Autumn Voice Work Review: Alignment

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Image from this website

 

 

Hey Friends,

The summer is almost over, and that means our drama school students are gearing up to go back to school, and our public speaking students may be faced with a flurry of new presenting opportunities. If you’ve been a little lazy with your voice work this summer (which I’m sure you haven’t!), then this is the first in a series of audio clips which is designed to get you back into your groove. We’ll be reviewing different aspects of voice work with you and reminding you how to be specific.

This week, we’re looking at alignment. We have other great alignment sequences which you can listen to here and here as well, if this makes you hungry for more.

Please let us know how it goes. We would especially love to hear from our drama school students– what else would you like to review as you are heading back to school? Email us or leave a comment below.

Take good care,

Christine and Lindsay

Sustained Articulation Power-Up!

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Photo Note: This amazing photo is from Pinterest and it only makes sense if you listen to this post. Otherwise just enjoy the crushing cuteness.

Hello Friends!

So we are in the *ahem* dog days of summer (had to get it out of our system, but no more puns we promise), and thought it would be fun to send a beneficial yet silly exercise your way to liven up your presentation prep or kickstart a return to articulation work for performance after a languid summer. This is a brief articulation/sustaining support /sound wake-up workout with a touch of classic theatrical whimsy (meaning once it’s in your head it will probably never leave ).

Give into your goofy side and have fun with it!

We’d love to hear about your experience with this and some of your favorite articulation/breath/mind exercises in the comments section below.

Stay cool in these hot August days and take good care,

Lindsay and Christine

We Need to Fix the Media, Not Women’s Voices

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Recently, a major UK newspaper asked to interview me about my job as a voice coach. They sent over some potential questions they might ask, and all of them were about women. The questions included: ‘What can women do to make themselves sound more professional?’ and ‘Are there a lot of business women that hire voice coaches?’ When I did the interview, the journalist said the motivation for the piece was in response to a recent BBC Radio 4 Women’s Hour episode that discussed how difficult it can be for women to find vocal authority.

This is a topic that is very close to our hearts. As both voice coaches and women, we are in constant search over how we can find our own voices in the social and cultural landscape in which we exist. As a result, female vocal authority has been my topic of research for both my Master’s thesis and in professional contexts. Lindsay and I even presented on this very topic for the Being Human Festival at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in 2015.

We have avidly followed the growing media conversation about this subject, which is compulsively fixated on the topic of women’s voices and how they need to change them in order to be taken seriously. From Naomi Wolf’s article (one among many) telling women to stop using vocal fry, which is a habit of allowing a little creak into the voice that can come from either lack of breath support or pushing the pitch down, to women being told to stop talking like ‘valley girls’, which means ending their sentences on an upward pitch, making it sound like a question, to studies showing that both men and women prefer masculine (meaning low, deep) voices in their leaders. Selena Simmons-Duffin of NPR did an excellent segment on the growing phenomenon of criticizing women’s voices in 2014. In this segment, she amassed the six most common complaints about female voices: 1. their voices are too high 2. They sound like children 3. They don’t sound authoritative. 4. They’ve got vocal fry. 5. They end statements as questions. 6. Their voices are too low. Wait, what? Women’s voices are too high and too low? No wonder women are confused.

The current political landscape is adding fodder to this conversation. In the UK, the above-mentioned BBC Radio 4 interview played clips of Theresa May’s and Andrea Leadsom’s voices and had a voice coach compare them and discuss which one sounded more authoritative. They also played clips of Margaret Thatcher, who (in?)famously received vocal training to lower the tone of her voice to sound more authoritative. The voice coach on the program said Thatcher did sound more authoritative as a result of lowering her larynx, which respectfully we must say, we would never advise women to do. Lowering your larynx all the time, which causes you to speak in a lower pitch, would probably feel about as authentic to you as raising it all the time (which would cause you to speak in a higher pitch). If you are interested in sounding conventionally authoritative, I wrote an article about it on another blog which you can read here.

And in the US, while there are countless articles denouncing Donald Trump’s credibility based on his words and ideas, I have yet to come across an article that scrutinizes the tone of his voice (if you have come across one— please send it to me in the comments below!). Yes, there are many impressions of him, but that is not untypical of someone running for public office, especially in the US. Meanwhile, a quick google search of ‘Hillary Clinton Voice’ leads to dozens of articles about the “problems” with her voice, and why people hate it so much.

So, back to my (very prestigious) interview with this UK publication. Here are my answers to their questions.

What can women do to make themselves sound more professional?

I feel very passionate as a voice coach about reframing this question. The way this question is being asked implies that 50% of the population has a problem sounding professional. If half the population has that problem, we need to ask ourselves as a society what standard we are holding that population to. In my experience as a coach, my female clients feel they are not heard because they are expected to sound like men. And many of my clients, previous to receiving coaching, have tried to adapt to sound like men, to their disappointment, because it doesn’t feel authentic to them. Because they are not men!

So instead of asking this question, can we ask two different questions: 1. How can anyone and everyone find their authentic vocal authority? 2. What can we as a society do to create more room for more diverse types of voices, as opposed to holding everyone, both men and women, to an ancient, gendered standard of the masculine, low deep voice? (If you are interested in reading more about that, there are brilliant articles you can read  here and here.)

