Updated: Feb 2
First off, who uses the term ‘Rolodex’ anymore?!
(For anyone who doesn’t know, a Rolodex is a rotating file device used to store business contact information. I’ve just finished watching Mad Men on Netflix - which is great btw! - and they all had one)
But seriously, for those who truly value professional development and personal growth, I guarantee that there is one contact they have on speed dial.
And the reason you haven’t may simply be because you‘ve never heard of them. Not your fault, there are just so few qualified and experienced ones available.
I am of course talking about voice coaches.
If you’re thinking, “I know about voice coaches, what’s the big deal?” then you can’t have worked with one, or if you have, they can’t have done their job properly.
“I had no idea people like you existed”.
Hands down this is the most frequent statements I get in a first email or coaching session with a new client.
Voice coaching has been around in various forms for many, many years. So why the mystery?
It depends what it is that you want to improve and then importantly what term you search for.
If it is a particular challenge with your speech or accent, the go-to term tends to be ‘elocution lessons’, right?
The issue with this term is that it might conjure an image of some stuffy, posh sounding pedant educating the ‘working’ classes to speak ‘proper’ as with Eliza Doolittle from Pygmalion/My Fair Lady (or possibly Lionel Logue from the The Kings Speech (2010) - a much better point of reference).
But it’s 2019 and things have changed and they can help with so many aspects of speech and communication that could turn you into the speaker you’ve always wanted to be.
So, What Does A Voice Coach Offer?
A qualified voice coach (I’ll talk about what ‘qualified’ might mean in a moment) is trained in phonetics and the anatomy and physiology of speech. So yes, if you want to improve the clarity of your speech or particular pronunciation challenges or indeed softening or reducing an accent, a qualified voice coach is the perfect fit.
Sadly, this is all that most people think voice coaches are trained to do. And it really is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what a voice coach can offer.
Picture yourself speaking in a team meeting, giving a presentation in a boardroom, talking socially, speaking on the phone, pitching to a client or investor, giving a keynote speech at a conference, delivering a lecture, teaching, speaking at a training event, leading a workshop, preaching, being interviewed on radio, giving a speech at a wedding, hosting a podcast or webinar, speaking to camera etc... the common factor in all of these instances is that your voice and your words are centre stage: how you inflect your words, the pace at which you speak, your tone of voice, your resonance, how loud you are, how well you enunciate, and much more. These qualities can be the make or break to being successful in communication, whether it’s one to one or one to a thousand. And again it’s a voice coach you need to call to develop these skills.
You see a voice coach is trained in the anatomy and physiology of voice production. They know the minutiae of how your breathing system works, how your voice is produced, how your voice resonates and how you shape words into speech and language. So they know instantly why your voice might sound stuck in your throat, why your breath is shallow, why you sound quiet or strain to be heard, why you mumble and rush, why you have no vocal stamina and most importantly, how to fix these things. So someone who offers just presentation skills trainings without being a qualified voice coach can only help with half or a third of what you may be struggling with. A voice coach can help you with both (read on) - and do so with much more expertise.
Particularly if they have a performance background (theatre, tv, film, radio) they’ll also have a deep and comprehensive understanding about the way words affect people. I’m not talking about script writing (although some can help with this too) but they understand how word choice, rhetorical devices (dating back to Aristotle), timing and pace of delivery, inflection and pausing are all major players in effective communication and they can guide you in a very nuanced way specific to your subject and the circumstances in which you speak. Some people are nervous that a coach from a performance background will try to make them sound theatrical or make them do embarrassing exercises - not so with the right coach. So whether you’re speaking in court, chatting with a friend over a pint, interviewing for a job or speaking in a boardroom, a voice coach will guide you to engage the listener/s and leave satisfied.
Now if that wasn’t enough, their training will also privilege them to an understanding of the complex psychology around communicating oneself and ways to remain authentic, connect to what you say, speak with confidence, work with anxiety and fear, deal with combative personalities or hostile environments and much more.
That’s quite a skill set, right?
What Do I Look For When Searching For A Voice Coach?
I promised that I’d share with you what to look for in terms of training.
Firstly, we all know that there are individuals out there who make a huge difference and bring a breathtaking amount of skill and competency without academic or formal training. So please don’t misinterpret the follow list as a necessary benchmark for a great voice coach. But if you are searching on the internet instead of going off word of mouth then these qualifications and trainings are a good guide:
In the UK having an MA in Voice Studies from the Royal Central School Of Speech and Drama can be a sign of a credible voice coach, although not all graduates come with a background in performance, which can be important in enabling them to offer everything I’ve mentioned above with skill.
Other credible training is offered through the Professional Voice Practice course at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and graduates from the voice course at the Guildhall School (which sadly is no longer offered) have work with world renowned voice coach Patsy Rodenburg. And there is a new course starting in 2019 at The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School called MfA in Professional Voice Studies which will not doubt produce some very influential voice coaches.
I’m unable to verify the quality of other university based voice courses outside the UK but there are various heavyweight, credible, independent practitioners/methods who offer independent voice teacher training: namely Kristin Linklater, Jo Estill, Catherine Fitzmaurice, Roy Hart and Arthur Lessac.
Of course qualified linguists and phoneticians are able to offer help with pronunciation and articulation but without other training they may not be best place to help with many of the other challenges mentioned above. Qualified Speech and Language Therapists have a similar training to voice coaches but they tend to work in specialisms concerning pathology: stroke, injury, PTSD etc...
I hope you found this helpful. Click here to find out more about how a voice coach can help you and why not share this post with others who might be interested.