Once upon a time…
Children benefit greatly from having a bedtime story read to them. It provides a calm, bonding moment before they sleep. It cultivates their imagination. It encourages a love of reading. It develops their vocabulary and understanding of the world.
But did you know that there are also hidden benefits to reading a bedtime story to a child? For you, as a speaker. Reading a child’s story, out loud, provides you with a fabulous opportunity to explore the range of your voice and bring more variety into it.
Vocal variety brings colour, music and interest into your voice. You can have a most interesting and expertly-constructed speech, however, if you lack vocal variety in your delivery, the effect will be a lot less powerful. When a speaker lacks adequate diversity in their voice, they can sound monotonous, flat or robotic. This is not interesting to listen to and is unlikely to keep the audience engaged for very long. In contrast, it’s much easier to listen to a speaker who is expressive and delivers in a more animated manner.
So how can the humble bedtime story improve your voice? Well, it provides an opportunity for you to play! You can use different voices for different characters (the scary witch, or the frightened boy), but don’t stop there. You can also use this chance to play around with the 4Ps of Vocal Variety – pace, pitch, power and pause. Pace is how quickly or slowly you speak. Pitch is how high or low your voice is. Power is how loud or quietly you speak. Pauses are how long or short you space out your words and sentences. In combination these 4Ps can create a much more dynamic voice. For example, when you speak slowly but with a lot of power you sound authoritative. When you speak more quickly and powerfully you sound animated or excited.
My favourite stories to use with clients to expand their vocal variety, are the books by Julia Donaldson. If you have contact with any children under the age of 8, they may be familiar with her wildly popular “The Gruffalo” (which has been translated into more than 40 languages!). Donaldson has written many other stories which are clever, full of smart messages and which adults and children adore. They use rhyme and rhythm in an enticing and very effective way. These are perfect for reading aloud and having fun with. This helps us to extend the variety of our natural speaking voice.
Take this opening extract from Superworm (Julia Donaldson, 2012):
Superworm is super long. Superworm is super strong. Watch him wiggle. See him squirm. Hip-hip horray for superworm!
Let alone the sing-song nature which leads the reader gradually increase pace and build in excitement, the words “super”, “long”, “strong”, “wiggle” and “squirm” can all be read in an expressive and dramatic way.
Reading aloud a children’s story provides ample occasions to play around with the combinations of pace, pitch, power and pause. You can create a voice which is full of excitement one minute and dripping with intense sadness the next. You can pause just before a key word, creating suspense. You can be the angry giant with a gruff, deep, slow voice. You can contrast that with the squeaky, high, rapid, cheeky mouse. With your voice you can make the words “twinkling”, “plodding” and “screechy”, actually sound twinkling, plodding and screechy.
Exaggerate and have fun. Your young audience will enjoy the moment and story even more. In addition, your future presentations will be more effective and enjoyable for the listener when you deliver with a more dynamic and interesting voice.
….and they lived happily ever after!