Happy Birthday, BeSpoke! Give the Gift of Conversation

BeSpoke Communication

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It’s the start of March and we feel very lucky to have so much to celebrate, first of all Happy International Women’s Day! Whether you’re a woman or have women in your life you love, we hope you’re celebrating in your own way today. It’s a special day for us for many reasons. An important one is that four years ago today the two of us sat down and decided to try an experiment: easily accessible tools to help anyone curious about improving their communications skills. So we created BeSpoke Communication and had a great time figuring out our website and making posts for any interesting ideas that popped into our heads.

You may have noticed we’ve been slightly less than active in quite a while and the truth is life just got busy. We both got married (slightly tragically not to each other but happily to wonderful men), there…

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Happy Birthday, BeSpoke! Give the Gift of Conversation

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It’s the start of March and we feel very lucky to have so much to celebrate, first of all Happy International Women’s Day! Whether you’re a woman or have women in your life you love, we hope you’re celebrating in your own way today. It’s a special day for us for many reasons. An important one is that four years ago today the two of us sat down and decided to try an experiment: easily accessible tools to help anyone curious about improving their communications skills. So we created BeSpoke Communication and had a great time figuring out our website and making posts for any interesting ideas that popped into our heads.

You may have noticed we’ve been slightly less than active in quite a while and the truth is life just got busy. We both got married (slightly tragically not to each other but happily to wonderful men), there has been a house move, travelling, and lots going on in our work lives. But we kept saying we wanted to come back to BeSpoke and think about something new, something more focused on you, the people interested in communication skills we want to reach. And now we’ve taken some time and we’re very excited to share our next step.

To make our content even more user friendly and available we are going to begin experimenting with BeSpoke as a podcast (name TBC although suggestions are welcome, especially plays on BeSpoke). As a starting point this will include making all our current audio clips available in a podcast format so you can subscribe for easy access and the ability to download. But that’s only the beginning.

The future we see for this podcast is as a conversation about communication skills, from the technical to the abstract, we want to talk about it all, and we really want it to be a conversation with you.

To make that possible and genuine we want your questions.

–Have you ever had a comment about the way you communicate that baffled you? Tell us.

— Struggles with public speaking, interviews, being heard in loud environments, being taken seriously?

— If you’re an actor– struggles in the rehearsal, audition, performance process you want discussed? We’re here for it. Questions about breath? Great!

Please DM, write in comments, email us at bespoke.comcontact@gmail.com and we will take your queries under consideration for episodes. We can credit you by first name, initial, or keep it completely anonymous, just let us know.

Funnily enough, we became close friends over a project in postgrad where we made a podcast (but that’s a story for another time) and here we are again! The podcast landscape has changed since those basic days so bear with us while we figure out the technology and get set up.

In the meantime keep the questions coming!

Watch this space for updates along the way. We can’t wait to talk it all out!

Take Good Care,

Christine & Lindsay

 

Voice Warm Up for Teachers

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Hey friends! BeSpoke is back from our summer break, because it’s officially back to school time, y’all. For you teachers out there, that means it’s back to using your voices for hours at a time every day, in all sorts of situations, as you may be facing all sorts of different obstacles. Did you know that teachers make up over half of the population that has to take sick leave for voice rest in the UK? We don’t want that to happen to you. So as you start off the school year, (we’re right there with you– Christine’s classes start next week) let’s be mindful about how you’re taking care of your voice. This week’s audio guide is designed especially with you in mind, teachers. But it’s also useful for anyone looking for a good daily voice warm up.

Let us know how it goes!

We are getting back on a schedule of new content every other week, so stay tuned. If you want to be the first to hear about up-to-date content, consider following our blog! Hit the button that says “Follow blog via email” and you will get an email every time we post.

Take good care,

Christine & Lindsay

How do you communicate when you don’t speak the language?

