This post goes out to everyone who has ever been in that situation where, while traveling on public transport, you hear that an important announcement is being made, but because it’s being mumbled over the PA system, you didn’t hear a word of it. Every time I’m on public transport and I strain to hear an announcement, it reminds me that the ability to communicate clearly is important for any job description. This is a great sequence for you if part of your job is making announcements over a PA system or microphone, if you’re preparing a speech that requires a microphone or if you’re working on camera. As we’ve discussed in other posts, microphones and PA systems are not very sophisticated technology, and we still have to have clear communication if we want to maximize their potential. This sequence is designed to help.
We’d love to hear your thoughts! Please let us know how it goes.
Talking is only one side of communication. And sometimes, when I look at the larger sociopolitical landscape of our world, it seems like there is a lot of talking. Platforms are sprouting up everywhere that allow people to make their viewpoints known across any medium. There seems to be much value placed on self-expression across these multiple platforms. This is why communication coaching on how you talk can be so valuable.
However, what seems to be lacking across these platforms is any emphasis on the importance of listening. Whether we’re talking about Twitter or a difficult face-to-face discussion, the only value seems to be on getting heard. I as a communication coach am often guilty of this. I want to empower people’s voices— that is at the heart of what I do. Sometimes, though, I’m putting too much emphasis on being heard, and not balancing that out with teaching my clients to listen, which actually, for many of us, is the harder thing to do: listening without interrupting, listening without immediately reacting, taking the time to consider another point of view— listening compassionately.
With that in mind, if you would like to train yourself to be a better listener, here are some simple steps to follow the next time you are in conversation. These steps are particularly important if you are having a difficult discussion or talking to someone whose opinion you disagree with.
Step 1: Breathe. I cannot talk enough about how crucial this step is. A lot of us hold our breath while we are listening to others. Sometimes this is why we can become so reactive— because our bodies are starting to panic from lack of oxygen. You don’t have to control your breathing, just make sure you aren’t holding it. You can even notice how what you are hearing is affecting your breathing rhythm. Breathe throughout the listening process and use your breathing to help you allow the other person to make their whole point (instead of interrupting halfway through). This also keeps you from focusing on preparing what you’re going to say next, which is what most of us do when we are listening, rather than actually listening. And definitely take another breath right before you respond, to make sure you don’t launch into a reaction you will regret later.
Step 2: Stay aware of your body. Often, especially when a viewpoint is difficult to hear, our energy tends to shoot upwards and we lose our grounding. This can lead to holding the breath and all of the pitfalls of breath-holding that are mentioned above. So keep checking in with where you are being supported by whatever surface you’re on while you’re listening. If you are sitting, where do you feel supported by the surface you’re sitting on? If you’re standing, where do you feel supported by the floor? It’s possible to be aware of these sensations as you listen to the other person talking, and helps you stay grounded as you do so.
Step 3: Listening is not about being an open receptacle for other people’s thoughts and feelings. You are allowed to have thoughts and emotions about what other people are saying. You are human too. Non-reactive communication and allowing others to speak does not mean you don’t get to feel. But using your breathing and awareness of your body to stay grounded helps you to acknowledge those feelings without immediately communicating them, including nonverbally, while someone is talking (which is another way of interrupting). Clock your feelings, allow them in, but keep breathing and grounding yourself so that you can honor that it’s someone else’s airtime. When it’s your turn, you’ll get to voice how you feel. Giving yourself this time also allows for a shift to happen in how you feel, if that’s in the cards.
Step 4: Be aware of how much space you are taking in the conversation. If you are doing all the talking, then you’ve left no room for listening. Start to monitor, in your daily life, how much you are doing the talking when in conversation. If you’re noticing a pattern of over 50% talking over 50% of the time, consider making an adjustment. Stretch those listening muscles. I have had students in the past who have misinterpreted an empowered voice with being able to talk for as long as they wanted to, and thinking that others would just have to listen until they were done because they had the right to speak. That is no longer empowered or empowering communication. Empowered communication, in my humble view, also seeks to empower others. If it becomes about talking as much as you want, all that is is an attempt to dominate. I believe that my students were simply overcorrecting. If you feel you may be overcorrecting as well, use this awareness of space to find balance.
