Monotone Voice: What it is and How to Improve Your Vocal Tonality in 5 Steps

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You have a monotone voice if you have little or no variation in your pitch as you speak.

Monotonous speaking is one of the most common ways that speakers and presenters become boring for audiences.

By contrast, engaging and charismatic speakers usually have a lot of variety in their vocal tonality, hitting both high notes and low notes as they speak.

While often confused, a monotone voice is different from a quiet voice. Your vocal tonality or pitch is different from your volume (although they are often related).

So you could get louder or project your voice while still being monotone.

And vice versa, you could have a rich variety in your tone while being a fairly quiet speaker.

Why a Monotone Voice is a Problem

It Fails to Keep Your Audience Engaged

The human ear responds to variety in sound.

One of the main ways for a speaker to engage us is with lots of variety in their pitch and tonality.

If you think about a song or piece of music, it would be pretty boring if it was just one note with no variation, right?

Well, the same applies to your voice when speaking or presenting.

It Doesn’t Indicate What is (or is not) Important

Many people assume that communication just comes down to words: facts, data and information.

Word choice is critical, but we don’t just communicate through words alone. Human communication also involves a wide variety of nonverbal indicators.

One of those nonverbal signals is the tonality in our voice.

In the English language, when your vocal pitch rises, that usually indicates that you are emphasizing a particular word or idea.

And when your pitch is flat, it indicates that that particular point is relatively less important.

Adding more variety to your vocal pitch literally enables you to convey more information, more efficiently, to your audience.

It Makes it Harder to Communicate in Purely Audio Mediums

monotone voice

Avoiding a monotone voice is especially important when your range of communication is limited.

In pure audio mediums like phone calls, conference calls, or podcast appearances, you can’t convey meaning through your facial expressions or hand gestures. You have to rely solely on your voice.

Even on video conferences and zoom meetings, the voice plays a critical role in keeping your audience engaged and conveying subtleties in your message.

Examples of a Monotone Voice

Henry Kissinger speaks with an almost total, 100% monotone voice:

Henry Kissinger's legacy

Ben Stein has another famous monotone voice:

Ben Stein Recalls His Ferris Bueller's Day Off Audition | Where Are They Now | Oprah Winfrey Network

Johnny Depp has often spoken with a monotone voice:

Remember that you don’t need to have a deep voice to have a monotone voice.

Kim Kardashian, when she was younger, was an example of a higher-pitched female voice that was frequently monotone:

Kim Kardashian's Very First E! Interview: Rewind | E! News

How to Become Less Monotone

You have probably been speaking the same way for a long time.

So to make your voice more engaging, you will want to practice on a regular basis.

1. Practice in a Few Conversations or Speaking Opportunities Every Week

With my coaching clients, I recommend they intentionally speak with more tonal variety in a few conversations or meetings every week.

For most people, trying to speak with multi-tone in every single conversation is too taxing.

And if it’s too much of a chore, then you’ll eventually get discouraged and give up.

So instead, just focus on 3 or 4 conversations per week, for example.

These should be conversations or interactions where you don’t have to do a lot of thinking (for example, you are just reciting basic information, or you can speak off-the-cuff without worrying about the substance of your words).

If you’re not thinking much about the what of your speech, then you can focus on the how–specifically, how you are speaking, and how much variety in your tone you are exhibiting.

The more consistent you can make your practice, the better you will get.

2. Get More Expressive Overall

Vocal tonality is one major tool of expressiveness.

Others include hand gestures, body movement, facial expressions, and dramatic or vivid vocabulary.

What I’ve found working with clients is that when we start increasing expressiveness in one of these areas, the others tend to follow.

So if you’re having a really hard time changing your monotone voice, try moving your hands more. Try speaking louder, or using more facial expressions.

These might be easier ways for you to get started. Your vocal tonality is likely to follow.

Tim Urban‘s TED talk is a great demonstration of expressiveness in body language and vocal tonality:

Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator | Tim Urban | TED

3. Create One Vocal Inflection per Statement

A vocal inflection is where you go from one pitch to another: from low to high, or high to low, for example.

If you are just getting started with reducing your monotone voice, focus on creating just one change in tone per statement.

For example, instead of just saying:

“We are implementing a new process,”

Put the emphasis on one of those words: “We are implementing a new process.”

Just one small change for each statement you make will make your voice much more engaging.

4. Lean into the Major Idea You Want to Emphasize

One of the main functions of vocal variety is to emphasize certain points or ideas. This adds depth and context for the audience, and helps them retain the information better.

You will notice that as you speak, you have a natural urge to draw attention to certain parts of your sentences, and de-emphasize others.

So lean into that tendency and push further in that direction, using your voice to highlight those key items.

Let’s go back to the previous example.

Notice how, even with the same statement, with the same words in the same order, putting emphasis on different words within the statement creates a different message:

We are implementing a new process.”

“We are implementing a new process.”

“We are implementing a new process.”

“We are implementing a new process.”

“We are implementing a new process.”

This is one of the simplest ways to gradually reduce a monotone voice.

5. Use a Vocal Pitch Tracker

Vocal Pitch Monitor and SingScope are two great apps that I recommend to my clients to reduce their monotone voice.

They are built for singers to visualize their notes as they sing in real time.

But you can also use them to get a sense of your vocal tonality in a presentation, conversation or meeting.

Practice reading an article aloud while the app is running to visualize your voice.

You can also run the app during live conversations, zoom meetings, or while practicing a presentation. Look down at the app periodically to check how your voice is doing.


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Justin Aquino