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Dessau, Germany

Every year for the past four years, my Easter has looked like this: my partner and I head to Germany, where he is from, and spend a few days visiting family and friends. We see beautiful countryside, visit castles, get fresh air, eat a lot of bread, meat and cheese and drink a lot of beer. Here’s the catch: I don’t speak German. And several members of his family (most notably his mother and father) don’t speak English. And while other friends and family do speak English, naturally (and understandably) they would prefer to speak German.

As a voice and communication coach whose job it is to analyze and play with language, being in Germany and being often unable to communicate is always a humbling experience. While it has definitely been hard, I also believe it’s one of the most important experiences of my life. Language and conversation is my most precious way of connecting to people— you learn a lot about yourself when your language, or your typical means of connection, is taken away from you.

So what to do when you find yourself in a situation where you don’t know the language? How can you communicate? You may not choose to spend your life with a partner whose first language is different than yours, but we will hopefully all get the experience to visit and/or work in other countries and cultures, so let’s consider some useful communication tools when your first language is stripped away from you:

Learn the language!: Ok, this may seem obvious, but if you are going to visit or work in another culture, take steps to learn the language. Depending on how much you are going to be immersed in the new culture, this can seem overwhelming at first. For the first couple of years with my partner, I was so overwhelmed by the idea of learning German that I avoided it completely, because I felt like I had to become fluent immediately. Now I am a lot more realistic with my goals. There are many ways of flexibly learning a new language on your own timescale for a reasonable price. I have worked with Rosetta Stone, which is an excellent computer resource, and for the last couple of years I have made a commitment of practicing German on an app called Duolingo for five minutes every day. That doesn’t seem like much, but it’s the consistency that matters. The last few times I’ve been in Germany I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I’ve been able to understand and speak, and it has meant so much to those around me that I have made this effort.

Breathe with the vulnerability: Not knowing or feeling comfortable in a language can feel extremely vulnerable, especially when you are the only person in the room who is in that situation or when you are in a new country where you need to get around and don’t know your surroundings. It’s helpful to keep breathing and feel grounded in the space you’re in. Whenever you start to feel vulnerable or lost, feel where your feet are touching the floor, or if you are sitting, be aware of where your sit bones are supporting you in the chair. Put a hand on your belly and feel how it moves towards your hand when you breathe in and away from your hand when you breathe out. These actions will help you ground and keep you from panicking. They will also make it easier for you to listen when you are trying to grab hold of a language you don’t totally understand.

Be aware of your body language: When you don’t have access to verbal communication, body language becomes even more important. For my first few trips to Germany, when I didn’t know German at all, I had no idea how to interact in group conversations. Do I look at the person talking and act like I am listening when he/she knows I have no idea what’s being said? I found myself nodding my head when people were talking (a habit I have in my own culture that I am trying to be aware of— we often nod to signal we are listening but it’s something I try to be mindful of, because it signals agreement when that’s not always how I feel), and then feeling ridiculous because I was nodding at people when they knew I had no idea what they were talking about! So what to do? If you are in a group conversation, use your body in a way that looks engaged and like you are listening, even if you don’t understand. It will help you pick up new words if you are trying to learn the language, and it will make those around you realize you are making the effort to learn. Everyone likes when you make an effort to learn something about them, including their language. You can even turn it into a game for yourself. Watch how they use their bodies in communication. Notice if you are naturally mirroring them, or try mirroring them and see what that feels like. This helps you stay active and engaged. If you totally break eye contact or stop listening, it gives the impression of boredom— perhaps not an impression you want to leave when you are visiting another culture.

Intercultural communication is an increasingly necessary skill in this ever-globalizing world. While many people do speak English, it’s not fair to always expect them to do so, especially when you are in their culture. So if you find yourself, whether for professional or personal reasons, in a different culture where the first language isn’t English, hopefully these tips will be helpful to you!

