Voice Synergy News

Seventy Years of Queen’s English

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What a wonderful Platinum Jubilee we have enjoyed, celebrating Her Majesty’s long reign of 70 years of exceptional service to her country and hearing her speak about important moments in her life.

Listening to the Queen’s voice and particularly her accent, it is noticeable how her accent has changed over the years. In the post-war days of the early 1950s, the Queen’s speech was clipped, precise and she used a fairly high register, mirroring the style of her parents and others of that era. Throughout her reign, however, whenever the Queen speaks, she invariably sounds sincere, interested and engaged, regardless of her accent.

Accent changes over the years in part due to the influence of the media and the mobility of the workforce. Accents used to be easily recognisable and people were judged by their accent and pigeon-holed into a ‘class’, either looked up to (and respected) or looked down upon (and dismissed) by others.

The Queen’s accent is still strongly associated with years of history and authority, yet it has softened over the decades and her grandson, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, second in line to the throne, speaks with a modern version of Queen’s English. Prince William also uses contemporary reference points and colloquialisms that are departures from the old style of speaking.

It is interesting to notice the changes in the royal accent, often referred to as ‘Queen’s English’, BBC English or Received Pronunciation. Does accent prejudice still occur? People can still be dismissive of what would traditionally be called a ‘working class’ accent and have preconceived ideas of what a person is like, based entirely on their accent.

People can also have preconceived ideas about people with an ‘upper class’ accent and make positive or negative recruitment decisions influenced by this.

Is it possible to change your accent? It is perfectly possible to change your accent, but it can be a challenge. We have successfully worked with many, many people who have wished to change their accent. Although an accent can change depending on the accent of those around you (we tend to ‘accommodate’ or imitate others’ accents), it is possible to learn new sounds which will change your accent.

Speech is created using a combination of vowel and consonant sounds and a fair smattering of pauses and intonation thrown in for good measure. Your accent can change using the muscle shapes and combinations of your articulators. It is up to you how well your old muscle memory can be interrupted and re-programmed with the new habits, giving you a new accent.

Many of our clients get in touch wanting to have a more ‘Queen’s English’ accent. What is important, however, is sounding sincere, interested and engaged and speaking with confidence and authority.
Voice coaching is multi-layered and includes speaking using pauses, taking time to use all the sounds in words and importantly, learning how to breathe to support the voice.

Using a combination of new speech habits and taking care to use the sounds in words, can have an incredibly positive impact on other people.

If you would like to change your accent, improve your speaking skills, get more confidence or even speak like the Queen, please get in touch – we’ll be delighted to organise a chat by phone or Skype / Zoom to discuss how voice coaching might be able to help you.

Your help invited

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This month I am inviting your feedback, as the Voice Synergy website is being updated and I would love to hear from you.

When you are seeking help with your voice, what is most important to you and what do you want to see on the website that gives you confidence to get in touch and make the decision to get the support you need?

Coming to a voice coach for help with articulation, clarity, volume, accent reduction or to slow down your speech takes courage. Sometimes, it’s not easy to find someone who fits your brief. Often, clients begin with the aim of accent reduction, for example, and through dialogue, arrive at the conclusion that confidence issues are holding them back from promotion or career development.

This is how it works. Getting started on the voice coaching path is fairly straightforward. To begin with I listen to your voice, talk about what you want to achieve and introduce you to how the voice works. The understanding about the intricate nature of your voice is really interesting and leads to conversations about how words are formed, how pronunciation happens and how your voice can carry further.

Voice Synergy started back in 2012 with the aims of voice coaching business people individually, running voice leadership workshops for industry and working in drama school to help young people develop confidence.

These objectives have been overwhelmingly achieved and this month sees the planning for revamping the Voice Synergy website to reflect today’s clients’ needs.

Being a coach has helped me to learn more about your individual needs and become a better teacher. Through the periods of lockdown, teaching has become more on-line focussed, with fewer in-person bookings. This has worked unexpectedly well as most people adapted to their own work requirements and mastered Zoom, Teams, Skype and other apps.

In the early days of lockdown, clients were keen to have help with getting their voice heard in online meetings and that still persists to some degree. When people are physically present in meetings, body language comes into play in a way that is absent in on-line meetings. It can be easier to get the attention of the chair if you are in the room literally, rather than in some electronic-image box on their computer screen.

