Tone Deaf?

Tone DearOnce, when I was teaching solo singing in a school for a while, I was sent a new pupil with a quiet warning: ‘Maddie desperately wants to sing, but we know she’s tone deaf – just see what you can do.’

So I met Maddie. We started our lessons and I did indeed find that she was unable to pitch notes that I played her on the piano. She would attempt to sing something and sound really bad. I’d suggest something to help her; she would attempt that and it was just as bad. On one second attempt, just to encourage her, I said, ‘Yes, that’s the idea.’

And then it happened – she caught my eye for a fraction of a second, and in that lightning glance far too short for words her eyes said, ‘You’re lying.’

She was right, I was.

But the glance, discomforting as it was, was also the message. I suddenly realised that if Maddie knew that the second attempt was no better than the first, she could hear that it wasn’t. So, what did we mean by ‘tone deaf’?

That did it. We set out again and several things were different.

  • Without anything ever being said we both knew that she’d seen through my deception, and from that point there was a complete honesty between us.
  • I now believed that she wasn’t tone deaf – that there was a way for her to learn to sing if we could find it together. So I believed in her possibility.
  • I realised I was in uncharted waters, so I was willing to try something new.
  • And what I did was take the lead from her.

She sang me a note, and we discovered it on the piano, and then little by little we explored together the territory around her note. The exploration eventually blossomed into a song with limited range, ‘Day by Day’. After that there was no holding her back, and at the end of the year she sang a solo in a school concert for which she was warmly applauded.

I wonder where you are now Maddie, I hope you are still enjoying singing. I was the learner that day.

I learned from you that truth is paramount.

I learned from you the importance of believing in someone.

I learned from you to go into the unknown.

And I learned that I’m not in charge of your learning; you are.

Coaching came into vogue several years later, but there are the fundamentals, picked up in a glance into someone’s eyes.

So I find myself writing this with two curiosities:

I wonder what you might notice today if you don’t know the answer before you begin.

I wonder too how an uncomfortable moment for you might be the very key to unlocking something that was stuck before.

I once asked the NLP pioneer Robert Dilts who his mentors had been in getting to where he is now. He looked a bit puzzled for a moment. Then he replied that though there had been some obvious teachers in his early years – like Gregory Bateson for instance – his main observation was that he learned most from students and people he met every day.

Just so.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms: 25 Sure-fire Ways to Speak and Present with Confidence

My new book, comes out at last at the end of February – ways for you to beat fear of speaking even if you have always suffered intolerably from performance nerves. 25 ways to choose from – one especially targeted at you! Order it now on Amazon.

NLP Conference last week

It was a brilliant conference, the best yet, with several speakers I had never heard before and will now follow avidly. Book for next year if you can!

Voice of Influence Workshop

The 1-2 December one is full. The next is not till 17-18 May … unless someone twists my arm! Find your speaking voice – and your confidence.

NLP Diploma

The first module, Communication and Relationships is on 1-2 March. Book up now. I know this kind of training works for people because they tell me so … straight after the training and also months and years afterwards. It’s where they discover their inner confidence, and find the means to make important changes in life and career. I can’t really describe it – you just have to find out.

I’m away for a good chunk of the next month and a half, so contact me initially by email if you want to speak to me.

Be well,

What or why?

 
 
 

Stephen Fry

beautiful voice...?

A beautiful voice…

A friend told me the other day that he thought Stephen Fry had a beautiful voice. I pressed him to tell me more about it. “It just has a fantastic rich tone,” he replied, “It’s a great voice.”

On one level I agree. But his remark takes me back many years to a moment in a shabby room in Rome entirely dominated by a grand piano. I am with my maestro for my daily singing lesson and he is speaking forcefully: “What’s this with beauty?” he rants. “A voice doesn’t have to be beautiful; it has to express something! Why do you sing?! You have to know why you sing!”

This has been a bit of a theme this week. I gave a presentation on Hypnotic Voices at the NLP Conference a couple of days ago and as so often the subject of what and why came up. Many trainee hypnotherapists are taught what to do to produce a deep voice in order to connect better with the deep unconscious of the client. But the voice – even a deep one – is powerless on its own to connect – it’s the intention behind itthe why – that counts. We need to ask about the effect of our voice on the client – it’s about purpose and connection.

