When Billy Rose heard a playback of his first radio and broadcast, he clapped his hands to his ears and moaned. "Take it away! That’s not me! It's an impostor! It sounds like nail file scraping a cheese grater!"
Millions of men and women, ranging from business tycoons to housewives, would be dismayed to discover how they really sound to others. After a lecture on speech that I gave in Chicago, a woman approached me, smiling broadly, to say, "I ay-um so glay-ud I don’t hay-uve the tway-ung my sister in Kay-unsus hay-us!" Poor woman! She had her sister's twang in spades, doubled and redoubled.
A student's initial talk I my class is recorded on closed-circuit television and played back to him instantly. For the first time he sees and hears himself as others see and hear him as he makes a speech presentation. He can hardly believe his own ears and eyes.
Madison Avenue warns us constantly of such social and business offenders as bad breath, body odor, and dingy teeth. We take steps to avoid these; but are our best friends telling us about our equally disenchanting speech habits?
You may not be aware of how you look and sound when you speak. But everyone else is.
DO YOU SOUND AS GOOD AS YOU LOOK?
Some time ago I attended an elegant dinner party at 21 one of the world's fine restaurants. The guests all wore their best. Jewels winked; shirtfronts gleamed.
The last woman to arrive outshone the rest of us as a peacock outshines sparrows. Her gown and grooming were the envy of every female at the table; her eyes sparkled; her skin was satin; her figure and carriage were superb.
Unfortunately, she not only caught the eye as a peacock does; when she opened her mouth, she turned out to have the ear-splitting sound of a peacock, too.
The man at my right, publisher of a fashion magazine winced in dismay that was almost comical. I could not help leaning toward him and murmuring, "It's all your fault."
"My fault?" he exclaimed, astonished. "How do you figure that?"
"Because month after month, year after year, your magazine parades glamour aids before the eyes of women; gowns, perfume, makeup, false eyelashes, wigs.
"But you never tell them how much more attractive they would be if they paid the same attention tot heir speech that they do to their faces and figures.
"You give fashion advice to men, too. Why don’t you point out that the impression a man makes depends far more on the quality of his speech and his ability to communicate than the cut of his jacket?"
"But can a grown man change his speech habits?" asked the publisher.
"Why," I said, "I could give our friend across the table a few simple tips that would soon have her sounding as lovely as she looks. There is no reason in the world why any normal person can't develop attractive speech."
"If it is really possible to help people that way, and you know how," said the publisher, "why don’t you do it?"
"Do you know," I said, "I think I will."
That was the start of my courses in Speech Dynamics. It was also the start of this book.
THE MAKING OF A SPEECH CONSULTANT
It was probably inevitable that I became speech consultant. The human voice, and how it communicates, has fascinated me since, at the age of three, I stood before an audience of parents at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and sang "Little Sir Echo, how do you do?" I sang and acted the way through high school and college. I went on singing and acting professionally in opera, on Broadway, and in supper clubs. And I seized greedily on every scrap of information I could find about voice, speech and speech presentation.
Metropolitan Opera stars such as Florence Easton, Queena Mario and Giovanni Martinelli worked patiently wit me, teaching me how to use my breath, how to project my voice, how to add color and beauty to my speech, how to protect my vocal cords.
I studied the stars with whom I played, emulated their skills, unabashedly asked their advice and help. They were unforgettably kind. Shirley Booth taught me to release real tears at will on the stage. By watching Yul Brynner I learned to black out every distraction while waiting for the curtain to rise. Mary Martin taught me to trigger applause by punctuating songs with hand and body gestures. Gertrude Lawrence showed me dozens of secrets of getting and holding attention.
All these bits of knowledge fell into place when, the very day after that conversation at 21, I began developing the study courses that are now known as Speech Dynamics. Since then I have revealed the simple secrets of attractive and effective speech to thousands of students here in New York, to tens of thousands who attend my lectures nationwide, and to millions of radio listeners and TV viewers. I have redesigned and refurbished speech habits, styles and images for American of every size, shape, description, humor, purse and origin. My students have ranged from septuagenarians to teen-agers; from executives to housewives; from stenographers, sales girls, clerks, and immigrants to brokers, lawyers, government officials, Arizona ranchers and nurses.
I have seen-and heard-improvements in my students speech pictures effect Cinderella-like transformations in their lives.
YOU CAN HAVE THE SPEECH YOU WANT
Each day I receive thank-you messages. Some come from men and women whose names you may have heard. More are from persons who, like most of us, are known only to a few friends and to God.
A clerk in a shipping company, who had lived for years in the shadow of a dismissal notice, wrote exultantly that after improving his speech picture he had become a junior executive with "no ceiling on my future." A woman who had long been the forgotten member of her civics club learned to speak so eloquently that she was asked to represent her organization at its world convention. A young man won the girl who earlier had refused to take him seriously. The head of a brokerage firm, formerly the victim of stage fright whenever he had to give a talk, learned to command both of his nerves and his audiences. "At last," he now says proudly, "I really feel like the head of my own company."
