Vocal Lessons Article

#26 Continuity

2013-11-17

The percentage of “continuity” in a person’s speaking voice is one of the greatest indicators of credibility, comfort, and confidence.

Continuity is the ability to join words together on a single unbroken exhale. This means speaking within punctuation without disrupting the air.

When we disrupt the air, it’s like a teenager learning to drive in a parking lot. Stopping and starting… moving only a few feet at a time. When you incorporate continuity of air into your conversations and presentations, you can grow from a 15 year-old novice to Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Let’s look at an example to better understand the concept of continuity.

Take a big, deep breath and try to execute the following sentence with NO silence in between words. Let each one flow into the next as though it were one long word.

Nowisthetimeforallgoodmentocometotheaidoftheircountry.

That’s speaking with continuity.

Now try reading the following example of poor continuity aloud as written… observing the punctuation.

So. Um. Now… is the … uh time for, for, for… All good.. eh.. men to um…… come to to the. Aid. Of their country.

There are several obstructions to the flow of the sentence; long pauses, vocalized pauses, repeating words, and glottal stops. This disrupts the continuity of the speaker’s thought and undermines his or her credibility. You may be absolutely honest and certain of what you’re saying, but you’re talking the same way a liar would speak. You’re searching and stuttering through your thoughts.

You can also think of good continuity as being similar to singing. Think of “Ooooohhhhbeeeaauuuutifuuulfooorspaaaaciousskiiiies.” Notice how when you sing the phrase you don’t stop in between the words. There is a continuous flow of air from one into the next. This is the same way we want to think of speaking; “sing” the words.

A couple of caveats about continuity:

  1. Remember that continuity does not inherently equal talking faster. Though your sentences will likely take less time without all the superfluous noises, you don’t have to race through just because you’re connecting words. That’s why it can be helpful to think of it as singing. You can still take your time by elongating the vowels. If you are finding it difficult to get from one punctuation mark to the next with enough air, you’ll want to work on breath regulation.
  2. It is entirely impractical to think that you can speak with 100% continuity (no mistakes, pauses, or glottals within a phrase) at all times. Firstly, of course no one’s perfect. We will all need to stop and think occasionally at places other than punctuation marks. Secondly, there will be numerous instances where we will CHOOSE to pause for the sake of style. 100% continuity would be devoid of personal style – just like a pianist playing music exactly as written. So there can be occasional accidental and deliberate violations of continuity, but as a general principle, the greater the percentage of continuity, the more effective the message and more credible the speaker.

There are four primary enemies to continuity.

  1. Long pauses. This is when you have long periods of silence within a phrase. Let me be explicit: long, contemplative pauses are fine! When used with discretion, these can convey power and give you opportunity to think. Don’t mistakenly believe that pauses are “bad”, rather, know when to pause. Pause. On. Punctuation. It’s built in for you to pause there! Periods, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, hyphens – pause and breathe! Take your time to get a good solid inhale and gather your thoughts. But long pauses that are NOT on punctuation make your speech sound disjointed. Let one word flow into the next; no pauses within punctuation.
  2. Vocalized pauses. Perhaps the most ubiquitous culprit, vocalized pauses are completely unnecessary. People are forgiving if you speak using them, but listeners are impressed when you can speak without them. “Um” and “uh” (along with “y’know”, “like”, and countless others) are not only often an impediment to the flow of air, they clutter your speech. There is no place for them in conversation or speeches. REPLACE them with an inhale.
  3. Repeating words. “The, the, the thing we’re here to discuss,” Nope. Think first, then speak. Let the first two ‘the’s’ be replaced with silent thought. Then come in with the third (and only) ‘the.’ “The thing we’re here to discuss” as opposed to “the, the, the thing.”
  4. Glottal stops. This is frequently the hardest concept for people to grasp. Glottal stops – for our purposes in this instance – are essentially found on words that are or begin with vowel sounds. “a” or “um” or “apple” or “or.” The way you produce the initial sound of those words involves closing off the air in the glottis via cord closure. That disrupts airflow. When the word occurs in a phrase, connect it with the previous word. For example, “The air” would not involve a pause in between those words. Rather, it would be pronounced. “The yair.” There is no silence… you use the “y” sound to connect the words instead of stopping and closing off that hard “a”. If it begins a phrase, try not to make the closure too intense. “I” frequently starts a phrase or sentence; try to use plenty of breath / looser cords for the beginning of the sound so it doesn’t sound abrasive or harsh. Some people worry a lack of glottals on words will adversely affect articulation. They use glottals, in fact, in an effort to speak with clarity. A lack of glottals and clarity are not mutually exclusive. One simply need be aware and chew carefully.

Practice reading aloud first. When you arrive at a punctuation mark, breathe. Then proceed to join all the words together (at a normal rate) until the next punctuation mark. Once you get the hang of it, you can try incorporating it into spontaneous speech and conversation!

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John West

John West

Head of New York Speech Coaching