What makes a good public speaker? Whether you want to improve your communication skills or overcome a fear of speaking, you’re already at an advantage if you have a background in singing (or music in general). Read on as San Diego, CA teacher Carl M. explains…
I could go on and on expounding on all the reasons singing lessons are a valuable tool for millions of individuals – whether or not a career in music is intended. However, the one that emerges foremost in my mind has very little to do with singing.
So why mention it?
Having spent most of my life juggling the business world with the artistic side of music, singing, and theatre, I made a unique discovery relating what makes a good public speaker to that of being a singer/musician. For more than 40 years I’ve trained singers, and managed international sales and marketing teams in various industries. While there are many singers in this world, they are dwarfed by those who speak (or should I say, blabber).
While I generally enjoy listening to a well-trained singer, it became painfully clear to me many years ago that individuals who are charged with speaking to groups are usually ill-prepared to do so in a manner that keeps my attention. This ranges from professional speakers to teachers to clergy in virtually every denomination. What’s missing? Well, there are actually two common threads evident throughout.
Most People Aren’t Directly Taught Speaking Skills
First, the function of reading out loud, which can train the ear as effectively as early music instruction, is generally frowned upon during early education.
Think about when you were first learning how to read — pronouncing each word out loud, then two-word phrases, then sentences, and then paragraphs. Then as soon as you really felt good about what you were doing, your teacher told you to read silently, and to absorb the meaning internally. If you moved your lips while reading, your teacher likely stopped you. So that was the end of any oral communication vis-a-vis reading. No more practicing reading and listening skills… skills that would last a lifetime. The student taking music or singing lessons has a distinct advantage here, which we’ll discuss next.
The Correlations Between Singing and Speaking
The second, and certainly the most direct correlation between singing and speaking, is that contained in terms singers learn early on: tone, rhythm, pausing, dynamics, and phrasing.
- Tone, as taught to a singer, involves the proper placement of vowel sounds, mouth formation, proper breathing, etc. These same tenets apply to the speaker (but without the need to read music).
- Rhythm has a very distinct meaning to every musician. However, transferring that technique to speaking is lost on virtually everyone who professes to be a “speaker.”
- Pauses are quite natural in the music world for dramatic impact. The old adage of “Silence is Golden” actually applies more to a speaker’s performance than it does to that of a singer, as the singer is reading music notation and observing dictated, periodic rests. However, most speakers are either too nervous to notice – or they just love the sound of their own voice.
- Dynamics are simple. Loud vs soft. Again, a singer is trained in this area from very early on, but most speakers have one volume. Wouldn’t it be cool if the speaker observed some variation as well?
- Phrasing is probably the most difficult concept for both the singer and speaker to understand (and implement). However, it is also the most meaningful. With the proper phrasing, the gut-level meaning of a song comes to life. The same is true when speaking. However, some speakers have a tendency to “punch” words, rather than using proper phrasing.
I have been training speakers in the corporate world during the past several years, and the pool from which to draw students is enormous – and eventually will have a greater impact upon society and communication in general. However, I find that if a student has a music or singing background, it makes it considerably easier to learn and understand what makes a good public speaker.
Over a series of lessons, my students learn what these techniques are, and how to effectively put them to use. You’ll be a more interesting and believable public speaker, allowing the audience to fully understand and retain the information you’re offering. Isn’t that what we all want?
Carl M. teaches public speaking and writing in San Diego, CA. A Music and Theatre graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Carl fuses his education and entrepreneurial endeavors to help students improve their everyday communication within their personal and business communities. Learn more about Carl here!
Photo by Nan Palmero