An Appreciation of Yodeling

When was the last time you yodeled? In our super shiny digital age this pastime has been consigned as a relic of a prehistoric, and rather naff, era in history when fun was defined by methods of cheap (ergo free) entertainment.

However, fun it was, and across the world, between the 1920s – 1940s, have a go yodeling was king. Such was its popularity that a form of the yodel became ingrained in popular culture, courtesy of the Tarzan call immortalised by Johnny Weismuller.

So why am I yodeling on about yodeling? Well, it’s not just because the yodel could be making a comeback – the Lucerne University of Applied Arts and Sciences has just added a yodeling degree to its curriculum – but because the yodel can teach us how to use the voice more effectively when public speaking.

How? Well, being able to command a room with your sound requires an acknowledgement of just what the voice is capable of. Let’s be honest, when was the last time you did anything more than take your voice for granted as a communication medium with just one setting – a volume knob to vary it up and down?

However, being able to tweak the voice to adjust to your surroundings and project gravitas and personality brings huge advantages to a speaker. This can be achieved by using your breathing and being aware of where the sound of your voice is coming from – throat, chest, or lower diaphragm.

The yodel is a fantastic illustration of how one can manipulate the voice, by changing register very quickly between the ‘head ’ and the ‘chest’,  the two distinctive registers of the human voice. Most of the time we use the head voice, as we are projecting into the near distance in the form of conversation.

We tend to switch to the chest voice when we are shouting or calling – if you have a dog or a teenager you will invariably be better practised at this – or pitching our voice to an audience. Without having to go the full yodel, varying your pitch during a presentation ensures your material is better absorbed and creates impact.

The best example I can give on this point is to ask you to imagine public speaking like driving on a motorway. If you went from A to B in the middle lane, without changing speed, you would certainly arrive at your destination, but boy what a dull ride it would be!

I suppose you could say that beatboxing has become the new yodelling. Beatboxing is the use of voice to produce a myriad of percussive sounds that emulate musical instruments. From its roots in early hip hop, it has become an art form in itself. Artists such as Tom Thum and the highly imaginative Beardyman have attracted huge audiences via their Youtube videos, inspiring followers of all ages to have a go – Over to you Beatbox granny.

While I am not prescribing attending beatbox classes to improve your public speaking skills, exploring the potential of what your voice can do is certainly something I most definitely recommend. It is far too often neglected as an effective tool in the box of presentation tricks, and you don’t have to be Frank Ifield (he of the legendary Yodeling Song) to master it.

Luan de Burgh

February 2018

Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of de Burgh Training – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.