There’s a notable difference between the warm resonant statement of someone whose intention is to produce a warm resonant voice and the warm resonant statement of someone who feels warmth towards the listener and resonates in tune with them. The sound of the former – the person creating the ‘voice’ – has a slight stiffness as he or she manipulates the physical space inside for the ‘warm’ sound, whereas the sound of the latter is more flexible, has more overtones – and is infinitely more interesting to listen to.

It’s great if we can tell the difference. Beware the empty sound bite! 

How to speak with influence

The impact of a voice cannot be separated from its meaning. Now, the way to a voice that expresses meaning is different from the way to a beautiful-sounding voice – very different actually.  If we think in terms of producing a nice-sounding voice we will be interested in technique alone and ask the question, “What do we need to do to sound good? What’s the technique?”

The renowned hypnotherapist and teacher Stephen Gilligan says that his student hypnotherapists are always asking, “What do I do? What do I do? What do I do?”  They want the techniques, and fast. Trainee coaches are often on a similar quest regarding powerful questioning tools: “What do I ask? What do I ask? What do I ask? Give me the techniques!”

“What?” can only get you so far. The way to an expressive voice as to successful hypnotherapy or coaching goes on from “what to do” or even “how to do it” to “why”; it’s an exploration of the live relationship between me and you expressed in my intention – the meaning and identity I bring to it.

This what versus why turns up everywhere. When doctors wanted to understand living human beings they studied dead bodies. They began to tell us what happened when you ‘fell’ ill or “caught” a virus. But why you at this particular time in these particular circumstances should be susceptible to one of the millions of viruses in circulation, ah, that they could not tell us.

Orators studied discourse. They discovered the rhetorical question, the rule of three as in “friends, Romans, countrymen” and the three dynamics of persuasive dialogue. They taught these things and yet it didn’t add up on its own to profound oratory. The great speakers used these devices – so much was true – but using these devices did not on its own produce great speakers. We can see this in some politicians well-schooled in oratory today…

In my NLP Conference talk I referenced the work of the extraordinary hypnotherapist Milton Erickson. Erickson used his voice with great mastery but he didn’t put vocal expression into what he was doing; rather, his meaning produced expression in his voice – entirely the other way around. To produce mastery you can get only so far through recreating tone of voice, volume, pitch and so on. You have also to understand the why and introduce your intention into that connected trance space and let go with trust. If given freedom to do so the powerful authentic voice emerges naturally from that intention within. 

How do you do that? The means to the why is more likely to be discovered through light-hearted exploration than through dreary technical drill. The great news is that the discovery of this inner intention shortcuts the what – the techniqueand you find you have the skills anyhow.

This what/why question has wide application. The next time you are in the throes of “gotta do, gotta do, gotta do” maybe you’ll just step back for a moment and ask yourself “Why? – what meaning am I making of this? What’s this really about? What’s my intention here?” And find your answer in the silence.

Free copy of article on hypnotic voices

I have written a few-page article on Hypnotic Voices that you might find useful if you are interested in influencing people with your voice. Just drop me an email (judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk) if you’d like to read it and I’ll email you a copy – there’s no charge.

If you are interested in one-to-one coaching – face-to-face, by telephone or Skype – that’s also a great way to learn how to communicate powerfully so do contact me to discuss it.

Go well!

NLP Conference – London 2010

NLP Conference 2010

The NLP Conference looks exciting this year – an especially impressive line-up of speakers and topics. It’s always a great opportunity to hear some of the best NLP trainers and developers in one place.

My own session – “Hypnotic Voices” – looks to psychotherapy for new learning. Successful  hypnotherapists use the voice with particular skill and provide excellent models of vocal magic. But their techniques will also be of great interest to coaches, teachers, public speakers and all who use language to ‘take people to a different emotional space’.

I talk about techniques – but it’s much more than that. To make vocal connections on a deeper level requires physical, emotional and holistic alignment. This is what makes the learning so fascinating and  the ability so fulfilling.

