Voice Tips For The Advocate

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“Hear, Hear!” – Voice for the Advocate

Credit: Darwin Bell via Flickr

GDL student Imogen Proud writes about the things she picked up from a workshop held at [1] The City Law School on 'Voice training for advocates'.

Ever wondered how to have a long fall in your voice? Daydreamed about talking more like Thatcher? Or pondered why on earth it would be beneficial to have a face like a cat’s bum? Look no further…

“What passes in everyday life will not stand the test of performance”.

...So started Debbie Chatting’s workshop on voice for the advocate.

As part of her MA in Voice Studies, Debbie has spoken to top judges in courts across London to try to pry from them their pet hates when it comes to advocates speaking in court. Common themes quickly emerged. Frequent complaints were levelled against mumblers on the one hand and “machine gun” talkers on the other. But of course, its not just judges we advocates must consider. Losing the jury… or – infinitely worse – never getting them in the first place, could prove fatal to your case.

So, with these mild and thinly-veiled threats firmly in place, I present to you a selection of 20 gems of voice tips with which we were furnished at last week’s workshop.

Tips start here...

  • Margaret Thatcher naturally had a ‘light’ (thin and high) voice which she consciously lowered to add gravitas. Experiment with lowering your voice to add weight. This need not be a drastic and permanent measure – it could be done sporadically to add effect.
  • Everyday voice doesn't use a huge range of pitch. However, we find voices with a bigger pitch range more interesting, and can listen to them for longer. Consciously try to use more of your pitch range to add interest to your voice. It will help you keep the jurors engaged and on your side!
  • Listen out for the larger-than-everyday range of pitches used in TV voiceovers – they are a useful example for barristers.
  • A rise in pitch at the end of a sentence is warm and non-threatening. It can be useful when examining or addressing the jury.
  • On the other hand stepping down in pitch for the final word of a sentence is emphatic and drives a point home. It may prove useful in cross-examination.
  • A “long fall” is a drop in tone across a whole sentence and can be a threatening tool – particularly when combined with a slowing down.
  • Experiment with rising and falling pitch even within a single word eg yes or no. A “yes” which rises and then falls sounds very sceptical and is useful during cross-examination.
Get that tongue moving! Credit: Laenulfean via Flickr
  • Warm up your voice before public speaking, particularly if you will not have spoken yet that day.
  • Part one of any warm up should increase blood supply to the lips. A good way to do this is to alternate between a wide cheesy grin and making your mouth look like a cat’s bum. Then say a sentence or two hugely over-using your lips.
  • If you warm up your tongue your words will be more sharply formed which gives the impression of knowing what you are talking about. To warm up your tongue: drop your jaw, stick out your tongue, and play “flat tongue, fat tongue”. This involves trying to make your tongue go as flat as possible then as fat as possible. Best not done on the tube!
  • Finish off your warm up by humming. Firstly hum on a variety of fixed notes. Then do some humming patterns where you move from note to note.
  • Your voice does not always convey the emotion or tone which you think it does. If you have an important point to make in court, practise on a friend and ask them to tell you what tone they think they are receiving from you – you may be surprised by what they say!
  • Anything which makes your listener have to work extra hard to understand you will ultimately make them resentful and perhaps less likely to agree with you. This definitely includes mumbling.
  • Give your listener processing time. Remember that this is the first time they will have heard these words in this combination before and will need some time to work out their meaning.
  • If you ever have to speak sitting down: put your bottom right to the back of the chair, make your spine as straight as possible, don't cross your legs. This will make the sound convey better.
Water is your best friend! Credit: Enid Martindale via Flickr
  • This sitting position will also keep your body in “alert mode” ready to answer any questions which come your way. A more sloppy, relaxed sitting position can trigger your brain to go into “hibernate” mode.
  • If you have a controversial word or phrase in what you are saying, pause longer on it. This makes it clear that you really mean it and haven’t strayed into controversial territory accidentally. It also gives your audience time to realise they ought to be shocked!
  • Breath is key to persuasive speaking. It is better to have a longer pause in which you take a full breath than to speak on a half breath. A full breath makes you sound convincing whereas talking on the half-breath comes across as nervous.

And finally… two old chestnuts:

  • Always pour yourself a glass of water before you start
  • If you need a moment’s thinking time, have a sip of water!