These men and women have discovered that attractive oral communication does much more than simply cover defective personalities with pancake makeup. It lets their truer, better personalities emerge. If a woman speaks more winningly, she will become more winning in other ways. A man who learns to speak with confidence and authority will begin to act with confidence and authority.
On the stage, an amber gelatin placed over the spotlight will make a presentable woman look downright homely. A pink gelatin, on the other hand, will give face that the soft glow of a Renoir painting. In light rehearsal, before The King and I opened on Broadway, I saw Gertrude Lawrence take the mirror from her handbag and check every square foot of the stage to make sure she would not work in amber light.
You speech can alter your image as drastically as the spotlight gelatin alters an actor's. Make it not amber-drab, but Renoir-pink. Speech can reveal the gold in a personality that had seemed gray. It can make a moderately intelligent man appear brilliant, and a moderately engaging woman irresistible.
Mme. De Stael, a famous nostess of Napoleonic France, was a far from handsome woman; but when she spoke, men could not take their ears off her.
BEA PRINCE, NOT A FROG!
Are you a prince to look at, but a frog to listen to? A tiger to see, but a mouse to hear? Is your voice whiney? Nasal? Strident? Are you a whisper talker? A mumbler? Do you mispronounce? Do you draw out your words like taffy, or rattle them out like popping corn?
Are you comfortable in conversation? Do your acquaintances seem to be thinking about something else when you talk? Do they interrupt, or drift away? At parties, are you out of it?
Do business interviews, presentations, conferences and speeches unnerve you? Do you feel inadequate when you conduct a meeting?
If you suffer from any of these common communication ailments, this book is for you. Unless your problem reflects some physical defect requiring therapy, you can turn your speech from gray to gold by following suggestions in the following chapters. You will find that they require a minimum of effort, you are enjoyable as well.
They will take less time each day than you spend on shaving (if you are a man) or making up your face (if you are a woman). In fact, as you do either you can put some of them into practice. In six weeks your speech will not be just as good as new; it will be much better.
Take advantage of the hints and shortcuts in this book and your speech will become clear…colorful…captivating…convincing. People will listen when you speak. And they will enjoy listening.
Don’t wait until an emergency arises: until you are about to be interviewed for a promising new job, or make a speech for your favorite political candidate, or have your first date with your favorite example of the opposite sex.
The time to start now. Read the following pages with care. Take the suggestions to heart. Don’t skip; the part you miss may be the very one you need most. This book can dramatically change your speech, your conversation, your speechmaking-and your life.
SOUND AS GOOD AS YOU LOOK
MAKE YOUR SPEECH WORK FOR YOU
Most of the frictions of daily life, said novelist Arnold Bennet, are caused by irritating sounds and habits of voice and speech. Speech deficiencies can result in lost jobs and canceled business deals. They can torpedo international conferences, and break up homes. Your speech image helps people decide whether they want you to turn their business, be their doctor, represent them in Congress. It helps them make up their minds whether they would buy a used car from you, or invite you to the house to become better acquainted.
You are not immune to the perils of speech distracters even if your thoughts shine like stars, if your ideas for increasing your company's profits work as well as J. Paul Getty's, if you are bursting with fascinating facts about art or sports, airplanes or mineralogy, concerts or computers. Few will hear you out unless you can engage their attention and then communicate warmly and compellingly. You have little chance of attaining your goals if yours is one of the chorus of dreary voices that only mother could love.
Marshall McLuhan's famous assertion that "the medium is the message" may not apply to all forms of communication, but it certainly does to speech.
Speech distracters and ineffectiveness can sell you short.
They can tell unkind lies about you. They can distort your image.
Some speech mannerisms, like physical disfigurements, cry out for plastic surgery. Others need minor alterations, like last year's clothes. Still others need firming up, like a sagging midriff. Some speech needs tuning, as your automobile may; or like your car's springs, and needs to have the squeaks oiled away. A few voices, like little boys' smudged faces, could do with a good scrub in warm, soapy water.
IT'S NOT WHAT YOU SAY-IT'S THE WAY YOU SAY IT
Just as fingers were made before forks, so grunts, squeaks, howls, coos and giggles antedate words. The Neanderthal man never had to parse a sentence, but by varying the tone of his voice he could either enemies or soften the hearts of Neanderthal maidens.
Since human beings developed language, speech has changed the destinies of nations. By the force of his eloquence, Savonarola turned fifteenth-century Florence from a profligate into a puritanical city. A speeches of Peter Hermit sent tens of thousands of men and women-yes and small children-pouring into the Middle East in a vain and bloody crusade to snatch Jerusalem from the Moslems.
It is a pity that the voices of the great orators of the past have not come down to us along with their words. Suppose you could have heard Cicero insist to the Roman Senate, "Carthage must be destroyed!" Or Patrick Henry cry, "As for me, give me liberty, or give me death!" Or Abraham Lincoln, "This nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom!" Or William Jennings Bryan, "You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!"