The Hypnotic Voices session is on Saturday afternoon at 4.15. The Conference Brochure says:

Hypnotic Voices

The spoken voice has a considerable effect on other people, more than we are aware of consciously. If you are a hypnotist, therapist or coach you want to use the spoken word to influence your client yet maybe are not sure exactly how to do this with the voice you’ve been given. This session will introduce you to three key techniques for using your voice in trance work and generally for influencing people beneath their conscious awareness. The session is of special interest to those who work in the fields of hypnotherapy, coaching or clean language and is also suitable for everyone who wants to be able to exert more subtle influence with their voice.

To Book log onto:  www.nlpconference.co.uk

 Let me know if you are planning to be at the Conference and I’ll hope to meet you at my workshop.

 See you there!

  Judy

Feeling the Fear

Feel the FearSummer ending. This morning I hear the rumble of passing cars as the school at the top of the road gets into action after the holiday. It’s a time of beginnings for all ages: starting school for the very first time, entering secondary school, getting ready for college or going back to work after the holiday break.

Rested, refreshed?

Rabbit in headlightsActually, for many of us what actually arises at this moment of new beginnings – even if we don’t tell a soul – is FEAR.

We don’t want it to be so but there it is, and there doesn’t seem to be much we can do about it. Are we alone in this? And what is this fear feeling? Are we saying to ourselves that we’re not going to cope? We’re not good enough? We’re found wanting? Are we thinking the world’s a dangerous place? We are not sure, the feeling is so nebulous.

What we do recognise is the effect: a blocked sensation, a stiffness taking over the posture, a shrinking within, a weakness, a hesitation to speak. It says “I can’t” as surely as Sir Winston Churchill’s “black dog” of depression.

Many people at work have such symptoms every day – especially currently when they feel especially vulnerable to reorganisation and cuts. The fear saps vitality, stifles creativity and makes the person feel small – like a rabbit caught in the headlights, frozen in a moment of impending doom! – even as they increase their efforts and double their stress.

The instinct is to force control on the situation – to spend extra time, prepare more carefully, look both ways before proceeding, micro-manage, make extra efforts to get things right, check and double check, to watch other people’s reactions, calculate risks …

 – and surely that’s good. Yes, it surely is …

And yet, and yet …

What if life is less like a crossing the road and more like white water rafting?

When I’m hurtling down the river rapids of life what is going to help then? Very different skills: steering rather than trying to put a brake on, looking the way I’m going rather than at my fellow passengers’ reactions, opening to currents of opportunity rather trying to get the paddling correct, freedom rather than rigidity, breathing rather than stiffening, exhilaration rather than holding.

It’s going with what is happening as it happens.

In terms of moving beyond fear, it means as a first step movement with and breath.

So, at this moment of new starts, it’s the perfect time to take a deep breath, and the time to get moving. A brisk walk gives us more energy than internal dialogue as we enter the workplace. The voice comes out stronger when we fill our lungs first. Singing a song at full volume in the shower gives us more courage than giving ourselves a critical lecture. A short amble up the hill produces more good ideas than two hours facing a screen.

So I breathe out the old air and take a good in-breath. I shake myself loose, start to move, and something shifts.

White Water RaftingSuddenly I’m enjoying the late summer sunshine, feeling optimistic, thrilling to the next challenge and all set to surf the rapids as well as move in quiet waters –  ready for the world again.

Happy river running to all of you!

– and many quiet waters!

Confidence Connections on the Website

 1.  “10 Secrets to Overcoming Performance Anxiety” Download free e-course.

2.   The “Voice of Influence” workshop has some powerful resources for going beyond fear – the next course is on 30 Sep – 1 Oct. As a previous participant said:  “It’s fabulous how these two days transformed my fear into real FUN! Can’t wait to do some more speaking.” Alex S  

3.  NLP Diploma: NLP is the great confidence builder – the Diploma offers six days of rich practical learning over a couple of months. People find it difficult to put NLP in a nutshell, but what you will certainly get out of the Diploma is the ability to be a more effective communicator and get on better with everyone, surer direction in your life, greater self awareness – including liking yourself better! – more influence and increased success at work and outside.  This makes it a great leadership course.

