Voice Work in the Business World

In the world of commerce and business today there is general recognition that competence in communication skills is crucially important for those working in the business world.

This awareness is reflected in the numerous training courses available but few develop voice work and the more “dramatic” aspects that are possible in presentation to any deep level, even though the power and variety in our energy is intimately linked to the power and variety we feel in ourselves, and to the way we come across in terms of that indefinable thing called “presence”.

Here are two examples:

If a speaker wants to work on feeling and conveying their personal authority, as a voice trainer, I will look at patterns in the way the person opens the interaction, body posture and tension points, body language, the placing and control of breathing, centered voice and eye contact. These six aspects are crucial in conveying messages about personal power – and in how the speaker actually feels when they are talking.

Or if there is a sense of a lack of energy and interest in the speaking, practical work will be done on variety in the voice – with exercises for pitch, volume, speed, emphasis and pause. We might explore the use of the vivid picture or surprising words: this may then extend into work to rephrase parts of a particular speech to create memorable poetic images. One recent example was when the chairman of a fashion company with whom I was working rephrased his final sentence in his speech to the board. It moved from the mundane –“We need to encourage further investment if our company is not to face limitations which will affect its performance next year’ to the memorable – “At the moment our investors are shivering like elegant flamingos on the edge of an unknown cold lake; it is our job to equip them with the water wings of confidence so they can plunge into the water – and find it rejuvenating!” We also worked on encouraging his body and voice to express these words with all the power of an experienced actor – but with the subtlety needed for a senior manager.

Voice and communication skills training do not insult the participant by teaching the obvious. What it does is to provide independent feedback about a speaker’s use of these skills, and to enable conscious positive change to be explored and developed. It is not about pretending to be other than you are in some kind of deceptive cosmetic subterfuge – rather it allows patterns to be identified and worked on so that your personal style of communicating may be as confident, strong, clear and interesting as you yourself know yourself to be at your best.

Our voice work expert is Christina Shewell, author of Voice Work: Art and Science in Changing Voices.

Item broadcast on Radio 4 August 2009 with Stephen Fry and Christina Shewell as part of Fry’s English Delight programme on ‘Speaking Proper’ (approximately 6 mins).

Voice Work: Art and Science in Changing Voices by Christina Shewell