Reduced to paper, these words are still jewel-like; but they are jewels without their settings. The speaker's there-ness, his personality, his beat and drive and urgency-all these are gone forever.
If you doubt how dependent words are on utterance, go sometime to see a second-rater play Hamlet.
BLACK PLAGUE IN HOLLYWOOD
We take for granted today that attractive speech is an essential part of any actor's equipment. In motion pictures this was not always so.
When sound movies arrived in the late 1920's, a whole generation of motion picture actors was wiped out with a sweep of the scythe, as if a black plague had swept through Hollywood.
There had been no need for the stars of silent pictures to speak well. After all, their fans could not hear them. Sound caught these cinematic dinosaurs unprepared. One promising star, for the first time hearing her recorded voice, took an overdose of sleeping pills. Corrine Grffith, dream girl of a generation of motion picture goers, retired permanently after reading Time's unkind comment: "Pretty Corrine Griffith talks through her nose."
Just before sound tracks and motion picture film were wedded, John Gilbert, successor of Rudolph Valentino as the Casanova of the silver screen, signed a four-year contract at a million dollars a year. In his first picture under the new arrangement, Gilbert's thin, reedy tenor evoked snickers of derision from the same moviegoers who had cheered his passionate lovemaking only a year before. The ear picture canceled out the eye picture, and brought a great career to an end.
HOW DO YOU SOUND AT HOME?
If you are single, your speech may decide whether you will ever marry. If you are married, it may decide whether you stay that way.
A still-handsome woman sobbed to me that after thirty-five years of marriage her husband was insisting on divorce. There was no other woman, he assured her; he simply wanted to be alone.
Whatever else may have been wrong with that marriage, one handicap leaped to the ear. If I had lived with her convulsive giggle and mosquito-like voice for years, I would have wanted to be alone too.
It was not difficult to clear up the giggle. Unfortunately, it was too late to clear up the marriage.
So if your husband winces when you speak, or your wife never seems to listen to what you have to say, you could do worse than to take a look at your own speech.
THE KEY TO YOUR CAREER
Ability to speak confidently, concisely and convincingly is essential to anyone who is ambitious for business success. The first thing a businessman has to sell is himself. From the interview that gets him his first hob to the day he becomes Chairman Emeritus, he has to persuade others. If you are in business, your speech image-which includes the way you look as well as how you sound-will determine how far you rise.
Today, more than ever, the business speaker is seen as well as heard. Where once he might have talked to his associates in other cities by means of a telephone conference, he is now increasingly likely to use closed-circuit television. Even intra-office meetings may become television sessions in which none of the participants leaves his own desk.
Your ability to project yourself on television may be the key to your business success, whether or not you ever appear on a public broadcast. (it may be they key to your social success as well as few years hence, when the picture-phone will be as common as the telephone is today.)
"MY SPEECH IS KILLING ME!"
A friend of my husband's recently lost an important proxy fight though all the best arguments were on his side. "I suddenly realized," he told us ruefully, "that my speech was killing me. My stockholders could not be convinced by anything I said, because they were bothered by the way I said it."
He was right. Born abroad, he had retained the guttural Germanic "r," and had never bothered to master the American pronunciation of "th." A "w" for him was a "v." The cadence of his speech, too, was European.
Aware of his speech inadequacies, he made matters worse by talking apologetically. He mumbled; he failed to meet the eyes of his audience. The medium, for them, was the message; and both medium and message were negative.
A positive speech image can help you as much as a negative one can hurt you. Advertising tycoon Mary Wells, who took Madison Avenue by storm, is unexcelled at creating fresh, effective advertising campaigns; but her rise would not have been so meteoric were it not, as columnist Eugenia Sheppard remarked, that "Her soft, thrilling voice makes the maddest ideas seem perfectly possible."
Your speech image can be your greatest asset-or your worst liability. Make it work for you, not against you.
SOUND LIKE THE BEST POSSIBLE YOU
Your husband does not expect you to be a Julie Andrews in your speech. Your wife does not expect you to be a Richard Burton. You should sound like you-but the best possible you. Your speech should meet your real needs and do justice to the kind of person you really are.
A bright young Bronx attorney asked me to give him the speech of an Oxford graduate. I refused. With a British accent, he would have been as out of place among his clients as H. Rap Brown at a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan. But I gladly helped him to rid himself of the tough-sounding intonations and speech mannerisms that belied the cultivated person he really was.
William Bendix's raspy voice would have shortened the life of any speech teacher; yet it served him well in the entertainment world. It was right for the parts he played. Similarly, the Hungarian accents of the Gabor sisters only to sound like Mae West, but the Mae West legend.
