The Power of Inflection

Since I worked as a speechwriter for a number of years — and would write more speeches, if the right clients came along — I thought I’d do at least one public-speaking-related episode of “Between the Black & the White.”

Public speaking can be hard, and some of us are afraid to do it. A lot of factors go into that fear — who the audience is, how well we know the subject matter, whether we’ve had a chance to practice, and so forth — and I’m not sure it ever goes away completely. One looming part of the fear of speaking in public is wondering how our words will be heard.

Most of us have had the experience of listening to someone speaking in monotone. They put no emphasis on any certain words or syllables, and live up to what “monotone” means: one tone, one sound. Their words change, but their delivery doesn’t. From that experience, we know there’s good reason for “monotonous” to be synonymous with “boring.”

If we remember what it’s like to be bored by a speaker, then we never want to be boring when we’re the one speaking! Avoiding a monotone delivery can help in that regard, but it can also do much more.

Back when I was teaching I developed an easy┬ádemonstration of how adding just a bit of emphasis can change the meaning of a simple statement. The nice thing is that we do it naturally all the time — it’s not a new skill to master, just a technique to be aware of that can help us make the points we want to make. “The Value of Inflection” lies not only in what it can do to help us avoid being monotonous, but in the fact that it’s something we already use in our day-to-day lives.

You’re probably comfortable enough with using inflection that this video won’t help you much, and it might be hard to find a tactful way to suggest that your monotone friend watch it — but, there it is:

If you’re a teacher, though, and you want to help your students develop their public speaking skills, feel free to use this exercise or one like it. Let me know how it goes!

Thanks, and have a great day!

More “Between the Black & the White”:
– Debut episode, The Musashi-Heinlein School
Series Introduction
Host Introduction

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