 

Cicely Berry – Voice Genius

Cicely Berry

the actors' coach

Isn’t Wikipedia wonderful? I check out Cicely Berry this morning and as usual it comes up trumps:

“Cicely Frances Berry CBE (born May 17, 1926) is the voice director of the Royal Shakespeare Company and is world-renowned in her work as a voice and text coach”

it tells me. She is indeed coach to the professionals and particularly adores working with Shakespeare. I love her work because she values authenticity highly and connects people with who they are. Browsing again recently through her book “Voice and the Actor” published in the seventies she has some wise words about communicating your inner self.

Your tensions and limitations as a speaker come from lack of trust in yourself, she says. Perhaps you are over-anxious to communicate or too keen to present an image. Perhaps you are trying to convince your audience of something about yourself. You may even be relying too much on what works for you and become too predictable … even if you have an interesting voice. All these approaches lack true freedom.

As Cicely says elsewhere, “We are drawn to a voice which vibrates and which has resonance.”  Freedom is having no preconceived idea of how to sound, no holding on to the voice you know, no unnecessary tension.

Wow, that’s a real letting go, but how we love to hear that in a speaker – the speaker is liberated and we experience the energy of that liberation. Worth aiming for, I think.

Speak with power and influence

What makes a great voice? It’s about using your body as well as your head; it’s about breath; it’s about strong intention. Find out how you can develop your own voice to speak powerfully without years of training.

 

TigerTo communicate you use your voice … as well as gesture, posture, breathing and your general state. The sounds you make are infinitely subtle and communicate far more than the words you choose. So if you are interested in connecting with other people the voice is a highly important part of that communication.

The human has a big head and a big body with a narrowing in between – the neck! In that in-between area sits our voice box – the vocal cords. What mystery placed the vocal cords just there, mid-way between head and heart – mind and body? And what does it mean to us as communicating beings?

Many people assume that speaking is just a ‘head job’ – an intellectual process. They have the sensation of thinking in the head, taking air in through nose or mouth and speaking through the mouth, articulating the sound with lips, tongue and teeth. They are not aware of any other part of the body playing a part at all.

This is to miss major elements of the process however. First of all, the trigger to speak is an impulse in the body that is not the same as thinking. It’s an energetic call to action. This is the impulse which causes your body to get involved in taking in breath in a particular way and it begins the process of producing particular sounds. You speak because you are enthused, determined, angry, anxious, inspired or interested, because you have a desire to help, to impress, to convince, to charm, to motivate or reassure: that’s the impulse to speak.

Let’s say for example I am having a debate with you and you make a statement that I violently disagree with. In my eagerness to refute your statement I am quick to respond: I take a rapid breath which organises my body in such a way that the sound comes out resonating sharply again the breast plate and in the head.

Maybe, on another occasion I glance at someone beside me whom I love very much and am filled with a beautiful loving feeling which arouses the desire to say something. The slow breath I take, suffused with love, opens cavities around my heart and chest which resonate softly when I say my words of endearment.

It is the breath, affected by the trigger (desire, intention, emotion etc.), which moves the muscles of the body to open particular combinations of resonating cavities which then vibrate to make the particular quality of sound that expresses the intention accurately.

This is the miracle. Through this means you express in sound the intention in your being. People listening to you then catch your energy and intention and are influenced by your speaking. And what becomes possible then?…

Your Voice Gives You Away!

Voice gives you awayYour voice is a powerful tool – but it can be a liability if you talk stridently or in a dull monotone. Learn how to speak with a voice that connects with your energy and feelings and see what an enormous difference it makes to how people want to listen to you.

Your voice can be a powerful tool when you know how to use it. Your voice reveals a lot to the world about you so you need it to tell the story you want! Yet it is a subject that has been under-investigated. Apart from noticing different accents most of us distinguish very little about the voice: high voice maybe, deep voice, squeaky voice, rich voice, strident voice … But we all know the difference in how a voice makes us feel. We are all influenced greatly by the sound of a person’s voice.

The sound of your voice in fact tells a detailed story about you, not only about your present state of mind but about your history. 

What are the signposts to what is going on?

A voice that never changes

Many people have only one voice. They talk nasally, or in a dull monotone, or in a tight constricted way or very high like a child. Whatever they say, however emotional the content might presume to be, the voice just comes out the same.