Speech that distracts, however, cannot help you; it only gets in your way. You may be able to compensate for it, as a one-armed golfer may conceivably play in the eighties, or a wooden-legged man dance the twist; but why should you handicap yourself when you don’t have to? Would you advise a sprinter to carry a fifty-pound weight in each hand? He might win the race, but not many people would bet on it
To eliminate those speech distracters, you must first be able to identify them. The next chapter tell you how.
People judge you by your speech.
Poor speech handicaps you in every aspect of your social life…business life…and love life.
Attractive speech habits open the door to success.
You can sound like the best possible you!
HELP, I'M BEING TAPED!
How can you pinpoint the speech blemishes that destroy or shatter an otherwise appealing image…rob you of power, authority and persuasion if you are a man…of femininity and allure of you are a woman…lessen your impact…keep you from being lovable at first listen?
If your face has a blemish, you see it in a mirror. You go to a drugstore or cosmetic counter and buy something to cure, cover or camouflage it. If it is bad enough, you go to a plastic surgeon and have it eliminated.
Speech blemishes can detract just as much-but how do you know they are there? Before you can cure or eliminate them, you have to recognize them.
A mirror can tell you a little something about your speech picture. It can tell you, for instance, whether you are using your hands too much…contracting the sides of your mouth, and so making your speech as well as your face ugly…being aloof, stiff and tense…forcing your voice…talking without moving your lips.
But the best reporter of speech is the tape recorder. Many small, lightweight recorders are on the market at a price any family can afford; if you have a mirror in your home, you should have a tape recorder too. It won't be long before you can buy an inexpensive video-corder for instant TV playback, so that you can check yourself visually and aurally at the same time. Meanwhile, do get the tape recorder. It will enable you, in privacy, to hear exactly how you sound. You can learn your defects and shortcomings, and check the results of the easily followed suggestions in this book.
In business, a tape recorder for your speech is an indispensable aid to success. you can use it to review your ideas aloud, to edit and practice speeches and presentations, to rehearse interviews, to check your speech conversation habits in action by recording yourself on the telephone.
The tape recorder can provide a permanent vocal record of your children's lives, from the first goo to the loving "I do." It can be a Baby Book in sound. If yours is a family that likes to read aloud (as I hope it is), the tape recorder will preserve those relaxed moments and keep your abreast of the development in your children's speech.
If you have no recorder, you can learn a little something about your voice through either of two very simple procedures:
Say something with your nose almost against the middle of a large, half-opened magazine. You will hear a considerably magnified sound.
Face a corner of a room, as close as you can sit or stand where the walls meet. Cup your hands lightly over your ears, and speak in your usual fashion. The sound will bounce back, amplified. And you may be surprised at what you hear! (Two thousand years ago, Horace told the Roman patricians they should recite while in the bathing pavilion. "The closeness of the place," he said, "gives melody to the voice." Actually, I suspect he should have given the credit to the marble walls. On concert tours, I did not vocalize in my hotel room, where the walls and carpet absorbed sound, but rather in the bathroom, where the porcelain and the tiles seemed to give my voice added brilliance and luster.)
What are the speech blemishes you should guard against? How can you recognize them?
ARE YOU A NOSE TALKER? (Nasality)
This blemish is particularly common and disfiguring. When you talk through your nose, you twang. Clasp your nose between thumb and forefinger, so as to close your nostrils. Then say: "She sang seventeen songs and swooned." Your fingers will pick up the vibrations caused in your nose by "m, n, and ng." These are the only three legitimate nasal sounds in our language.
For contrast, hold your nostrils the same way and say, "Woe, oh woe, oh woe, oh woe!" the sound should come entirely from your mouth. If you buzz, even on those "o" vowels, you a nose talker. In the theater, the actor who wants to play a complaining and disagreeable character is apt to adopt a nasal speech pattern.
You cannot be lovable at first listen if you talk through your nose. You will be whining, lifeless, and negative. Yet your voice has to come out through your nose if your mouth does not open enough when you talk. Look into your mirror, and say, "Hi, you handsome, wonderful, lovable creature!" there should be almost a half-inch strip of darkness between your teeth throughout a good part of that self-admiring sentence.
If, instead, your teeth are fitted together like two rows of corn on a cob, or if, even worse, your lips are virtually closed, like those of a ventriloquist, you almost certainly speak nasally.
Nasality mars a woman's image even more than a man's. have you ever heard a woman whose nasal twang was alluring? Of course not! If you want to be as persuasive as advertising tycoon Mary Wells, or as seductive as Brigitte Bardot, bring resonance not from your nose but from the chest. Theres is more sex to the chest than two bumps.
The tight, clenched jaw was once considered the "society" way of talking. "ont move a muscle; don’t let animation show in your face; avoid laughter-it makes wrinkles." I for one, am all for those laugh line. If you lack them, perhaps you don’t laugh enough; and in our problem-laden world, we need all the laughter we can get. The animation in our faces is one way of reaching out to each other.
The clenched jaw speaker emanates tenseness and strain. This prevented a woman I know from fulfilling a long-held and altruistic dream of recording books for the blind. Blind readers could not see her, but they could hear the tightness in her voice.
