Managing Nerves: The Moment Before

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My cat, Sadie. I think this photo perfectly captures what so many of us feel like the moment before a performance or presentation! 

Hi Friends,

We have many posts on the site that help you warm up and prepare ahead of a performance or a presentation, but what about that moment right before you get up to speak? That moment, while you are waiting, is often nerve-wracking. This is a short sequence that coaches you through where to place your focus in that moment before, allowing you to stay present, rather than in another world thinking about how nervous you are. You can listen to it ahead of time and then keep the sequence in mind whenever you are in ‘the moment before’. The sequence is very simple but very effective!

Let us know how it goes. Sadie the cat wants to know!

Take good care,

Christine and Lindsay

Stress Bustin’ Breathing and Snazzy Sighing!

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Illustration from Madison Cavanaugh’s The One Minute Cure

Hello Friends!

I hope your October is ending well, and if you’re into Halloween that you’re getting ready for some spooky fun. This week’s sequence might awaken your inner ghost with some sighing or simply afford a bit of tranquility with attention to the breath.

Let us know how you get on and if you find this helpful in bringing you to a happy place!

Take Good Care,

Lindsay and Christine

 

 

 

 

Connect to Your Thought: Mindfulness Exercise for Sight-Reading and Speaking With Notes

 

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Hello Friends!

Happy October, it’s pumpkin time! This is the second part of our series on working with text and notes. We’ve put together a mindfulness exercise that aims to help you connect your breath to thought with the context of an important event or to simply get you in the headspace for practicing.

Everything starts to ramp up this time of year so please let us know in the comments if there’s anything you feel would be beneficial! And please give us any feedback you have on this exercise!

Take Good Care,

Lindsay and Christine

 

Autumn Voice Review: Just Breathe!

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Me and Mom on the beach, just before the 2nd gallop.

Hello Friends!

We’ll be putting together an audiolab exercise for breath work as part of this series but in the meantime I thought I’d share a recent experience that reminded me how important the simple act of breathing is in any intense situation.

Now, of course working with the breath is a piece of advice Christine and I give a lot, in many different contexts. However there’s nothing like a visceral moment of experience to prevent advice from going stale. In traditional communication settings, working with the breath is part of my routine and at this point it flows pretty well. During this most recent experience I found myself needing my breath to affirm presence and keep my head clear, as you do in standard communication activities, but the situation was unique in that failing to do so could have ended with me being launched off a horse and into the ocean.

In my Olympian post a few weeks ago I touched on my past experience as a member of the United States Pony Club, which I absolutely loved. Being around horses and riding are among the things that make me the happiest in this world. So while spending some time with family in Scotland this past week my mom and I decided to look into doing a ride on the beach. We found a lovely equestrian center that was able to book us in and headed over for an early evening ride. It was exactly the kind of place I like, down to earth; we got to brush our horses and our guide Ed, was hilarious and no-nonsense. My mom was assigned a very noble steed named Snowy and I rode Ed’s beautiful chestnut mare called Charm. As we headed into the scenic Scottish countryside Ed put us through a few tests, trotting and cantering, evidently we passed because what followed was two hours of the most intense riding I had done in YEARS. Important note about my mom, it had been even longer since she’d ridden like this and she handled it like a champion.

When I say intense what I’m specifically talking about is galloping, which for those of you unfamiliar with riding, is the fastest gait of a horse where all four feet come off the ground together with each forward movement. It’s thrilling, challenging, and something I hadn’t done in quite a while. We galloped through the forests, through golden fields and finally across the beach. It was during a walking break on the beach that I realized although I was having fun and being amazed by the scenery, I was breathing in this shallow, protective way. Charm wanted to go (she is very fast) and I was fighting her because I was afraid to fully release into the moment and be there. This was not the kind of rider I had been in my younger days. In fact I can’t really ever remember feeling timid when it came to racing through fields until that moment. So I thought, this is a communication issue. If I can let my breath drop and feel grounded to connect with Charm, I can be present and let go of the fear to fully enjoy this exceptional experience. This was critical point because Ed had told us the horses go even faster when they turn to head back down the beach, it was hard to imagine that but would have been far more foolish to not take that information seriously. So I put my heels down (riderspeak), took a long, steady breath in through my nose, picked up my reins and seemed to feel Charm say “Buckle-up Buttercup!”

It was a fantastic gallop down the beach. If any of you are Lord of the Rings fans, I’ll put it like this: it was like I was a full-on Rider of Rohan with the strings music blasting in the background as I charged to save Middle Earth. The feelings of freedom and exhilaration were intoxicating. The ride was easily one of the best in my life and I was able to enjoy it because I got myself to breathe with connection.

All this is to say, autumn is a time of returning to endeavors, starting something new, gearing up for hard work, it’s a time of transition. Don’t breathe shallowly through it; find your breath and your pace. Maybe even try a gallop! You might surprise yourself.

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