The theme that has come up consistently over the past ten years, however, is clarity, confidence and status. In other words, clients want to know how to be understood clearly, how to hold the room or meeting and given the respect that is deserved.

A few months ago, I was coaching a roomful of highly experienced lawyers who were undertaking my workshop as part of their organisation’s Continuous Professional Development remit. At the beginning of the course, some barristers were sceptical, to say the least. By the conclusion of the hour and a half, all participants had filled in glowing feedback forms to say how useful the coaching had been and how many relevant tips had been gleaned.

Please do let me know what aspects of the current Voice Synergy website you like (and what you don’t!) if you have time – I’d love to hear from you.

Thank you so much for reading this and I’ll keep you posted on when the new site will be launched!

Becoming a DJ!

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This month I thought it would be nice to share the journey I made through Lockdown from having an interest in broadcasting, to being a presenter of my own show on local radio.

Have you ever had an unfulfilled wish to do something? Well, the lockdown era certainly propelled my penchant for performance and love of nature and I found myself begin a new, additional, career direction.

With a background in performance, communication and speaking I missed the contact with people enormously when we were forbidden to mix with others, some two years ago. So, what did I do? I began contacting interesting people and asked how they were coping and recorded these conversations for our local radio station.

To begin with, these conversations were via Skype or Zoom and were concerned with how we were coping, how our food was being delivered and, increasingly, how important our daily walks and the role of nature in our lives had become.

Over the weeks and months, I became more proficient and experienced in becoming an interviewer to the point where I became a radio presenter on our local radio station. I pitched the idea of having a two-hour show entitled ‘The Great Outdoors Show’ – a mix of current and popular music punctuated with stories about nature and interviews with those people with an outdoor connection.

The interviews flooded in. I was soon able to meet up and chat 1-1 and discover how people relied on their animals, outdoor pursuits and home-grown food. Over the course of a few months I interviewed a micro-light flying instructor, livestock farmers, horticultural experts, walkers, open water swimmers, stand-up-paddle boarders, charity horticultural farms, outdoor concert violinists, insect illustrators and world renowned naturalists and botanists. I have joined in tree planting, rewilding initiatives, pond making and foraging.

It has been a revelation to meet and get to know so many local people and to be able to air their voices. New stories have been shared and these in turn have inspired other people.

I approached another local radio station early last year and joined SomerValleyFM, where I have a regular show every Monday, still following the same format of interviews, music and information about UK flora and fauna.

Using my voice as an interviewer, presenter and raconteur has been such a rewarding journey and has helped not only me to continue my voice journey, but enabled other people to have their voices heard, too.

Combining radio presenting with being a voice coach also keeps me grounded and reminds me of the importance of all the things I teach. Pitch, pause and pace are so important, as well as the connection with the listener. Radio is a very intimate communications channel and a very special connection can be created between the broadcaster and listener.

Most of my clients are professional voice users, from voice-over artists, to barristers, to company directors and academics, who speak English as a first or second language. Using my professional training as a voice coach and communications expert is now also strengthened by being a radio presenter. I can help others to use their voice in more imaginative, honest and inspired ways to connect with their audiences.

Using your voice imaginatively can be very liberating and when combining that with great clarity, pace and tone you can elevate your vocal skills to a whole new level!

For more information, help and a free consultation about how to improve your voice and speech, please get in touch.

Listen to this week’s The Great Outdoors Brunch Show.

Speech and Presentations – back into the auditorium

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This week I have been working with a senior member of an international company who was preparing to give their first in person speech for over two years – to an audience of 700.

My client and I talked about the best way to use their voice during their presentation. The first, most important aspect of your presentation before you even open your mouth, is to know your subject. No amount of voice coaching will help you with your own subject knowledge.

Speaking clearly and at the right pace is really important but it is also important to remember something else. Having the courage to face people and deliver a presentation, takes preparation.

It’s not a question of ‘winging it’ because that’s when you can lose your train of thought and get lost, then panic. You need to practise what you’re going to say – out loud.

For a period of up to 20 minutes, you will be on stage delivering a monologue and the content and style of delivery is really worth considering carefully before the event. In other words, rehearsal is vital to get the most out of your presentation.