Listening is not easy, which is why we have to train! Try to implement these simple steps, maybe even one at a time at first, and notice what happens in your personal and professional relationships. We truly believe that listening is the missing key to a lot of current world events, both big-scale and small-scale. We would love to hear how it’s going for you!
Happy New Year! This Wonder Woman-inspired audio guide is designed to help you start out 2018 communicating to yourself and to others in a strong, supported way. There’s a story behind this post. While I was on my way home for the holidays, I decided to finally watch ‘Wonder Woman.’ I was on a plane and, thankfully, I had the whole row to myself, because I had about three uncontrollable sobbing fits while watching this movie. I am not exaggerating. I was hiding my head behind my pillow as tears streamed down my face and my body was shaking with tears. It was dramatic.
I cried the first time because it was such a relief and a joy to watch women warrior training sequences and see women’s bodies being so empowered. I cried the second and 3rd times because I realized the main character, Wonder Woman, had no shame. What must it be like to have no shame about yourself whatsoever, about your body, your power, your sexuality, your intelligence, because no one ever taught you to feel it or tried to make you feel it? I was crying at the beauty and possibility of that idea. It was a deep couple of hours.
That is exactly what I want to spread in my voice and communication coaching– teaching people how to embody and express their ideas, passions, thoughts and emotions compassionately and with no shame. This warm up is designed to help you do just that. You do not have to be a woman to do it– just a human being who is interested in finding your full communication potential, including tackling the way you communicate with yourself. You’ll work on physical presence, energy, breath, supporting your voice, empowering your self-talk, and practice speaking about your passions/beliefs/curiosities. All in one 20-minute sequence!
Before you do this warm up, if you don’t know what ‘breath support’ is, please listen to one of our other audio guides on breath support. You can find two of them here and here. Understanding that idea will be key to this audio-guide!
I hope this helps you start off 2018 the right way. Please let us know how it goes!
As you might have guessed, the photo above was taken from a skyscraper in central London (we have mixed feelings about skyscrapers in London but they do make for some beautiful views). What struck me on that particular day was the contrast of the stillness, the peace, the lightness of the sky in that high up glass space with what I knew was layered underneath it: all kinds of energy moving in every direction, buzzing throughout the city from every floor of the buildings to the street, to the trains rumbling through the underground. It was a moment of accepting the power of stillness simultaneously existing with the power of dynamic energy.
That feeling is the inspiration for this week’s audio guide. It’s a brief guided meditation designed to connect you with the energetic voice, a moment of calm before you step into a more energetic situation, or when you’d simply like to have the moment of calm.
Meet Dotty, short for Dorothy Boots. Christine is fostering Dotty for the month while she’s in between homes, and, wow, do cats teach you a lot about voice work! Partly because Dotty is a very vocal kitty, but also because cats provide such great examples of what it is to be fully relaxed or fully engaged– fully present. We love this picture because it shows such an open, curious sense of focus.
That is what this week’s audio guide is all about: using voice work to help you find a sense of focus and concentration. A little-known side affect of the body work that comes along with working on the voice is that it’s great to help you tune in and gain a sense of focus and concentration. This sequence is useful if you are embarking on a new project, a new school year, a new job, or looking to renew your sense of focus towards your existing ventures. It gets your body releasing and breathing, builds your proprioception (your body’s sense of itself) and in so doing, helps quiet the mind.
We would love to hear from you! How was this sequence helpful to you? What would you like to see more of? Feel free to comment below and let’s start a dialogue. Make your voice heard! Please also share with any family/friends you think might find this useful.
In keeping with our back to school/Autumn kickoff vibe here is another quick sequence designed to activate your body so it’s prepared to support a full and energetic voice. We’ll be tackling the idea of vocal energy from a few angles over the next few months, and this will start by encouraging you to consider the effect of your physical behavior.
