Presentation Skills Training: Pirate Talk and Pitch Variation

Posted by Bridget Beirne
September 19, 2013

Who knew pirate talk could be part of your presentation skills training!

Get ready to swab the decks, because today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day! While we may forgo the parrots and puffy shirts, we can take advantage of the vocal discoveries Pirate Talk (and other adventures in creative mimicry) can develop when preparing for a presentation.

Pitch is the music in your voice- the highs and lows in the cadence of our speech. As children, we learn that speech with a lot of pitch variation holds our interest- think about the sing-songy tones parents often use when communicating with small children. We're hardwired from that early age to find pitch variation interesting. That holds especially true when we are giving a presentation.

presentation skills training 8What does that have to do with giving out a "yo-ho-ho" on Talk Like a Pirate Day? Simple. Sometimes we don't utilize all of the capabilities of our own voices. We may get stuck in repetitive cadences, upspeak, downspeak, high-pitched Kewpie doll talk, or low and gravely vocal fry. Mimicking the vocal patterns of others can break us free of our own mold, and open our ears to new tones and cadences that have fallen by the wayside. (Incidentally, actors often do this with monologues, Shakespearean soliloquies and the like- you can often unlock not only new pitch options, but a new meaning to the content.)

Does that mean we're asking you to deliver your next presentation as though you are under the Jolly Roger? Absolutely not. But working some of these vocal exercises into your rehearsal process can shake things up. Next time you're rehearsing, take a break and deliver your content as:


1) A Pirate: And today is the perfect day to do it! Growl, titter, and aarrrrrrgh your way through some content. Pirates tend to have a lot of "starts and stops" to their speech, so remember to play with your pace, as well!


2) If you were speaking to a room of 3 year olds: Deliver your presentation as if you were in front of a pre-school class. Allow your voice to discover all of the highs and lows inherentin talking to children. Note any places where something interesting, useful or unexpected happens.


3) "Bueller. Bueller. Bueller...": Do your best Ben Stein impression. Stein has made a career out of relatively monotone speech with a repetitive cadence- feel what it's like to mimic that. Did it introduce a few new lows? Is it a bit too comfortable, signaling a need to take the pitch up in your own speech? Let Ben be your guide.



4) Down in the valley: Make like a material girl and revisit the 80s with your content. Valley girls were known for their tendency towards upspeak (gag us with a spoon!), but they also made use of their upper vocal registers quite effectively. Apply the Stein approach here, as well- keep track of new pitch or delivery choices in your content. If it seems too similar to your current speech patterns, it's time to, like, make a change.


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