As instructors, we spend a lot of time looking for just the right music. Rhythms that will rock the room and grooves that practically reach into our gut and subconsciously energize our rider”™s legs. Do we look for the same dynamic quality in our voices? Let”™s face it, we are the vocals — the lead singer during our classes. If you took my challenge last week, you should already have a video of your teaching and can now review with an ear for vocal dynamics. If not, bring a recording device to your next class (most laptops and smartphones have a built-in recorder) and get some vocal samples as you teach. If you can, record the entire class. Here are some things to listen for:
M O N O T O N E
Does your voice change pitch while you teach? No, I don”™t mean “crack”. It can make for a long class when the instructor sounds like the pre-recorded voice of a GPS unit or a long-winded auctioneer. Now it is very rare (I hope) that an instructor will remain monotone throughout and entire class. However, some of the places I”™ve heard this laid-back, emotion-lacking speak is during times of recovery or when an instructor is describing an all-to common drill. Listen for emotion and energy, and more important, a variety.
One Volume / One Energy Level
Equally as lack-luster is instructing at the same volume and energy level — even if the volume and energy is LOUD and HIGH. It can have the same effect as a sugar rush. The class starts off with a BANG but since the energy is so high, there is no place for it to go. Eventually, riders will tune the instructor out or not emphasize the right parts of the ride because...well...everything is being emphasized. Both the energy and the volume need to be fluid and rise and fall with the intensity and focus of the class (which should also have flow to tit). Listen for how you “vocally” take your riders through drills and hard efforts. Does your volume and energy change? Is there a difference in your vocal dynamics between working efforts and times of recovery?
Now since you are teaching with music, having some rhythm to your phrases and instructions can be a real plus. You don”™t have to develop the swagger of a rapper, but maybe somewhere in between Eminem and William Shatner. Regardless of whether you are using instrumental or music with vocals, listen for the rhythm of the lyrics or phrasing of the melody and try to work with it. I”™m not talking about actually singing here, but placing your cues and instruction strategically so the music compliments or adds dramatic effect to your words (this may be a future Audio PROfile since I”™m probably doing a poor job articulating this in writing). Another example is counting. If you are counting in and out of efforts — try to count on the beat. If you really want to go for the big finish, count down so that you end at the same time as the music. BAM!
This might sound silly, but I believe instructors should be sensitive to the “times” at which they teach. Like in “time of day”. There is very often a big difference in the NEEDED energy level between a coffee-induced 5:30am class and a buzzing 6:30pm class. I”™m not saying you should force either class to comply to a pre-determined level of energy and excitement, but rather be sensitive to where your riders are at depending on the time of day. For example, entering the 5:30am class as an uncontrollable ball of energy may be too much (and quite frankly, annoying). You don”™t want them to stay in their drunken stupor either, but rather slowly (maybe over a 10-minute period) ease them out as you build on the energy with both your voice and music. On the other hand, I”™ve seen instructors make the mistake of squashing the high-energy of a jailbreak evening class. Everyone is chatting and the energy is bouncing off the walls, and then the instructor says “OK quiet down people”. Don”™t do THAT! Go with it. Build on it. Join in and commend them for such a spankin vibe. Let them hear in your voice that you are just as excited as they are as your direct their energy into the ride.
The Power Whisper
That”™s right. A well-placed whisper can be a powerful thing. It can be the undercurrent that grabs a rider”™s emotions during a trance-like rhythm. It can even be a driving motivator during super-intense efforts like the finish of a grueling climb. Give it a try.
Leave Some Space
Quick simply — are we talking too much. Is there space between our coaching and instruction to allow riders to settle in? One of my riders told me that he loves when I leave him alone with a groovin”™ rhythm (don”™t ask me to try to describe that). I believe him too. During one of the groove-ridden sections of class I”™ll look over and there he is in his own world - eyes closed and gently drifting to the pulse of the music. How much space do you leave? How comfortable are you with leaving space? Can you not talk for 15 seconds....30 seconds or even a minute? (I detect a challenge in there somewhere)
Different Ride — Different Vibe
Different types of rides can require a different teaching style and vocal dynamic altogether. If you lead every ride the same, you risk appearing like one of those Hollywood actors that play the same character regardless of the movie (i.e. Bruce Willis, Will Ferrell, Cameron Diaz...). Get into the role! If you are going to get down with some serious training, get your coach hat on. If you”™re winding your way up a mountain road, be one of the riders and encourage people to follow you. If you are doing a race day or stage of the Tour de France, do your best Phil Liggett.
Protecting Your Voice
On a serious note, please use a mic and protect your voice. I wrote an entire post on this in the past. Besides keeping your voice healthy, a microphone will often help you indulge or improve the above vocal dynamics. It is no big mystery why instructors who don”™t use a mic YELL ALL THE TIME. I”™ve not heard one instructor who claims they can teach just fine without a mic (or their room is so small it doesn”™t require one), demonstrate the least bit of vocal dynamics. As far as I know, there are no awards for the best “non-mic”™d” instructor, so give in and give your class some dynamics.
Can you teach without music? Let”™s find out. While you are recording your class, turn off the music for 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes of whatever you think you can handle. Can you still hold the room captive? Is there still excitement and energy in the air? For the unabridged test, shut off the music during both a time of recovery AND while you coach riders through a tough effort.
Let”™s increase the impact of what we say...and don”™t say.
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Another great post on voice, Tom.
I come from a theater background and I encourage anyone who uses their voice to do more than transmit information to take one or more lessons from a vocal coach. Our voice is not unlike any other part of our performance – the more we understand how it works, how to care for it and how to maximize its effectiveness – the more successful we will be in the long term. Time spent with a good coach is a small investment in your future.
I you like theatre, you should attend the zoning session in Boston. Amy & I are hosting.