As always we’re keen to hear how it goes and whether you have any feedback. It’s so easy to sign up to receive emails when we post something new, so get on it!
If you’ve followed our posts for awhile you know we love considering all things cyclical and seasonal at BeSpoke Communication. So as summer draws to a close we are taking a few more opportunities to rest, travel, and spend time with family but we are also thinking about what’s next. Key to maintaining a communication skills and presence practice is assessing where you are and what you want focus on moving forward. The foundation of core components like supportive posture, breathwork, mindfulness, and articulation exercises will always be there but depending on where we find ourselves, our attention and approaches will shift and vary. So from time to time it’s worth thinking about what you need from your practice overall and how it can support your goals.
We’re taking some time to focus on this too. As our last post mentioned, we’ll have a little end of summer hiatus where we’ll be creating some new content together and ramping up our plans. It would be great to know what you would find beneficial, what you think about when it comes to communication skills, and how you like to work.
Don’t be shy! We’d love to hear from you.
To get the ball rolling, here are some prompts to get you thinking, writing, drawing about how you’re feeling, what areas are going well, where you’d like to place more attention, and what impact you want your communication skills to have on your life. We’re not trying to give anyone an existential crisis so this could be as simple as being confident in your next performance review or taking on a monologue in a new accent. Or it might be something bigger. It’s all about where you are and what you need.
What is going well in your practice right now?
Think of something physical that’s feeling good
Think about an aspect of your mindset that’s positive
Think of one of your favorite personal speaking habits
Where are you feeling challenged?
Are there physical obstacles for how you want to communicate?
Think of where you can cultivate some positivity in your mind
Is there a communication habit you would like to shift?
What are the goals you’re working towards right now? What would you like to be working towards?
Think of a few short term goals, perhaps consider these categories:
Think of a few long term goals, again considering these categories:
Using whatever arises think about how your communication skills can support these goals and areas of your life:
What skills will help you physically?
What will help mentally?
What habits do you hope to develop in your communications?
Hopefully this gives you some food for thought! Let us know how you get on and we’ll look forward to evolving together this autumn!
Many of our clients come to us either because they are actors who need to learn a new accent for an upcoming project or because they are business-people for whom English is a second language and they would like to work on clarifying their accents. For many, clarifying or learning a new accent can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be! Here are some steps to consider when you are working on an accent:
An accent is a physical behavior. Everyone has an accent, and that accent is based on how your speech muscles (lips, tongue, lower jaw, soft palate) move to shape your speech. For example, a Dublin accent has more spread lips than a Received Pronunciation accent. Learning what the key physical behaviors of the speech muscles are for the accent you are trying to acquire is an empowering way to help keep you consistent— especially if you feel like you don’t have a very good “ear.” To help you figure out the physical behaviors, watch videos of people who have that accent and watch the way their lips/jaw move. See if you can hear the “hesitation sound”—the sound they make when they are thinking, like “um”, and see if you can mimic that and notice how that changes your speech muscles— this tells you what their neutral setting is for the speech muscles in that accent. If you start from that place with your own speech muscles, you are more likely to stay consistent.
Find a good sample. Whether you are learning a new accent or trying to clarify your own, find a sample of someone speaking that has the accent you want to sound like. If possible, find a sample that’s audio-visual, so that you can watch as well as listen in order to discover the speech muscle behaviors mentioned above. If you can find a live person to record, even better! Youtube is a great resource for this. IDEA (the International Dialects of English Archive) is an excellent online resource, although their materials are all audio only, I believe. Even so, they have samples from almost every accent of English.
Find a good accent coach. Work with a coach that will give you tools to make you autonomous, that will help you feel your way into the new accent so that you can keep it consistent, rather than needing to rely on your (or someone else’s) ear. A good accent coach can give you tools that you can apply to learning any accent, so it’s a good investment of your resources, particularly if you will be learning new accents frequently. (we can’t help but plug ourselves here— we do accent coaching at BeSpoke!)
Have other ideas or resources you want to share about accents? Please leave them in the comments below!