My husband says that the clenched jaw, sometimes described as "Locust Valley lockjaw" or "Massachusetts malocclusion," is an expression of agony carried over from the days of tight high-butoon shoes, tight celluloid collars and tight corsets.
ARE YOU A SHRIEKER? (Stridency, shrillness, screeching)
Do you screech even when you are not angry? Do you force your voice even when you are not calling the children? Women, particularly, often do, perhaps because of the million irritants which sting them each day. If you are a wife with a strident voice, your husband's teeth are set on edge every time you speak. Stridency and shrillness are even more disagreeable than nasality. I can think of only one politician-the late Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia of New York-who won and kept the affection of his constituency despite a shrill, strident voice. When LaGuardia read the Sunday comics over the radio, the whole city chuckled-because they loved the Little Flower, despite his voice.
This is another blemish that shows up in your mirror. Does your neck look taut? Do the veins and cords stand out like ropes? Are the muscles around your chin tight to the eye and the touch? If they are, you probably sound as strident as a seagull.
Try talking with a ribbon tied snugly around the neck. If you strain or force your voice, you will feel the ribbon choking as you approach the end of each sentence.
ARE YOU THERE? (Lack of projection: the whisperer, the fader)
Do you usually sound weary and depressed? Does your voice have wrinkles in it? Does it lack vitality, vigor, energy, enthusiasm, and intensity? Are you constantly asked to repeat because people do not hear you? The reason may be that you lack proper breath support. You are failing to project.
Whispering is for telling secrets and making love. There is only one time when you are justified in whispering in public. That is when you stand at the altar, and say, "I do." Even if nobody can hear you, everybody will know what you said.
What is a whisper? It is the ghost of a sound one from which most of the tone and resonance are missing. A breeze whispers until it has something to vibrate against. As soon as it ruins into a leaf, it rustles.
To recognize whisper talk, first put a finger against your Adam's apple and say "Zzzzzzzzz." You feel a vibration; "Zzzzzz" cannot be said in a true whisper. It is a voiced tone. Now say "Ssssss." Your larynx does not vibrate. "Ssssss" is the unvoiced whispered counterpart of "Zzzzzz."
Next, your finger still on your larynx, makes some such remark in your normal voice as "I wonder whether I'll feel the vibration." If the telltale buzz is missing, you a whisper speaker.
Do not confuse whisper speaking with soft but supported speaking. Your voice needs support even at its lowest volume. You should have at your command projection ranging from the very quiet to the very strong with infinite gradations of volume in between.
If you whisper for effect, as Marilyn Monroe did, and still manage to make yourself heard, you are not really whispering at all-you are stage whispering, an entirely different thing. The stage whisper is supported by almost as much air pressure as a declamation. In the theater, it can be heard from the nearest seat in the orchestra to the farthest row in the balcony. In his army days, General James M. Gavin was known for his low voice, but no one had trouble understanding him; he stage whispered. (Besides, if you are serving under a general as forceful as Gavin, you'd better understand him!)
The unprojected speaker, by contrast, is almost inaudible. Jackie Kennedy Onassis is one of these. Sometimes it was a strain to make out what she was saying on her famous television tour of the White House.
An instructor for a corporation, which provided classified electronic information to navy men, came to me for help because his voice was so low that his students beyond the first row could barely make out what he was saying. He kept his classified information classified even from his class. I am happy to say that now he projects so well that an enemy agent could hear him out in the hall.
Some people who are perfectly audible in one situation are whisper talkers in another. I know a chain store magnate who always whisper talks when he is out socially with his wife; yet he makes himself heard at board meetings. My suspicion is that he is trying, perhaps subconsciously, to tell his wife that she should moderate both the volume and the quantity of her conversation. If so, she has yet to get message-which shows that whisper talking is no way to drive home a point.
Women may think that inaudibility demonstrates their feminine delicacy. Actually, they are substituting a meretricious femininity for the real thing. Whispering, like fainting, may have been an acceptable part of the culture in the days of Queen Victoria. If you are a girl with your eye in a man today, I don’t advise you to try to win his heart by fainting. He may be sympathetic enough to call an ambulance, but I doubt whether he will bother to visit you in the hospital. By the same token, don’t try to win him by faint murmuring. If your transmitter is so weak that it is a strain to hear you, he will simply turn to another station.
A woman once told me proudly, "My friends say my voice is so soothing that it put them to sleep." The poor creature thought she was being complimented. Her friends were really trying to tell her that she was failing to keep them awake.
A not too distant relative of the whisper speaker is the fader. His voice comes and goes as if he were a crystal radio in a thunderstorm. A sentence may start perfectly well, on a flowing current of breath support through which the words swim as gracefully as fishes; but toward the end the current dries up, leaving the last words to expire, flapping a little, on the wet sand. Just when the sound should be strongest, it collapses like a fallen soufflé.