Do you have any other thoughts about how to communicate when language is taken away? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Take good care,

Christine

Find your Ground! Connecting to Vocal Authority

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Hey Friends,

If you have ever been told that you don’t sound authoritative enough, or that you aren’t grounded enough, then this sequence is for you. This week, we explore finding an authoritative sound that feels authentic to you and helps you connect on a deeper level to what you are saying. It’s good for public speakers who want to convey their message with credibility and for actors (or anyone!)  who feel like their emotions cause them to constrict and lose their ground.

On another note, this week is BeSpoke’s birthday! March 8th will be our 1st anniversary of having a live site. Help us celebrate– comment below and let us know what your favorite post has been in the last year! We would also love to hear from you if there is something you would like us to cover.

So let’s all say together (authoritatively!)… Happy birthday BeSpoke!!!!!

Take good care,

Christine & Lindsay

PSA: Free Voice Coaching for Activists

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Last week was the first week we didn’t post since we started this blog on March 8th, 2016. We have no excuse, other than that as two American citizens, we were deeply concerned by the results of the presidential elections last week. Without going too deeply into politics, we were saddened that a candidate who seems to be interested in marginalizing or silencing voices, particularly voices from populations that differ from his own, won the day. And at the same time, we felt it was important to acknowledge the voices of the people who did vote for him– that perhaps we had failed to hear these voices before the election– their concerns, fears, trials, tribulations and general motivations for voting for this kind of change.

Anyway, we spent most of the week feeling speechless, and a lot of the week hiding and imbibing the delicious cocktails you see above, or just straight whiskey. (Some of you may not know this, but Lindsay is a genius at concocting cocktails. This one was a rosemary and cinnamon Old Fashioned.) Feeling speechless is always a humbling experience, particularly when one is a voice coach! But if you can breathe with that speechlessness, it can provide an interesting moment to think, feel and listen.

In our reflective time away, we have had an idea. We want to use our skills as voice coaches to ensure that, in this new world, some voices, particularly those of the under-priviledged, minorities, women, and those who identify as LGBTQ+, aren’t lost. Therefore, if you are an activist giving a speech on behalf of one of these groups, or for one of these groups, or as a member of one of these groups, then we have an offer for you. We would like to offer you 1 free hour of voice and public speaking coaching to help you with your speech– in person or via Skype (so you don’t have to be local to London). In this era of constant communication, we seem to have difficulty hearing each other and communicating with each other respectfully, particularly when we have differing opinions. We would like to help you get your message across effectively and build a rapport with your audience– for FREE.

If this is something that you think remotely relates to you, or that you are interested in, please contact us. You can email us at bespoke.comcontact@gmail.com or comment below. And if you know of anyone that you think would benefit from this, please help us spread the word. We are committed to living in a world where every voice is heard. Let’s start with yours!

ps. By the way, the list of groups doesn’t have to end with the ones mentioned above. If you are an activist who is promoting inclusion, love and care in any way, and you would like public speaking help, please contact us.

pps. This offer will never end.

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

Warm Yo’Self! (10 Minute Warm-up)

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Hello friends!

Warm yo’self!

This week we’ve got a 10 minute voice and body warm up for you that includes everything we’ve covered so far— some body and alignment work, breath support, resonance, range and articulation. It’s great as a short daily routine or as a warm up before an audition or presentation.

Let us know how it goes, and stay warm!

Take good care,

Lindsay and Christine

Finding Your Alignment

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Hello friends!

Now that we have checked in with the body through the ‘Basic Body Check In’ and the ‘BeSpoke Body Scan’, this week we are introducing a quick sequence to help you find your alignment in standing. Finding your alignment is about stacking the bones of your body from the crown of your head to your toes. It all starts with the feet, which is why you get a sneak peak at Christine’s sexy cat slippers! Meow!

Finding this alignment allows you to stand with grace and move with ease. It’s a timeless posture that will keep you more comfortable and allow you to breathe more easily when you stand up. Easier breathing means easier speaking. This is an excellent sequence to listen to along with our other body check -ins or on its own. It can be used as a prelude to a vocal warm up or as a way of checking in right before you begin to speak in any communication context.

Please let us know what you think!

Christine & Lindsay