Next, we talked about the reality of facing and speaking to a big group of people after so long a time. There is an exchange of currency and value in these situations. The currency is time and the value is information. It’s like a contract between two people; the speaker and each member of the audience engage for two distinct reasons. The speaker delivers information, encouragement and reassurance to the audience and in turn these listeners receive tools to help them do and go about their work lives more effectively.

Giving a presentation is a performance and you, as a professional voice user will be connecting with your audience to inspire, inform and motivate. So what are the key components of a good presentation?

  1. Preparation. Know your subject.
  2. Rehearsal. Practise your presentation aloud. Get used to speaking the words you want to use.
  3. Posture. Stand (or sit) comfortably so you can be engaged and engaging with your voice.
  4. Body language. Involve your audience with the right eye contact and positive attitude.
  5. Voice. Use your voice to engage, instruct, motivate and energise.

Speaking at the right pace, using a good range of your voice, remembering to pause are fundamentals of good speech. These elements of a good presentation will help you to engage with your audience and help them to connect with you. Empathy is also important in establishing a good rapport and that can also manifest in your vocal tone.

Your voice is a complex organ that can be used to incredible effect. Practise using your voice in new ways to create different emphasis or to draw your audience to you. If your audience feels a connection with you as you make your presentation, they will be more likely to remember your words and key messages and retain a sense of understanding.

I chatted with my client about how communication is a two-way process involving a meaningful transmission on the one side and a meaningful reception on the other. Using your voice effectively can help your audience not only understand but respond positively.

Since then, my client has made their presentation – thanks to planning, practise and perseverance, it was a tremendous success.

For more information about how to connect with your audience and speak more effectively, please get in touch.

Do you have a nice voice?

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This week I had a very interesting conversation with one of my clients. We talked about the hidden messages we receive when we listen to someone, not just the words they are saying, but the use of their tone, pitch and manner when they are speaking.

We can be heavily influenced by the manner of someone’s way of speaking and automatically decide whether we want to comply with what they want us to do or not, making that decision very quickly, seemingly without conscious thought.

For example, a senior member of a larger organisation asked the design team to produce some material for them. They didn’t get around to it. The senior person asked again after a few days and still nothing was done. The design team simply didn’t feel inclined to help out this person because of the way they spoke to them. A shrill voice full of pain and sorrow came across in their manner of speaking and no one wanted to do the job.

What is it about our manner of speaking that can be pleasing or irritating to others? When we speak, it’s not just our accent that is heard by the listener, it’s the quality of our voice which can sound ‘thin’, ‘nasal’, ‘demanding’ or even ‘aggressive’. The way we speak can be far more important in getting people onside than the words we say.

What is this connection between what we say and how we say it? If we allow our thoughts to be negative when we are speaking, it is very likely this will be transmitted in our tone of voice. Even a simple phrase like, ‘Good morning’ can be off-putting and miserable however, we can make an effort if we wish, to change the sound of the emotion behind the greeting to carry a cheerful or happier message.

If you are a leader, you will know that your voice can influence people, but have you explored the potential of your voice to enable you to link your thoughts with your words? It takes time and a great deal of effort to change the way you speak. It is easy to continue speaking the way we always have done and not change how we use our voice, but to quote the saying, ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.’

Negative emotions that we are feeling can make a really big negative impact on what we are saying and this in turn can negatively influence our listeners. A miserable, painful voice will not evoke positive reactions, which means that our senior person may have to wait forever for their design work to be done. The design team simply don’t like the way they are spoken to.

During our conversation, my client also told me how hard it is to change your voice without the help of a voice coach. “Anyone can search out knowledge about how to speak well – it’s out there on the internet’, said my client. “But even if we can find the information,” they continued, “we can’t access that knowledge, we can’t do anything about the way we speak on our own.”

If you or any of your team would like to improve your voice and the way you speak, or be a better presenter, please get in touch.

New Year, NewVoice?

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Do you change the way you speak, depending on the situation? Many years ago, when telephones weren’t that common (really, there was a time), my mother would use a ‘posh’ voice when she picked up the receiver and spoke. In those days, we just spoke the three numbers that people dialled locally to get through and waited for the other person to respond. That was the time for a big breath on my mother’s part followed by an alien accent that really made me giggle and squirm at the same time.

