child holding stuffed toy that looks like winnie the pooh in forest

This month I am reflecting on a trip I took this summer with my children ( the ABCC gang) to East Sussex Whilst we were there we made a compulsory trip to AA Milne’s Pooh Stick Bridge at Ashurst Forest ( aka the hundred acre woods). Of course we chose our sticks wisely and played pooh sticks there. I think this must have been one of the first games I taught them that we all enjoy in equal measure. 

Whilst I was there I was reminded of the poem/song ‘Halfway Down the Stairs’ recited by Christopher Robin, who is in charge of all the animals in AA Milne’s hundred acre woods, and I realised just how important this poem has been to Voice Care.

I have used this poem in my work since 1998 I think for a variety of purposes and actually more with adult students than with children. My favourite thing about it is it’s versatility. I can demonstrate how differently this sweet verse can sound when we change the inflection of our voice and it has been my go to poem to practise vocal care, varying pace, pitch and projection with teachers’ workshops across the U.K. 

Let me explain; Imagine you are giving directions to someone but the directions are the words of the poem. You say the words on the left but you think the words on the right.

Halfway down the stairs, is a stair where I sit…. halfway down the street

There isn’t any other stair quite like it…. It’s clearly signposted

It’s not at the bottom, it’s not at the top… Don’t go left, don’t go right

So this is the stair where I always stop… Then you’ll see it ahead

Christopher Robin by AA Milne

Now imagine that you are telling a ghost story. You would no doubt use more dramatic pause here whereas in the first example you might over articulate to get your point across so the traveller does not get lost. With the ghost story, you might  use a low voice and clip the end of your words, altering the pace to build tension and bring the final line to a climatic end;

And all sorts of funny thoughts race around my head, it isn’t really anywhere, it’s somewhere else instead.

These exercises are perfect for training actors so they can display meaning in their words for an audience but they are also useful for us in everyday communication.

Just the other day, a friend spoke abruptly to me and I was taken aback. Work Beth might have advised a different tone in her voice and probably a different use of language ( or nothing at all needing to be said  if I am honest) but the tone of voice was what I experienced the most and that is what stays with me with this awkward encounter.  I hear of employers “saying it how it is” and not “ beating around the bush” and this being their way of managing staff and “ getting the job done” when the staff are left feeling a  little emotionally bruised by the experience and perhaps less productive as a result. 

I have been a coach for those who have English as their second language and sometimes I need to explain that we have a way of “beating around the bush” in our British society and a more direct tone and shortening of phrases can be seen as rude or arrogant. It is all how things are perceived and we could all do with having a variety of ways of saying the same thing! 

What is my point here? (I realise I am not always direct in my approach and I can waffle for Wales as 1-1 and groups of Voice Care have all experienced over the years!)

My point is, it is not always what you say, it is often how you say it.

When we are communicating , our intention is everything. We might not mean any harm but if there is a hint of aggression, abruptness, lack of empathy, impatience, condescension or boredom in our speaking voice then that is what the listener experiences. We cannot always watch ourselves and we will make vocal mistakes every day but we can also learn from these when we get it right the next time and we get a better result.

Happy Talking!