WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
This sheet is about realizing the important of voice and intonation while telling a story. While this sheet has been constructed first and foremost as guidance for the teacher, it can be adapted to exercises with children as well later.
To tell a story well (as we explained in the educational sheet about body language), it is important to help the audience immerse themselves into the story. In order to stimulate imagination and create emotion, there is a very important tool that can be used in a very efficient manner: the voice. While body language can reveal a lot of meta communication elements, the voice is one of the main mediums used to convey emotion. This is the reason why there is an entire specialized profession dedicated to dubbing movies. Conveying emotion through voice alone can be very powerful. It is also the reason why recording and analyzing voices can be used in lies detection, as it is very hard to mask emotion entirely when talking. The tone a person uses while saying something can change the meaning entirely.
There are different tools to convey emotion, such as the gaze and body language. But the voice is a very powerful tool. On voice alone, a person can convey if they are serious, playful, sarcastic, sad, happy, etc while saying the same sentence. The first step to adopt the right tone and convey emotion within your story, is of course to take ownership of the story and the characters and make their emotions your own. But beyond that, it is important to be aware of your own emotional cues and to maybe train in order to be able to convey them better. This is the reason why being aware of the tone of voice you are using in general and the way you can modulate your voice to convey emotion and subtlety to your tale is important. There are several ways in which you can achieve that.
HOW TO USE IT?
First important thing to do is to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses while saying a story. It is one thing to hear yourself tell the tale while you are in the moment and an entirely different thing to see yourself tell a tale from an external point of view. The ideal first step would be to have feedback of some sort. Maybe a friend or a colleague can listen to your story and give you their impressions. Otherwise, you may also have someone (or yourself) record a storytelling session. If possible, it would be great to record the reactions of the audience as well.
Afterwards, it is interesting to analyze the way you speak, to take note of: any speech bad habits, redundancy of phrases or speech tics, of the strength of your voice, articulation, facial expressions, rhythm and speed, silences, breaths, and voice modulation. All of these elements are important during the storytelling session and it may help to realize if you tend to speak too fast or too low for example. Speech is natural and we tend to not be aware of the way we sound. At the same time, try to keep an eye for the moment in which the audience reacted most or seemed most engrossed into your story, and if that correlates to any changes in your voice, body language or attitude.
Ideally, it would be interesting to compare the way you told the story with the way other storytellers proceed. But to do that, it is always best to listen to different stories than your own. This way, you can emulate the techniques without risking subconscious imitation of their story. The story has to remain your own interpretation.
Take note of the elements you think you can work on or try out.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
In the safety of your own house/office/etc., do not hesitate to practice in front of someone or while recording yourself in order to review and take note of what seems most interesting.
Pick up a sentence. One that you often say in your tales. It can be anything.
“Once upon a time, there was a great prince, a beautiful maiden, and a sulky dwarf.”
Repeat this sentence while using different intonations and stressing different parts of the sentence. Observe how the meaning implied by those intonations change the way the person hearing the story perceives the protagonists.
Example: (happy tone) “Once upon a time, there was a great prince, (wistful tone) a beautiful maiden, (ominous tone) and a sulky dwarf.”
This is a classic representation, the happy tone at the beginning let us think this will be a fairy tale, with the prince as the hero, then the wistful tone let us think that the maiden is the quest, and the ominous tone indicates that the dwarf is probably the antagonist. Now repeat the sentence with other tones:
(ominuous tone)“Once upon a time,…. there was a great prince, (wistful tone) a beautiful maiden, (playful tone) and a sulky dwarf.”
Here we enter a world where there is already something bad that happened. Apparently, the tone let us think that surprisingly, the antagonist will be a Prince, maybe severe in his ruling, with a maiden to save and the reluctant hero being a Dwarf.
Again, with other tones:
(playful tone) “Once upon a time, (wistful tone) there was a great prince, (epic tone) a beautiful maiden, (laughing tone) and a sulky dwarf.”
Here the intonation lets us think that we are in a fairy tale, with saving a great prince maybe being the quest, the beautiful maiden being a fierce hero, and a sulky dwarf being her reluctant side-kick.
This exercise is designed to emphasize how tone can be essential to the perception of some events for children and it can be played with to give hints, more meaning, to mislead even, or to play with genres while telling a tale.
Take up a dialog in one of your favorite tales and tell it while making different voices for the different protagonists. Play on the intonations and characteristics of the voice: high-pitched, rough, slow or fast, low baritone, lisp, or a speech tic, etc… and see what mental image it creates in the mind of the receiver. Play around with the voices, and experiment. Some contrasts can also create a humorous effect, such as a troll with a high-pitched voice. The unexpected often leads to laughter.
Choose one of your favorite and best-known stories. In the space you are in, divide it in zones that will be attached to different emotions. For example: Sadness, Happiness, Anger. Once the zones are clearly established in your space, tell your tale to an imaginary public (or it can be someone you trust if you want feedback) while walking around in the space. Each time you cross into a new zone, modulate your voice in order to express the emotion attached to the zone. See how it tends to change the perception of the story.
Better yet, make the same exercise, with a story invented on the spot and see how the different emotions will lead the story to a specific ending and have a special dynamic to it.