, angry or relaxed. If you prefer, you can try copying emotional scenes from your favorite films.
Try to include a wide range of different emotions so that you don’t end up with a very limited emotional range.
I suggest practicing showing strong emotions in your voice rather than trying to keep them more casual. When you come to have a conversation, your challenge will be to avoid falling back into your normal habit of remaining quiet and moderated in your voice. Between these two competing extremes, you will probably find that your voice actually sounds about right.
Don’t worry if you find that some emotions are easier to show than others. Film stars might have lots of angry scenes, but many people really struggle to show their anger. Showing happiness is usually a little easier, as we are often less worried about how other people will react to that. Try to keep working on the full range of emotions, but be kind to yourself when you find one difficult.
Inflection is the way in which we vary the pitch and emphasis of our speech. It’s important because it carries a lot of information about your intentions.
Most of us have written something in an email or text which was meant to be friendly or neutral and had the other person interpret it as hurtful or angry. This is mostly because written words lack inflection. That’s why we are easily misunderstood in a text conversation, but not very often during a phone call.
A completely monotone voice might seem like it doesn’t carry any of this information, but that’s not quite true. Instead, people will often interpret a monotone voice as showing signs of disinterest, boredom, or dislike. In this respect, there isn’t really any such thing as a “neutral” voice.
Understanding what different types of inflection mean can help you to include more inflection when talking. Raising the pitch of your voice slightly at the end of a sentence shows surprise or implies that you are asking a question. Lowering the pitch of your voice at the end of a sentence comes across as firm and confident.
Practice this with different words and see how your inflection can change their meaning. Some words can mean completely different things depending on their inflection. Try the words “good,” “done,” or “really.”
You can also try changing the emphasis that you give particular words in a sentence to help you get to grips with intonation. Try it with the phrase, “I didn’t say he was a bad dog.” The meaning of the sentence changes depending on where you place the emphasis.
For example, there’s a big difference between “I didn’t say he was a bad dog,” “I didn’t say he was a bad dog,” and “I didn’t say he was a bad dog.”
Lots of people who have a monotone voice also remain fairly static when they are speaking. Voice actors will tell you that moving around while you are speaking helps your voice to be naturally expressive and varied.
If you’re unconvinced, you can try it yourself. Try saying the word “okay” with different facial expressions. Saying it with a smile makes me sound amused and enthusiastic, whilst saying it with a frown makes my voice lower and makes me sound sad or resentful.
Try using this to your advantage. If you have been practicing delivering lines from your favorite films, as I mentioned before, you can try adding facial expressions into your practice and see how this changes your voice. You can combine this with practicing perfecting a great smile.
When you are ready to practice this in a conversation with other people, there are a few good options. I found it really helpful to practice using my facial expressions to improve my voice during telephone calls. That way, I didn’t have to worry about whether my facial expressions looked silly or extreme.
Another option is to try to keep your face a little more expressive during parts of a conversation where you are silent. This can help you to have a more expressive face naturally, which can then lead to more variety in your voice.
Your breath has a huge influence on the way that you sound. If you’ve ever taken a stage acting class, you might be aware that most of us are breathing “wrong” most of the time.
Diaphragmatic breathing, where you breathe through your diaphragm and your belly, rather than breathing through the top of your chest, takes a little practice but gives you the most control over all aspects of your voice, especially pitch and volume.
Diaphragmatic breathing doesn’t just help you to speak more clearly and with greater variety. It can also help you to relax during conversations, making it easier for you to feel able to join in.
If you are still struggling to control your breathing, learning to sing is another way to improve your control over all aspects of your voice, including pitch, volume, and breathing. There are loads of online tutorials, or you can find a personal singing coach to help you. The BBC has even put together a step-by-step guide.
Often, people with a monotone voice also have a quiet, soft voice. Lower or deeper voices are sometimes harder to hear, so you might benefit from speaking more loudly.
Using the diaphragmatic breathing exercises can help you to learn to project your voice. This increases the volume of your speech without sounding like you are shouting. This can help to avoid the awkwardness of being asked to repeat yourself because people missed what you were saying.
It’s really hard to know how your voice sounds without recording yourself. When we hear other people speak, their voice comes to us through our eardrums. When we hear our own voice, we mostly hear it through vibrations in the bones of our faces.
Recording yourself speaking might feel awkward, but it can be helpful in allowing you to understand how you come across to others and in measuring your progress.
If you feel embarrassed videoing yourself, it might feel easier if you use part of a film or play script to practice with. Monologues from films and plays are usually written to express a variety of strong emotions, even in a single speech. This makes them a good choice to practice conveying emotion as well as learning how your voice sounds to others. You can find loads of scripts available online for free.
An animated voice isn’t just about having variation in your pitch, emphasis, and inflection. It’s also about having some variety in how quickly you speak. In general, people speak a little faster when they are excited by a topic and slow down when they are trying to explain something that they consider important.
Try not to adjust the speed of your speech too much. Speaking too quickly can make it difficult for others to catch what you are saying, and speaking too slowly can become frustrating as people wait for you to make your point. Small adjustments are usually sufficient.
I would always recommend videoing yourself when playing with the speed of your speech. If you know that you have a low, soft voice, you can also try listening to your recordings at a low volume. This will help you to find out whether you are speaking too fast for your volume.
This might seem like a strange step but bear with me. If your voice has been monotone for a long time, the people who know you well will have become used to it sounding that way. When you start to speak with more variety, emotion, and confidence, many of them will comment that your voice has changed.
Lots of them will be pleased for you, but they might also misinterpret what is going on. For example, if you are conveying more emotion in your voice, they might assume that you have started feeling passionate about subjects that didn’t used to excite you very much.
Even if people don’t misunderstand what is going on, just having them draw attention to it can leave you feeling singled out and awkward. Preempt this by telling a few trusted friends that you are learning how to not sound monotone. Consider explaining that you’re trying to relax during conversations and to allow your voice to show more of what you’re feeling.
If you would like them to let you know how well it is working, it can be helpful to ask them to save their comments for a few weeks, so you have a designated time when you can prepare to talk about your progress. That can allow you to feel a little more secure in your ability to practice, knowing that your close friends aren’t going to constantly draw attention to your efforts.
This video by Buzzfeed explains how one of their content creators changed his monotone voice with the help of a speech therapist: