Listen for What and Imitate How
Speeches that are good examples for imitation
Speaker Examples from Ted.com
For any video on Ted.com, regardless of how fast or slow the speaker is actually speaking, it’s easier to notice the speech features we’re listening for if the recording speed is slowed down. In “settings” choose .75x to slow the speed down.
Use the transcript when available to be able to quickly jump forward or backward to hear specific parts of sentences again.
Imitating good speakers is a great way to practice awareness of what another speaker is doing to emphasize important words and to practice controlling your voice to emphasize those same words in the same way (listen for higher pitch and/or longer vowel duration). While you’re imitating, why not hear some interesting information at the same time? Here are some of my favorites.
Content about speaking skills
Julian Treasure, “How to speak so that people want to listen”
The first half of this talk is about what people talk about and the second half is about how people say it. He demonstrates the different speech features in our “toolbox” of choices.
What is speaking without listening? His talk “5 Ways to Listen Better” is also an excellent choice for information and imitation.
Speakers who are clear examples
Intonation easy to notice, fluent, clear:
Janet Echelman, “Taking imagination Seriously”
I have used this talk by Janet Echelman for years in my classes. I came across her talk on Ted when looking for good examples of speakers. My test for a good speaker is when I notice that I have stopped analyzing how they are speaking and have become immersed in their story. I find her story and artwork fascinating but I also love the quality of her voice, it’s very calm and soothing.
I use her as a good example of list intonation. When you have a list of adjectives, you start with a high pitch and step down in pitch on each following adjective. Listen for this in the second sentence of her talk:
“Today, I'm using it to create permanent, billowing, voluptuous forms the scale of hard-edged buildings in cities around the world.”
Exaggerated Intonation, very wide pitch range:
Angela Duckworth, “Grit: The power of passion and perseverance”
I use this Angela Duckworth talk as an example of very wide pitch range. She is an unmistakable example of the American English intonation pattern that starts on a high pitch and steps down in pitch to the end of the sentence and falls/stretches on the final word.
Variety of speech features: pitch, stretching, pausing, changing pace:
Dan Pink, “The Puzzle of Motivation”
Dan Pink is a good example of using a variety of speech features for emphasis. Sometimes his pace is very fast so this is one that you should definitely use a slower speed to listen to so you can catch these features. He uses higher pitch, stretches vowels much longer, speeds up and slows down the pace, and uses pausing for emphasis.
Not on Ted.com
Using more stretching of vowels for emphasis than higher pitch:
“What’s in Your Backpack?” speech by George Clooney (movie: “Up in the Air”)
This is my go-to example of using more stretching of vowels for emphasis than using higher pitch. If you can’t figure out why a word is easier to notice than others because you can’t hear a big change in pitch, it’s usually because the speaker is stretching the vowels longer.
Using pitch and stretching for emphasizing contrasts:
I have to thank Cal for using this scene from Seinfeld in an accent modification class as an example of special emphasis. It’s easy to notice and fun to imitate. Thank you, Cal, I’m still using it!