Funnily enough, I was speaking to a client the other day about how she used her voice in different ways, depending on the situation and she confessed that she made much more of an effort when she was giving a speech than when she was speaking to her in-laws. ‘That’s quite natural’ I smiled, thinking of my mother’s ‘telephone voice’, ‘we’re much more relaxed with family and friends and our speech reflects that.’

This set me to thinking about what we actually DO do in each circumstance. Delivering a speech to an audience needs thorough preparation. As well as being fully prepared with the content it is important to warm up your articulators, warm up your voice and then speak in the way most appropriate for your audience and the subject you are covering.

Compare that with a chat with your family. A family chat is spontaneous, it is part of a two- or multi-way conversation, you may need to butt in with a joke or an idea as well as listening to the others and keep on top of the various subjects as they rapidly change. No vocal preparation is needed, if someone doesn’t hear you properly, they’ll ask you to say it again. Importantly, we also use and pronounce words and phrases in ways that are familiar to our group.

Don’t get me wrong – speaking clearly is important – but in a formal setting, clarity of speech is top of the agenda. With our families, we can gabble, speak quickly, use slang and even pronounce things differently, which is in stark contrast with speaking in a professional context.

My client added that as well as her voice, her accent also changed depending on the situation. Clarity, confidence and impact were top of her professional speaking wish-list. With her family, there was no list – just spontaneity and a comfortable chat.

However, using your voice well doesn’t mean that you have to put on a false voice or try to speak in a way that is uncomfortable or ‘posh’. The first steps to speaking well are to take your time, take a breath before you speak and let your voice connect with your thoughts. This way, your words will carry truth, create an impact and connect with your listeners.

It takes time to make the most of your voice and to speak really well and it’s a great journey to take. Making the most of the sounds of the words, using them with the appropriate energy and allowing your voice to carry your thoughts can have an amazing effect on your listeners. Leave behind the false accents, leave your family voice at home and step up into the New Year with a resolution to make the most of your fantastic voice!

For more information about voice training speaking and speaking more clearly, please get in touch.

Facing up to your fears

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As a non-native, British English speaker, an expert in your subject, it can be a challenge to get your ideas across to the rest of your team. You may have anxiety about whether the others can understand your accent, are you pronouncing your words correctly and are you being judged unfairly because of the way you speak.

You may be reassured that many people are more relaxed about accents as we have many variations in UK British English. However, you might still want to know whether you are pronouncing your words correctly?

Most importantly are you enjoying your presentations or the process of getting your thoughts heard? And if not, what can you do to improve your accent along with improving your self-esteem?

One of the key differences between English spoken by a native and that spoken by someone who speaks English as a second or third language, is the rhythm of the speech. UK English is a stress-timed language, which means that we emphasise words or parts of words within a sentence and this creates the ‘tune’ of the accent.

Finding the stress sounds in a word or sentence on your own can be a bit of a challenge. It is perfectly possible to check the dictionary and if you are familiar with phonetics, you will be able to work out where the emphasis falls. But sometimes, you also need to know where the long vowels occur, or use the sound of the diphthongs, ensuring they are honoured with your voice.

Although this might sound tricky, it can be enormous fun to learn and discover.

Many clients of Voice Synergy enjoy the benefits of learning not only accent improvement through accent reduction, but they also gain much more clarity and confidence in the way they speak. By understanding the rhythm of the sentences and how the vowels (and consonants) should be used, they greatly improve their spoken skills though gaining confidence to speak clearly.

Quite often, as a result of voice and accent coaching, clients are immersed in a wider vocabulary through exercises that use passages of classic text or poetry.

Over the years it has been a privilege to coach professionals who speak English as a second language and to help them move from a feeling of helplessness and frustration to gaining the skills and confidence to become a strong communicator, a valued and esteemed member of their team.

One client recently commented, “You are a fantastic teacher, Debbie. I’m really enjoying it. You make it technical but interesting. I’d love to carry on (with more sessions).” This particular professional has a mixture of accents from three continents and is successfully unlocking her potential to achieve even more in her career, thanks to her confident and engaging voice and accent, which she is learning to use much more effectively.

