What to do if you lecture in a monotone voice

I’ve had plenty of students criticize my teaching over the years, but no one has ever accused me of lecturing in a monotone voice. On the other hand, this is a common complaint I’ve heard about other instructors including a colleague who approached me the other day for advice on what he could do about it. I had no idea, but I did know this was a perfect question for the POD mailing list! If you’re a college teacher and you’ve never heard of the Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Network in Higher Education, you are really missing out on some great discussion of teaching in higher ed, and a community of folks who both know a lot and really care.

So I posted the question to the POD list, and, as expected, was immediately deluged with helpful responses. The first kind of advice I got was about how to actually improve speaking quality:

  • Take voice lessons (singing and/or theatre). Many theatre departments offer workshops that are reported to be effective.
  • Take a Dale Carnegie course
  • Take acting lessons.
  • Join Toastmasters to get feedback and see great speakers in action.
  • Monotone can come from lack of intonation or lack of variation in speaking pace. These can be worked on individually.

The second kind of advice was about changing his lecturing style or avoiding it all together:

  • Lecture less. “Shift to an active learning model with 10 minute bursts of explanation or debriefing sessions.”
  • “Weave more stories into his material” “Build in some places for unscripted interaction with the class” “The freedom gained in these moments often translates to more vocal range in other types of classroom teaching.”
  • In addition to lecturing with statements, ask questions and make exclamations!
  • Work on non-verbal communication by moving around the room, using hands for emphasis, and looking students in the eye.

Of course, as another POD’er points out, if the problem is due to low physical energy or a lack of enthusiasm for teaching, it’s probably better to treat the root cause.

The complete original responses in the POD mailing list archive contain more information, and I highly recommend reading them if you’re interested in the topic.