Beware the unprojected voice if your purpose is to communicate. The only person in overquiet speaker can communicate with effectively is a professional lip reader.
LAZY LIPS (Mumbling)
Even a lip reader may not be able to make out a mumbler, because the mumbler's lips often do not move enough to be read.
The flock of a parish priest is complained, "Six days a week he is invisible, and on the seventh he is inaudible." He was a mumbler.
A mumber, like a whisperer, manages to keep secrets even when he is trying to re veal them. His lips are lazy, and he fails to project. He runs his words together, sometimes omitting whole syllables.
Speak into the mirror once more. If your lips barely move, you are mumbling. To quote Ogden Nash:
I believe that people before they graduate or even matriculate, they should learn to speak up, to speak out, to articulate. It befuddles my sense acoustic. To be mumbled at through a potato, be it from Idaho or Aroostook.
This word swallowing, these muffled mutes and slovenly slurring. Can lead to calamitous misunderstands and erring…it's easy to be manly and still make your meaning plain, whether in accents of Mt. Ida, Cathay or Boston, of Des Moines or the deepest South….just take that towel out of your mouth.
My prescription, more prosaic than Mr. Nash's, is this: speak with lively not lazy lips.
ARE YOU A FOGHORN? (Hoarseness and rasping)
Faulty breath support may show up not in whispering or mumbling, but in strain. An unsupported voice is like a Model T Ford trying to climb a steep hill in high gear. It moves slower and slower, starts to jerk, and finally stalls altogether. Excessive speechmaking with an unsupported voice cannot but produce hoarseness. Millions of television viewers of the Republican and Democratic National Convention in 1968 heard platform officials force their voices (and sometimes their audiences) almost beyond endurance. Representative Carl Albert, permanent chairman for the Democrats, could scarcely speak at all by the time the convention ended. The Model T had barely made it up the hill. For unforced, focused and effective speech, you must know how to feed the gas adjust the gears.
If your throat tires quickly when you talk…if you constantly clear it…if you are chronically hoarse, though you haven't a cold, don’t smoke and are told by the doctor that there is nothing organically wrong with your throat-then you are not using your breath properly to support your voice. The result is likely to be a fuzzy, foggy, grating sound that irritates the listener's throat as well as your own.
DO YOU COLOR IT GRAY? (Monotony of pitch)
The average voice runs a scale of twelve to twenty notes. (A professional actor's or singer's may span thirty-six) some unfortunates have a speaking range of only five notes. If you are one of these, your voice has all the fascination of a faucet with a worn-out washer-you drip, drip, drip. Or, like a metronome, you tick, tick, and tick. As you doze, other doze. You are a Johnny or jenny One-Note.
Businessmen sometimes come to me with complaints like this: "When I talk, people get a sort of glazed, sleepy look." Why wouldn't they, if they have to listen to that endless drip, drip, drip, tick, tick, tick? Even the hundred eyes of Argos, the monster of Greek legend, could not have stayed open. No variety of pitch. No color. Drab, drab, drab.
To check your voice for monotony, listen to yourself as you read aloud from a newspaper. Do you vary the pitch, the pacing, and the emphasis according to the sense? Is there life, color, and melody in your voice? Or does every sentence sound wooden-like the one before? Do they all end on the same note?
A tape recorder provides an accurate voice picture. Read into it and listen to the playback, pretending you are listening to someone on the radio. Decide whether you really enjoy hearing him speak.
DOES YOUR SPEEDOMETER NEED ADJUSTING? (Speed talk; chop talk, slow talk)
President Kennedy, in most respects a fine speaker, sometimes raced so fast that some listeners had a hard time keeping up with him. President Johnson, on the other had, used to dawdle so that a new international crisis could have arisen before he finished briefing the country on the current one.
If you talk too fast, you will not be understood-and you may leave your listeners breathless. If you talk too slowly, they will stop listening. Acceptable speaking rates vary between 120 and 160 words a minute. We read aloud a little faster than we talk. The rate should never be constant because thought and emotion should alter pacing. Pauses for effect and changes of speed provide needed variety.
Read the following quotation aloud. (it is from the speech by the late Stephen S. Wise.) Time yourself by the sweep hand of your watch. Stop at the end of sixty seconds and mark the last word you speak:
In his lifetime Lincoln was maligned and traduced, but detraction during a man's lifetime affords no test of his life's value nor offers any forecast of history's verdict. It would almost seem as if the glory of immortality were anticipated in the life of the great by detraction and denial whilst yet they lived. When a Lincoln-like man arises, let us recognize and fitly honor him. There could be no poorer way of honoring the memory of Lincoln than to assume, as we sometimes do, that the race of Lincolns has perished from the earth, and that we shall never look on his like again. One way to ensure the passing of the Lincolns is to assume that another Lincoln can nevermore arise. Would we find Lincoln today, we must not seek him in the guise of a rail-splitter, nor as a wielder of the backwoodsman's axe, but as a mighty smiter of wrong in high places and low.