If any of this resonates with you, or if you have a member of staff that would benefit from voice and accent coaching, please get in touch. We’ll help you face your fears, get the best from your voice and give you the freedom to speak with confidence.

Merry Christmas!

Anxiety? Pressure? Fear of the Unknown?

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During the lockdown periods we were wracked by feelings of isolation, we missed our work colleagues and the general hubbub of office life.

Now many of us are going back, at least in part, to the workplace and these feelings can return all over again. We had just got used to regular Zoom meetings, Teams events and catching up on Skype when this new ‘norm’ itself got turned on its head and back we went to in-person meetings.

If you’re anxious about standing up in front of a crowd again, first of all, remember that your audience is really looking forward to hearing what you have to say. It’s been a long time since they’ve been addressed by anyone and you’re the star of the show. That’s enough to make me run a mile! I can hear you shriek! But wait a moment; you really do know what you are talking about, you love improving performance in yourself and your team and your speech is all about sharing information which will make everyone better equipped for the future.

Remember, when you feel overwhelmed with fear about public speaking, here are some top tips:

  1. Remind yourself about how capable you are
  2. Refresh your memory about the subject of your presentation – thoroughly revise the content
  3. Make notes ahead of your presentation
  4. Speak your presentation out loud – get used to hearing the words and phrases that you’ll be using on the day. Edit any challenging words or phrases that might trip you up
  5. On the day – remember to breathe before you speak; take your time and enjoy it!

Breaking down the component parts of your presentation strategy into easy chunks is half the battle to success. Remember you are the expert; now focus on making your presentation succinct, well signposted and informative.

As well as being accurate and interesting, your presentation should also be relevant. Find out what people want from your presentation and that will help you with building the right content – information that is going to be well-received and useful.

It might help you to create a mind map to get your ideas down and out of your head. If you are delivering a presentation it’s important to not only explore the topic you will be speaking about, but plan for how much time you have available and how you’re going to structure the presentation.

A first step to getting rid of anxiety is to prepare yourself thoroughly for the work in hand.

Pressure can be dissipated through giving yourself enough time to get ready. Say no to unnecessary meetings or social commitments if you still have the presentation to prepare. Allow at least an extra day more than you think necessary to allow for unknowns to crop up, work to your own deadline then you should have time to relax before the big moment.

Suffering from Fear of the Unknown? Stick to what you do know and tell your audience what to expect. When you make your presentation, set the boundaries that you are going to be using and make it clear that is the framework of your talk.

Getting ready for an important presentation or pitch can be a daunting experience, but by allowing yourself the necessary time for your preparation schedule, success will come your way.

One more point to remind you – rehearse saying your words out loud before your big moment. Get used to any long sentences that might need a bit more breath to safely take you to the end of the thought. If there are fabulous phrases that spring to mind, use them – as long as they don’t get you tongue tied. If in doubt, change the word or phrase to allow your speech to flow in an interesting and steady manner.

That’s it. Good luck with your presentation and if you think you might like a bit of help, do get in touch!

Your Voice Needs Your Breath…

Let your breath take away your tension

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This month I was fortunate enough to have a few days away in the depths of the countryside. Not only that, but I had the luxury of a relaxing massage to unwind and relax.

The effect on my voice was incredible. When I began to speak again after a whole hour of silence I was really surprised to hear the quality of my voice.

Like many voice professionals, I take care of my voice by performing regular vocal warm ups and strengthening exercises, but the effect of the massage on the quality of my voice was immediate and impactful.

Fortunately, the next thing on my agenda that day was to interview a local business person for my radio show. I was so pleased to hear my voice was low and resonant and quickly and effortlessly responded to my changes in pitch.

Being able to rely on your voice when you have an important speaking engagement is fundamental to your success as a professional speaker but also helps you to be able to focus solely on the content of your speech.

Nerves that kick in before an important speech or interview can restrict and constrict the muscles that surround your larynx and prevent the vocal folds from working effectively. Tension builds in your shoulders and neck and without a sustained effort to relax them, can dominate a poor posture and negatively impact your voice.

To overcome the effect of tension, you can undertake a series of relaxation exercises, that help the muscles release the taut feelings between your shoulders and in your neck.

