A Corporate Speech Trainer Outs Herself


An odd thing: I started out writing about how anyone can change the way they talk, and ended up sharing a bit of my own story (first time!) I ramble a bit in this one-forgive me, I'm human.

I was talking recently to a new connection I made on LinkedIn. She is a former journalist who used to work for NPR. She told me that a huge topic at NPR is women's voices. The discussion touched upon whether or not a woman's voice was too high, or too nasal, or if she used glottal fry or up-speak. It's interesting how women's voices get and historically have received so much more attention and judgment than men's; just as their looks have. I'm writing a whole other blog on that topic-stay tuned, but this conversation reinforced this wonder I have for why people-men and women "settle" for a so-so or even, dare I say, "annoying" speech and vocal pattern. Their reaction is often, "That's just how I sound and I'm not going to do anything about it!" As if it's a permanent characteristic. Spoiler alert: it's not.

It's astounding when I think of the hundreds of thousands of dollars people spend on their educations and then neglect their voices, ability to present information, and overall communication skills. Even when people are taught that communication skills are important, it just doesn't quite sink in, kind of like the vague wish for inclusion and diversity that everyone expresses-yet another blog. But I digress, twice.

Our ability to communicate well and adapt to different communicative contexts is our greatest tool for getting what we need out of life.

We'll hire a personal trainer, take music lessons, hire a tennis pro... so why do we think we should be born amazing communicators? We aren't. Our human brains haven't yet evolved to where we can think clearly, speak eloquently, and maintain composure in all circumstances. Tense circumstances still trigger flight or fight for us. It's normal. So there's no need to feel embarrassed if you want to work on how you speak and communicate. In fact, you should feel proud of yourself. This type of deep training is typically not taught unless you have sought someone out to help you; and even then, you might not have found the right person.

When we're interviewing with top companies or auditioning for parts, why is it that we spend weeks in turmoil preparing (not necessarily preparing the right way), and then when our moment to shine finally comes, start talking like robots, speak too fast, ramble or sound monotonous?

I believe your true identity is who you are when you're comfortable. It's not mumbling, glottal fry, using filler words, etc. Those are the speech characteristics that manifest when the stakes are high. When you're at ease in a situation, you're smart, funny, quick, confident, and relaxed. When you're nervous, those wonderful traits don't come across.

Here's the spoiler I was telling you about. This is something you can change. If when we're nervous we use a high pitch, glottal fry, and upspeak, and when we're comfortable don't, it stands to reason that we need to work on being relaxed during nerve-wracking speaking situations. And believe it or not, it's easier than it sounds. In fact, in a way, the simplicity of it is utterly fascinating.

The process involves determining your speech anxiety patterns, learning, and understanding how to use and connect to your voice so that it is natural, full, resonant, confident, and COMFORTABLE. Learning how to transfer or channel this state of being and pattern of behaviors into any circumstance is the next step. It takes practice and conscious awareness and carryover, but what a game-changer it will be to your career, and your life, in general.

What I've never shared

I was (and still am, to some extent) very shy. As a kid, I was painfully shy. I don't think I said a word during my kindergarten year. Even in high school, most people knew me as very, very quiet. Truth is, I was always a closeted entertainer, comedian, singer, and actor, but only when I was very comfortable and so inclined. I always kind of related to that frog from the Bugs Bunny episode who is a dynamo of a performer and then when the pressure is on and the curtains open just "ribbits." Ironically, those weren't the kinds of situations that brought out my ribbit. I was shy in situations where most people typically are not, and as I've worked with more and more people, learned that although I'm in the minority, I'm not alone. I know a lot of creative people who have struggled with shyness or anxiety, and many who veer toward introspection, even depression. And just as our true natures vary, not all the same types of situations frazzle everybody.

Back to my shyness... unless I was imitating someone, which I did A LOT, I never sang in front of anybody, not even family, until I was about 35, when I took a singing class downtown, near where I lived at the time. The teacher asked me to be in a cabaret show he was producing at The Duplex, a spot here in NYC. I said yes. Then I sang with a band at The Bitter End and a few other places. Then acting classes... A few years ago, I finally dared myself to take an improv class-something I wanted to do since I learned what improv was, probably around age 6. What took so long??? What takes anyone so long?

So you see, I trained myself, over the years, to be more comfortable in high stakes situations and the ones that most people feel quite comfortable in.

I've done it-am still doing it, as it is a practice and a continual evolution. And it brings the greatest joy. And of course sometimes some very deep lows.

I've made it my life's work to help other people feel comfortable in whatever communication challenges they face, regardless of background or setting. From my time as a speech/language pathologist working with people with learning disabilities, emotional instabilities, autism, stuttering... to corporate big-wigs who seem from the outside to have it all together, I know that each and every one of us struggles with communicating at some time, in some form.

Many people attribute "All of life is suffering," to the Buddha, but it is not truly what he said. The word "dukkah" does not translate exactly to suffering, but has a much more complex meaning; the essence of it involves, yes, suffering, but also impermanence or change the way that both happiness and success are not necessarily permanent, and conditioned states, meaning that everything is dependent or affected by something else, and this phenomenon is not one we have control over.

When you understand and come to peace with that, you're in a better frame of mind for addressing what is perfectly human.

Let me know your thoughts. What communication situations rattle you the most?

Talk to me.