Lincoln has become for us the test of human worth and we honor men in the measure in which they approach the absolute standard of Abraham Lincoln. Other men may resemble and approach him; he remains the standard whereby all other men are measured and appraised.
If you did not reach the phrase "Lincoln can nevermore arise" in the sixty-second period, you were reading too slowly. If you got into the second paragraph, you were beginning to rat-a-tat-tat. The faster you go, too, the more surely you will chop-talk, losing smoothness and flow, sounding like the Morse Code tapped out on a telegraph key or a 33 1/3 r.p.m. record played back at a 78 r.p.m. speed.
If, on the other hand, you spoke at less than 110 words a minute, your best bet is to hire out a baby-sitter. You can count on putting your listeners to sleep.
DO YOU HAVE A SPEECH TIC? (Padding)
Do you know people who say, "You know, you know," until you bite lips to keep from screaming? Or, "That is"? Or, "He says, I says"? There are dozens of varieties of speech tics. I one monitored a Hubert Humphrey TV interview fro a magazine article, and counted thirty-one "I b'lieve's" in forty minutes. That's a lot of b'lieving.
Meaningless grunts like "uh" and "ur," too, can recur as remorselessly as a tic. Bear in mind the warning of the elder Oliver Wendell Holmes:
… And when you stick on conversation's burrs, Don’t strew your pathway with those dreadful urs!
If you have a tape recorder, let it run while you are talking on the telephone. The playback will reveal whether you are a padder. Once you become aware of these tics, you will notice them in yourself and others. You will realize how irritating-and unattractive-they are.
DO YOU UPSTAGE YOURSELF? (Visual distractors)
Fidgeting; frowning; raising the eyebrows; nose twitching; lifting the one side of the mouth; pulling the ear or chin; biting the lips; fussing with hair, beads, pencil, fingers or tie; swinging a leg-these are only a few of the common distractors which may be upstaging what you are trying to say.
When Senator Eugene McCarthy ran for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1968, the camera usually focused on his head and shoulders, showing an expression as tranquil as a saint's. Occasionally, however, the shot took in his whole body, and you would see his hands in constant action, nervously worrying his ring. The viewer's attention was drawn to that gesture and distracted from his message.
A businessman I know arranges for his secretary to be in the audience whenever he gives a talk. If he gestures too much, she signals him by putting a pencil behind her ear. You may not be fortunate enough to have a signaling secretary, but if you watch yourself you can quickly tell whether attention-thieves are robbing you of impact when you talk.
When you clasp someone's hand in greeting, you establish a physical contact. An "eye clasp" forms just as vital a contact. You set up a connection with another human being.
Our radios, our TV sets, are silent boxes until we make a connection by turning on the electrical current. With your eyes, you can turn on the switch and make a very real connection.
Not only do your eyes send messages; they receive impressions from others' eyes. "How interesting"; "I'm bored"; "I understand"; "I'm confused"; "I am ready to end this"; "I am content to listen more"; "you irritate me".
When you speak, do your eyes talk too? Or do you avoid direct eye contact because it makes you feel uncomfortable? Does your gaze take refuge on the walls or ceilings? Do you look at your feet instead of the audience? Do you see people as blobs instead of individuals? There is no surer way to lose an audience!
HAVE YOU A SPEECH MUSTACHE (Mispronunciation)
One of the trademarks of Salvador Dali, the painter, is an oversized, black, waxed mustache with exaggerated points, like horns. I once asked him if he wore it to attract attention.
"Oh, no," he replied, in fragmented Dali English, "I am really quite shy; I don’t want attention. I don’t wear this mustache to attract, but to distract. People look at it instead of me."
Since attention is mother's milk to Dali, I did not take his disclaimer seriously; but it does seem to me that speech problems are something like an unwanted, untidy mustache. They distract from what you are trying to say. Your speech should be clean shaven.
Mispronunciations are one such speech mustache. Some of these result from sloppiness or laziness: "Govment" or "gumment" from "government," "gonna" for "going to," "idear" for "idea," "Sadday" for "Saturday."
Mispronounced consonants. Lisping and the sibilant "s". the "s" is more frequently distorted than any other consonant. At one extreme, it becomes a "th"; at the other, a piercing whistle.
The lithp is found everywhere in the world, from humble homes to haughty salons and executives suites. A giant-sized, important executive does not stay giant-sized very long if he is afflicted with a baby-sized lisp.
Often the lithp ith tho thlight that itth owner doethn't know he hath it. It is easy to check. Simply say, slowly and distinctly, a phrase containing a number of "s" sounds: "Essential hospital nursing services" will do very well. Where was the tip of your tongue as you spoke? If it touched your teeth or gum ridges on those "s's" you were lithping whether or not your ear caught the "th."
The sibilant "s" often occurs because of a gap between two front teeth, either upper or lower. It is like the whistling sound of a teakettle announcing that the water has come to a boil, but it brings irritation instead of pleasure to the listener. Take that kettle off the stove!
