I was driving along the M25. For those of you who don’t know – the M25 is a motorway that encircles Greater London. It is essentially a huge, very busy and, in my humble opinion, extremely boring roundabout.
I’m quite keen, in the interests of self preservation, to stay awake. So I turn
on the radio. Radio 4 is my usual choice. What’s on the radio? “Material World”, presented by Quentin Cooper. A science programme. I like to hear about developments and various controversies in the world of science – despite never being any good at science subjects in school. I enjoy buying science magazines occasionally – I like the colourful pictures and the colourful text. So, as far as Material World is concerned, I’m a keen customer.
Do I become increasingly alert and awake? Am I drawn, fascinated, into the colour and fascinating subject material? I am not! My eyelids are becoming heavier and my head is drooping toward the steering wheel.
Why? Well, the presenter, Quentin Cooper is always upbeat in his way of speaking. He gives the subject matter, whatever it may be, the verbal and vocal enthusiasm it truly deserves… Sadly most of the interviewees speak within a very narrow band of auditory frequencies. Monotone in common parlance. It sounds as if the scientists vocal “loudspeakers” are turned in toward their body, rather than outwards towards a public that is thirsty for the latest news. This is not true of all the interviewees of course – but one can’t help thinking that the exception tends to prove the rule.
So, regretfully, I turn off Material World, roll the window down a little more and put on some rousing music… Ah! that’s better… and safer.
About 20 minutes later I turn on Radio 4 again for some verbal, intellectual, stimulation again. It’s a general arts programme, Open Book, presented by Mariella Frostrup. Most of the interviewees come from the worlds oftheatre, film, literature and the visual arts. As a group they speak louder than the scientists. Crisper articulation. More musicality, ups and downs, in the spoken phrase. They vibrate the air around them with their speech. They give a good clear signal to the studio microphones. I can hear effortlessly. I wake up. I drive more safely.
The irony is – Mariella Frostrup’s guests were talking about book contracts. Not the most scintillating subject in the world – but I remembered it. What were Quentin Cooper’s guests discussing? Mmm. Nope… still can’t
recall. I’m sure it was intrinsically more interesting but it’s gone. In fact, I don’t even think it lodged in the first place.
Scientists! Your speaking voice is like a door. Use it well and you can open up that doorway so that people can step through it share your enchantment with the subject. Use it badly and you can slam that door shut in the face of a friendly visitor.
The human voice is, amongst other things, a muscular mechanism. And like other muscular mechanisms it is amenable to training that increases strength and flexibility. That increased muscularity and flexibility in your voice will translate into increased comprehension and understanding on the part of your listeners.
Make it easier on your listeners and don’t leave all the work to Quentin!