I approach coaching my clients by asking the first question of myself with every client I meet: How can I help this person find their own authentic vocal authority? Some clients are interested in having that classically authoritative sound, some are not. I am very committed to helping them feel grounded and authentic in their vocal choices, rather than making them feel like there is one type of authoritative sound.

2. Are there a lot of business women that hire vocal coaches?

Yes, but there are also a lot of business men that hire vocal coaches, and in my experience, it’s for the exact same reasons. They feel they aren’t being heard. They want more gravitas, more credibility. So while it’s absolutely true that men and women face different obstacles in the work place, I still approach both with the same question: How can I help this person find their own authentic vocal authority? Men also have difficulty living up to society’s masculinized ideal of authority. In the end, they too have to find their own authenticity.

While this interview did indeed occur, the paper did not publish it. It could be because it didn’t end up fitting with their other features that week, but I do wonder if it’s also because I didn’t give them the answers that they wanted. I wonder if they wanted me to be yet another voice coach in the media pathologizing women’s voices, and making women feel like their voices are something they need to fix.

Well we won’t do that. As voice coaches, we at BeSpoke Communication firmly believe that everyone can benefit from voice training, including women. Not because we all need to adhere to one specific kind of sound in order to be heard, but because it can be empowering to learn how to use your voice as a tool. So women, there is nothing wrong with your voices. If you want voice training in order to better use what you’ve already got, then let’s do it!

Christine

Champion Presence! Channeling Your Inner Olympian

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Happy Summer Olympics!

I always enjoy the Olympics and its been great watching the Rio games so far. My favorite Summer Olympics events are the gymnastics and equestrian competitions. The former because gymnasts capabilities boggle my brain and the latter because as a former Pony clubber (it’s a real thing, and it’s amazing), I love drawing on my amateur capabilities to commentate and speculate on the events.

As incredible as the athletic feats are, I am equally fascinated by the communication behaviors that occur on the “World Stage.” Given BeSpoke’s interests, how could I not be? It’s hard to think of an interesting factor of human experience that isn’t on view and up for discussion: emotion, pressure, triumph, loss, culture, gender, and social conditioning to name a few that regularly feature in coverage articles. All of this human experience occurs with cameras and commentary intensely spotlighting it, which athletes must reconcile as an additional layer in choosing how to communicate.

I’m convinced that with varying levels of consciousness, this smorgasbord of human interaction and behavior is just as much a draw to spectators as the flurry of arms and legs swimming the length of a pool. And maybe some of the fascination drives us to question what we would do in that scenario…how would our flashes of expression in victory and defeat be scrutinized? The podcast Hidden Brain has a fun piece on the science of analyzing this: http://www.npr.org/2016/08/02/487545238/olympic-victory-and-defeat-frame-by-frame. What I want to talk about is how we can learn from Olympians to take on our own World Stage moments with presence and gravitas.

Along with the rest of the world, I have been amazed by the performances from the United States women’s gymnastics team. Simone Biles has been setting the pace for the US team and the rest of the field. As a three-time all-around world champion it isn’t a surprise that she’s thriving in the highly pressurized Rio environment. And while her athletic prowess is dazzling, I am equally impressed by how grounded and open she is in the moments between competing. The communication skill generally proscribed to this behavior is Presence. She is not resisting being in the moment, which means her skills and instincts are not impeded by extraneous factors. She knows cameras and fans are watching and meets their collective gaze evenly, not allowing it to control her. The next time you find yourself on view, whether it’s a presentation, speech, audition, or wedding toast remember that energy expended on resisting being seen will draw energy from being fully available and present in performance. While you watch the Olympics see if you can spot how athletes use presence as an aid to competition.

Of course there are many other lovely communication skills on display at the Olympics, particularly around teamwork and nations coming together for the enjoyment and intensity of sport. There’s an optimism and joy in seeing the world come together, especially in a time where so much communication is polarized. So find your favorite events, watch some interesting back story interviews, and game on!

Let us know what interesting communication behavior you spot in your favorite events!

Take Good Care,

Lindsay and Christine

 

Get Well!! A Sequence for When You’re Sick

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So I was pretty ill last week with a respiratory infection and COMPLETELY lost my voice for a few days. I do not like being sick and I really, really dislike not being able to talk. So it was difficult to just pause and let myself heal, especially because I hadn’t lost my voice to that extent before. It made me feel very stressed.

Eventually though, I confronted the fact that  I was not exactly living up to the advice I would give clients or friends dealing with an illness affecting the voice and began to focus on positive self-care. Got all my favorite teas (and of course honey!), juices, got my steaming on with some essential oils, and by the time the medicine really kicked in I realized it was important to provide that time and space to get myself in a better physical and mental place. Part of that involved gentle exercises like this sequence, to make sure I was checking in and engaging the body and breath in a helpful way.

Give this a try if you’re feeling the sniffles (or something stronger) and let Christine and I know how you get on!

Take good care and, of course, get well!

Lindsay and Christine