Other mispronounced consonants. Consonants are subject to a Pandora's boxful of abuses.
The exploding "t" was made famous by Mae West: "Come up ta see me some time." When addressed by a practitioner of the exploding "t", keep your distance-you may be sprayed.
Some people substitute a "d" for "th" ("doze" for "those"). Many of us associate this sound with old-time movie gangsters.
A familiar consonant defect is the lolling "l", as in "wowwipop" - another baby sound. Some people even make an "l" of an "n," at least according to this story:
A woman asked the butcher for kidleys. After she had repeated the word several times, he exclaimed, "Oh, you mean kidneys!" To which she rejoined indignantly: "I said kidleys, diddle I?"
Some New Yorkers turn the soft "ng" in "Long Island" to a hard one: "Long Guy-land." Below the Mason-Dixon line, quite the other way, the final "g" of "ng" may vanish altogether: "Fussin', feudin', fightin'."
The Kennedy brothers, Boston born and Harvard bred, added the unwelcome "r" to words ending in vowels ("idear," "lawr," "Indianer," "sawr"), and dropped the "r" if it was really there ("papah" for "paper").
Tarnished vowels and diphthongs. Without vowels, speech would be all snap, crackle and pop. If you try to leave them out when you speak, you will be unintelligible. You will also sound as if you were strangling.
The vowels give your speech sheen and richness. Consonants are the pizzicato piccolo; vowels the 'cello notes. Reader, bow that 'cello!
On paper, there are only five true vowels - a, e, i, o and u. "Y" sometimes stands in for "i." Orally, however, these turn into several times as many distinguishable sounds.
These sounds vary from region to region. In New York City, the sentences "I brought coffee tot he office for the boss" is likely to come out, "Awee braw-wt caw-wffee to the aw-w-ffice for the baw-wss." In Texas, "you" becomes "yawl"; "word," "ward"; "red hair," "ray-ud high-ah." This last is an example of a vowel that has become a diphthong.
Also, one vowel may turn into a quite different one. Some southerners say what registers on ears as "Thin he lint me the pin" when the mean "Then he lent me the pen."
In a diphthong, one vowel sound leads into another, with the stress on the first and just a dash of the second added, like the dash of vermouth in a martini. A pure vowel is iced gin, with no vermouth at all. "I" is properly pronounced as a diphthong - "ah-ee." In the South, an "I" is likely to lose its dash of vermouth. "I tried to buy pie on Friday ("Ah-ee trah-eed to bah-ee pah-ee on Frah-eeda") becomes "Ah trahd to bah pah on Frahday." "Wire" becomes "war," "down" becomes "day-oon" instead of "daoon."
Regionalisms like these are ordinarily acceptable in one's home town. To learn whether your vowels and diphthongs are distorted beyond normal acceptability and even understanding (unless some friend or relative is brave enough to tell you), compare your speech with that of some national (not local) newscaster such as Chet Huntley or Walter Cronkite.
Use a tape recorder to identify your speech problems.
If your nose buzzes whenever you talk, you sound nasal.
If your neck grows taut when you speak, you are probably strident.
Don’t whisper unless you are telling a secret.
Speak with lively, not lazy lips.
Read aloud to check your voice for monotony.
Check how many words a minute you speak.
Watch out for speech tics.
Don’t upstage yourself with visual distractors.
Contact your listeners with eye clasp.
Check your pronunciation.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU
Speech can soar to the loftiest heights, but its source, as my father never ceased to remind me, is still the human body.
My father, a surgeon and professor of anatomy, dreamed that I might follow in his Hippocratic footsteps. He believed deeply in the value of anatomy films for the teaching of medical students; he made over six hundred of them, which were used all over the world. Often he asked us children to help him edit them. I could hardly bear to look at them, and, whenever possible, kept my eyes closed. I could not stand the sight of blood. There may be those who enjoy watching the extraordinary carryings-on of the human interior, but I am not one of them. No doubt Dad was right when he referred reverently to the human body as a temple of miracles; but I was not interested in examining the miracles too closely.
I did not want to be a doctor. I wanted to be a singer and actress. The idea that there was anything in my father's films that would help me a stage career seemed absurd.
There was, though. If I had paid more attention to his picture studies of the muscle systems, which cooperate for breathing, I might not have come within an ace of losing my voice altogether.
My early teachers kept repeating: "Dorothy, you've got to remember there is a body beneath the tone." But I did not understand well enough what they were saying.
The result was catastrophe. When preparing for my first professional engagement, I continued practicing despite a heavy cold - and without proper breath support. The cold turned into laryngitis and before the end of my first week with the St. Louis Municipal Opera Company, I lost my voice completely. I was rushed to the Philadelphia office of a noted throat specialist, who focused his narrow light on my vocal cords while asking me to say, "Ahhh." I could not. He shook his head.