Why is that? At some time in their life they have separated emotion from vocal expression and become tense around shoulders, neck or jaw or all three. Tension in these places can be of the moment, but some tension they will have been carrying around since they were very young in response to early life experiences. Full expression of the whole range of human communication is blocked by this tightness. If you close your throat or grip your jaw you are cutting off the part of your body where feelings, emotions, natural impulses and much of what makes us truly human lies. 

The manufactured voice

Some people speak in a pleasant way but still have a voice that is basically cut off and fails to connect. It can be deep and imposing, rich and resounding or warm and pleasant. But the sound does not express what is going on – and it never varies its quality. The listener is deceived – and often the speaker is deceived as well! 

Why is that?  Someone who speaks in this way decided (sub-consciously probably) at some stage in their life not to reveal everything that was going on – in other words to put up a mask to hide emotions that didn’t seem acceptable. You will never get a spontaneous response from someone who speaks like this – there is always an infinitesimal pause before they react. Ask a spontaneous person about an exciting occasion and they will come back on the instant with warmth and excitement in the voice, “Oh, it was wonderful!”  Ask a one-voice person and you are more likely to get a constrained “Er, we had a great time, thank you.”

The free voice

The voice that is truly expressive and thus influential is relatively free of bodily tension.  If your voice is free the sound resonates in all parts of your body communicating every nuance of what you are saying. As you become excited your voice goes up in pitch for a moment; as you sound determined the voice resonates against your chest and as you express care or concern your voice tone comes from your heart.  The voice does this automatically, constantly varying, reflecting spontaneously the meaning of your communication. Hundreds of bones and muscles in your body are involved in conveying your meaning through resonance.

Your voice does not lie. It reveals much more about you than you would imagine. If you want to be an effective communicator you need to learn to use all parts of your voice and the learning can be fun. Once you are able to use all parts of your voice you will find your influence increases beyond measure.

Tibetan Singing Bowls

Singing BowlHave you come across a singing bowl? I bought one when I went to Kathmandu. It is a metal bowl that sounds like a bell when struck with a soft mallet and it is the most remarkable object.
Antique singing bowls were made of alloys containing up to seven different metals – for example copper, tin, zinc, silver, gold, nickel and iron. Some bowls even contained a most prized metal they called “sky iron” which came from meteorites such as found in Tibet.
There is something quite extraordinary about the sound these bowls make. The different metals within the bowl produce different harmonics so that a well-made bowl produces several tones at once, resulting in a sound that is rich, full, harmonious, complex and enchanting. The oldest bowls have a specially warm and peaceful tone that creates a meditative calm when you hear it. The tone lingers for quite some time and you can feel its effect within you.
Monks in Buddhist monasteries used such sounds in meditation. The sound vibrations promote wellness and balance. Sound being one of the spiritual paths to enlightenment the bell also reminds them to be mindful in meditation.
Striking the outside of the bowl with a mallet is one way to produce the sound; but the bowl furnishes its most incredible tone when played in a different way. You hold the bowl freely on your open palm and rub a mallet lightly around the rim of the bowl. There gradually emerges from the silence a continuous singing tone, a complex chord of harmonic overtones, which develops into a surprisingly powerful sound. If you’d like to hear and see how to do it go to Joseph Feinstein’s demonstration at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eioe67FZJs&feature=related

I like to think of the singing bowl as a metaphor for coaching. First of all – like the people you may coach – every bowl is different; each has its own shape, its own size, and its own individual combination of metals. And each responds to the player in different ways, and responds to each individual player in a different way.
The bowl only sings when it is supported so that it can vibrate. Nothing is forced; sound emerges from the light touch around the centre. The touch needs to be subtle, like connecting with something alive. The swashbuckling actor Errol Flynn when asked what is the proper way to hold a sword replied that you should hold it like a small bird: “If you hold too tightly the bird dies and the life is lost. If you hold too loosely, the bird escapes and flies away, and you’re left with nothing” So too with the singing bowl. And so too the relationship with someone you coach – not too tight and not too loose: too much control and many possibilities escape you; too tentative a connection and you fail to hold a supportive space that engenders change.
As a coach you hold the space as a bowl surrounds the emptiness within it. The old monks meditated on the “voidness” in the bowl – it is from that unknown space that truths and insights emerge. If we think we know what is inside we make mistakes or force conclusions. We don’t know before we start; it emerges as we work together with someone. What we do know for sure is that the person, like the singing bowl, is extraordinary and exceptional: a unique voice that wants to be heard.
Here are some more glorious vibrations created by Tibetan singing bowls for you to enjoy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bcka0wrn1ok

