Vocal Lessons Article

#49 Speak Right and the Seven Dwarves


It is understood that everyone has their own communication style. However, when your repetitive speaking behavior gets more attention than what you’re saying, and can be categorized by listeners, you have sadly become a type. The problem is that we don’t often recognize that we are slipping into being a talker type.

Take a moment to peruse this adorable short list of Talker Types: Speedy, Softy, Smiley, Creepy, Filler, Chop and Groucho. We all know individuals who fall into one or more of these categories. As a nod to the famous children’s fable, part one of Talker Types is entitled, “Speak Right and the Seven Dwarves”. If you have ever felt the sensation of being one these types, review the corresponding action steps you can take to start to get yourself back on track to more effective speech.

Our first character is Speedy, the Fast Talker. Speedy can’t slow down his speech. No one is quite sure if it’s because he is nervous, or running out of breath, or afraid of the silence in between his words. It actually could be all of these behaviors. Speedy needs to realize that people do have the time to hear what he has to say. They really are empathetic listeners. He also needs to incorporate more gesturing and body language into his communication style, remembering that effective speech is a full body experience. Breathing is considered body language, too. So, take a deep breath Speedy and slow it down!

Our next delightful character is Softy, the Whisperer. Softy thinks of himself as being shy but everybody knows that his problem is simply a lack of commitment to speaking. He doesn’t know what it feels like to be truly speaking “on breath” with good diaphragm support. Softy isn’t even sure if he breathes when he speaks, which is silly because there is not speech without breath. No breath support means increased tension to Softy’s articulators and muscles surrounding his larynx and vocal cords. This repetitive behavior keeps Softy’s voice very, very soft... What?

Let’s take a good look at Smiley, the Frozen Face. Smiley means well. After all, he is always smiling! But the constant smiling can often seem disingenuous. No one is ever sure if that smile is real. Smiley is a victim of vocal “spread”. The sides of his mouth widen in an attempt to articulate more clearly. Smiley needs to create better vowel space in his lower, elongated vowels and keep his articulation more vertical. Freeing up his face will allow Smiley to truly express his thoughts. Smiley is a very deep thinker. Who knew?

Next up on our list is Creepy, the Death Starer. Just like Smiley, Creepy does not mean to look the way he does. Creepy desperately wants to keep a listener’s attention. He believes that by making constant eye contact when speaking he will stay connected. The problem is that Creepy’s listeners need an unguarded moment. In most conversations, listeners make eye contact about 80% of the time, speakers only about 50%. Look away, Creepy, look away! Let us see your thought process and invite us into your world.

All of the other dwarves love having Filler, the Ummer around. He makes them all feel smarter than they really are. Filler can’t stop himself from inserting “um” or “like” or “uh” into every sentence - many, many times. Just like Speedy and Creepy, Filler is afraid of losing his listener. He is also very uncertain about what he thinks he wants to say next. Filler doesn’t realize that he needs to focus on better diaphragmatic breath support. He needs to be able to pause more effectively by stopping and starting his breath. This would give him a moment to consider what he wants to say next. Filler, “um” is not even a word. Think about that!

No one is smarter than Chop, the Stilted Talker. The way he snaps off his words and tightens his jaw and articulators you know he really knows what he’s talking about. What Chop doesn’t know is that people have a hard time following his train of thought. His pitch is so monotone and his rhythm so irregular that his words don’t have a chance to flow together. It all comes back to good breath support. Chop needs to connect to his breath and use it to allow for better continuity. Speaking on breath would give his jaw and articulators a much needed chance to relax. Stop Chop, stop!

Last of the dwarves but certainly not least is Groucho, the Eyebrow Talker. Groucho isn’t grouchy. It’s his antics that remind us of one of the famous movie Marx Brothers. Groucho’s facial movements are astounding! And he doesn’t even know he’s making them. The unnecessary facial movements are triggered by inefficient articulation. Along with his dancing eyebrows, Groucho’s lips flail like a dog eating peanut butter. He needs to relax his entire vocal apparatus by connecting to his breath and realizing that when it comes to articulation, less really is more.

Finally, we have the lovely character of Speak Right. She is the ultimate vision of poise, maturity and clarity of speech. When she speaks, you understand that she is truly speaking her mind; that she is truly present and “in the moment”. Speak Right invites you into her world and you gladly go along for the ride. Of course, each of our adorable seven dwarves is in love with Speak Right. They would love to be Speak Right. Sadly, Speak Right always seems to be just out of reach. She is so wonderful and yet so unattainable. The moral of this story is that by taking the necessary action steps no one needs to sit around simply wishing, “Some day my voice will come.”

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Paul Geiger

Paul Geiger

Associate Speech Coach at New York Speech Coaching