I couldn’t help myself and had to use another Anchorman reference for our second sequence for camera work. This is the sequel to our post from a couple of weeks ago about Voice for Camera. The first sequence focused on your vocal power, and this one focuses more on your speech clarity. Both are important to being understood. This is a great sequence if you work on camera or you are using microphones at live “performance” events (whether that be acting or giving presentations).
First of all, Happy Spring! We are very happy to see flowers blooming, the days growing longer, and even getting that little bit warmer in London, although like all early spring days things are certainly changeable. For some (including me), this changeability can cause imbalances in the sinuses and, trying to be as tasteful as possible, hefty production of mucus, which can leave my throat itchy and uncomfortable with post-nasal drip and bring an unhealthy rasp to my voice. It’s not fun and can impact range, breath support, and resonance. But no one should miss out on the fun of spring and of course there are always ways to support ourselves through pungent, pollinated times.
To that end, we thought it would be helpful to share some strategies for coping with the allergy and sinus challenges spring can pose. Because we are not ENTs or allergists these are not medical suggestions but natural means for relief that we have found effective. Please ensure you seek the advice of a doctor for your allergies, especially if you’re being severely affected. We just hope these thoughts will encourage some mindful self-care.
1. Starting with the obvious and eternal advice: HYDRATE
We regularly mention hydration on this blog so I’ll stick to the spring-relevant points here. When temperatures are going up and we’re feeling warmer and perhaps sweating a bit more, drinking hydrating fluids is very important for overall health. In the case of assisting allergies and sinuses, maintaining a good level of hydration can dilute mucus thickness and combat the drying effect that allergy medications like antihistamines and decongestants have on the throat. Just remember drinking water does not instantly hydrate your throat, vital organs reap the benefits first. By some measures it takes at least 20 minutes for your throat and vocal folds to feel any benefit of drinking water while some sticklers say overall hydration is only achieved after 4 hours. Don’t drive yourself crazy with these timelines, just drink throughout the day. A glass of water first thing in the morning and before bed will help too. Spring is a great time of year to make some trendy water infusions so pile in the mint, strawberry, and cucumber!
2. Take a sinus rinse…NETI POT
We could probably write an entire manifesto on Neti pots. Using them has been a game-changer in terms of caring for our voices while living in a big city and suffering from sensitive sinuses. Because they only use salt packets and water we’ve found them to be a great alternative to nasal sprays. Neti pots and salt packets can be found in the allergy treatment sections of drugstores or on Amazon. A written explanation of how to use them is difficult but luckily the amazing Adriene Mishler of Yoga With Adriene has a video on the subject. Check it out and see what you think. For our part, we’ve looked back.
3. Soothing Smells…AROMATHERAPY
This is a simple suggestion, but sometimes experiencing lots of congestion during warmer weather can feel very oppressive. A little essential oil action can go a long way. My preferred oils for this scenario are peppermint and eucalyptus. Just putting a few drops on a tissue, holding it to my nose and gently breathing in goes a long way. I also like to place a few drops on my pillow before bed. Whether it’s essential oils or a lavender infused eye pillow, soothing smell and sensory stimulation can be an easy way to alleviate pressure and provide yourself with some lovely smells!
4. Maintain useful habits…BREATHE AND MOVE
When we don’t feel well it’s tempting to feel like moving should be put on the back burner. Despite this, stretching and tying movement to breath offers the chance to find gentle relief through working muscles and moving the breath, which will gently work on the throat and sinuses. Turning to Adriene again, this is a sequence I like to do when I’m feeling particularly bad (it’s really great for a bad cold as well as allergies).
5. Fresh air, plenty of sleep, good food…SELF CARE
When your allergies are making you all kinds of sniffly don’t shut the windows and stay in a stuffy room, let some air in and get outside. It will help you acclimate to the changes in pollen levels and avoid the dust you find indoors. Pair this with getting enough sleep and eating plenty of good vitamin-packed foods. Dust off that nutri bullet, personal blender, giant blender and make some smoothies! In short, find ways to give yourself extra healthy support.
Please let us know what you find most helpful and we would love to hear your favorite strategies!