One of the most important aspects of the voice coaching workshop centred around warming up your voice in order to attain the full vocal range. Picture a room full of seemingly insane people – heads lolling about in circles, mouths making buzzing and, bluntly, farting noises. No, you haven’t walked into an lunatic asylum – this is the kind of thing you have to get used to doing if you want to use your voice to it’s full effect. The end purpose of this is to push your voice out of the sometimes monotone quality it can have if you launch into a speech unprepared. The warm-up will make your voice more ‘flexible’ and lead to a more easy and varied tone, which is known to increase engagement in listeners.
Now, I thought, that makes sense, and is certainly something I can use for workshops in my day-to-day work. But what about the other type of lecturing I do, ie. ‘speaking’ to learners online? Is it possible to introduce a varied tone in your writing, and if so, how? What takes a particularly monotonous, ‘monotone’ piece of text and makes it interesting, engaging and varied in tone?
Tutors and trainers, whether in education or business, are often thrown into teaching with the expectation that they will succeed simply due to their expert status. The old problem was that of lecturers, experts in their area, simply not being able to engage their students due to their lack of presentation and public speaking skills. The new problem is that trainers and tutors now have to write thousands of words of training materials while not necessarily having any great writing skills.
Naturally, those that land a job in this area will be hugely knowledgeable in their field, and will no doubt have an excellent standard of written english. But as I discovered in the voice coaching workshop earlier today, there’s a big difference between being able to speak correctly and being able to speak in an interesting and engaging manner.
Writing well is a highly skilled process – car manufacturers wouldn’t dream of trying to write advertising copy themselves for examples, they will have professional writers and marketers for such a task. The same is becoming true of the video games industry, going through somewhat of an upheaval at the moment, as they realise that they simply can’t write plots and stories themselves any more. To compete with films and TV they need professional writers delivering professional writing.
Thousands and thousands of pages of training materials are being produced day-in day-out, but are they effective? The content may be good, but will it engage the learner and actually make a difference? Perhaps we need to do more work on training staff in writing techniques, or having systems to alter works to make it more engaging. Imagine a team of proffessional writers taking in raw learning content from academics and producing an endless supply of stimulating, engagement learning resources. There’s no question that the current university model would struggle to support this financially, but given doubly engaged students and reduced drop-out and fail rates would it be worth it.
Of course this is all conjecture, it may not have that much of an effect, but let’s think about the number of academic books out there at the moment. Lecturers and students will recommend texts based on how accessible and stimulating they found them. Therefore, discounting the most obscure of subjects, noone has to suffer through a dull, dull account or their area when a better written alternative is available. Course notes, however, have no such alternative, and students will struggle through with no help in sight.
I still remember many painful hours as an undergraduate reading through papers and books written by experts in the field with no idea how to spice up a subject bar a quick sprinkling of some exotic and obscure language. Is it time to acknowledge that being an academic doesn’t automatically infer a talent for writing? I would say yes… but then I might tomorrow be handed a copy of, ‘Maximum Likelihood Cointegration Rank Test Statistics,’ and asked, “Spice this up a little bit would you?”