Relaxation exercises to help speech muscles work better:

  1. Take a breath from deep inside. Visualise your breath coming from the depths of your lungs and as you breathe in, allow your ribs to gently expand and lift away from your centre.
  2. Keep your mouth closed if you’re able, allowing the breath to gently flow into your lungs via your nose. Inside your nose you have a wealth of cilia which are microscopic hairs that cleanse and warm the air that enters your lungs.
  3. Take it slowly. Long, slow breaths will help to cleanse the lungs, slow down your heart rate and help those essential muscles to release tension and relax your body.
  4. Gently squeeze your hands to make a fist with each, feel the tension, then let it go.
  5. Release the tension in your shoulders and feel them sink down away from your ears.

Simple breathing exercises can be very effective at slowing down the heart rate and enabling you to think more clearly.

Take time to breathe before you speak when you are making your presentation or interview. Breathing helps to clarify your thoughts and also to maintain a relaxed posture and flow of speech.

Ideally, it is helpful to also stretch out your ribs, your back, your neck and so on before you embark on a speech, but these simple breathing exercises can help tremendously.

A massage helps to slow down your breathing and also relaxes the muscles to give your voice a very good basis for working optimally. Alternatively, five minutes spent breathing slowly and deeply can also be a fantastic way to re-centre and your route to delivering a great speech.

Presenting online

How to look after your voice

Are you struggling after months and months of online Zoom and Team meetings? Are you preparing yet more online presentations and delivering strategic plans to staff, colleagues and stakeholders? Do you get an overwhelming impulse sometimes, to just run away?!

Without the old visual feedback which comes through your audience’s attentive body language or a puzzled or interested face, it is an ongoing challenge to gauge how your presentation is going.

You may be tempted to project your voice more, yet think if you speak too loudly it will be wrong and end up with a conflict of muscle activity in your neck and larynx. This can result in antagonistic behaviour, where muscles are being held to do a job that’s not necessary, at the same time as other muscles – which are necessary – are also being pushed to perform.

The outcome of this is at best tired muscles around your larynx, jaw and voice and at worse, strained vocal folds (or vocal chords) which can make your voice sound hoarse and ‘thin’.

You can avoid a tired, strained voice and here are some tips to help you plan how to get the most out of your online presentation:

  1. Prepare thoroughly. Ensure you know your material and have it ready in a logical and accessible format.
  2. Know your audience as much as you can. What do they want to get out of your presentation? Ensure you are addressing their concerns or meeting their attendance objectives.
  3. Now to your voice.
    • Warm up your voice by breathing in, deep down into the bottom of your lungs and hum the air out, slowly, on one note. Repeat this exercise five times on different (low-ish) notes.
    • Breathe in deeply and slowly and this time hum out using your voice like a siren. The notes of your hum should gently rise and fall, like a series of gently arching bridges. Once your lungs are feeling empty, stop humming, breathe in again and repeat the exercise four more times.
    • Breathe in to the bottom of your lungs again and halfway through your humming out, allow your jaw to drop and the sound ‘aahhhhh’ to come out. No effort, no pushing, no tension in your neck or anywhere… just the air passing over your vocal folds and gently warming up your voice. Repeat this exercise four more times and relax.
  4. Begin your presentation with a smile, if appropriate. Acknowledge and welcome your audience, tell them what to expect and how long you will be speaking for.
  5. Rehearse your opening and closing sentences.

Always have a glass of water to hand and ensure you are well-hydrated before you begin to speak. Take sips of water throughout your presentation to keep your vocal folds hydrated and moving smoothly.

As you make your presentation, remember to be yourself. Be present and be engaged with what you are saying and your voice will carry the sincerity of your words.

There are many, many aspects to speaking well during an online presentation in addition to the points I have raised above, including clarity, pace and vocal variety.

Your posture is important too. Ensure you have a good, supportive chair or if you’re standing, check your posture is aligned and relaxed. If you are relaxed, your voice will be relaxed.

If you are experiencing vocal fatigue, exhaustion or just feel a bit jaded about your online presentation skills, please get in touch. So don’t run away! I can help you develop a very effective toolkit to bring out your best voice for your Zoom and Team calls.