Leaders’ Debate

I’ve just been commenting on the voice and body language of our political leaders at an event for the First Pre-election Debate. Are you as amazed as I am at some of the presuppositions implied by the media in this period?

Good presentation in debate = a leader who will make good decisions (really?!)

Debating skill implies a leader who will make good things happen (how can we tell?!)

Scoring points in debate means a leader who will unite our people (there’s an interesting one!)

Of course we can learn much by observing and listening to people, but we also check our presuppositions as we go! No coach would let a client get away with such clumsy thinking!

Barack Obama: extraordinary orator

Barack ObamaThe world’s media seem pretty much agreed about one thing following the election of Barack Obama as the next president of the United States: Barack is a great speaker, and his oratory has served him well.

Yesterday’s headline in the Sunday Times read: “Orator in the mould of history’s best”, and continued, ”Even in the age of YouTube and the soundbite, Barack Obama has proved that soaring, sustained oratory still has great power. His victory address to crowds in Chicago last week was widely regarded as one of the finest speeches in modern politics, delivered by a master.”

Barack Hussein Obama “is a speaker of genius”, declares Andrew Gimsom of the Daily Telegraph.  “Obama’s extraordinary oratory made us feel less jaded, and less willing to humour those who made us jaded in the first place” asserts Marina Hyde of the Guardian.

In America they agree. “His soaring rhetoric is moving his audiences not just politically, but emotionally,” says CBS News.
Chris Matthews of CNBC talks about “the feeling most people get when they hear a Barack Obama speech. I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean – I don’t have that too often!”

One in a line

This isn’t his policies they are talking about: it’s the effect of his delivery on them. Barack is one in a line of politicians who have made their way to power through oratory, and his speeches look back and quote other great presidential orators, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy, and civil rights activist Martin Luther King.

There are parallels in British politics. David Cameron was an outside candidate for the Tory leadership until he gave an unusually good speech. Ian Duncan Smith (remember him?) was considered a potentially good leader until he gave a bad one. Gordon Brown’s reputation has suffered from his lack of ability meet the occasion as a speaker. Tony Blair’s rise to power was helped considerably by his ability to connect well with his audience.

Good public speakers get promoted in business and politics. It happens again and again, and I’m sure you could quote examples from your own experience.

So, what is Obama’s secret?

What can we learn from Obama? Well, his speeches are brilliantly crafted, but that’s not the whole story. Let’s look at some of his skills.

Obama knows how to speak directly to us; he comes across as himself; he looks at ease; his words and his body language are in harmony; he has brilliant timing; you wouldn’t know that the speech was pre-written, it sounds spontaneous.

How can YOU do the same?

How can you learn to be a great communicator? Can you learn? … great speakers are born, not made, they say…

I don’t subscribe to that saying. I think there is a great speaker in most of us, and that such things as spontaneity, authenticity and connection can be learned. The reason I believe it is because I have seen it happen many times – in my workshops and one-to-one with people.

People often go to the great acting companies for help with public speaking, but acting specialists don’t necessarily have the answers for those who wish to be great orators. Great oratory is not acting: it uses speaking skills, true, but it relies more on a way of being. It happens so often that people learn in speaking courses how to act in public: they pronounce their words with great emphasis, they employ their practised gestures, they utilise the stage directions and pauses they have learned; but in the end they don’t connect with their audience and certainly don’t stir them or influence them. Not at all.

To be an orator in the mould of an Obama, Kennedy or Luther King you need to learn how to convert your heart beats into powerful communication. You need to have the ability to connect with this particular audience on this day. More than anything, you need to know how to be at ease with yourself. These abilities come from skill and they come from self belief, which can also be learned. Then you will be the best of you, and others will be attracted to what you have to say. It works every time.