On my bookshelf

  • "The Breathing Book" by Donna Farhi
  • "Confessions of a Public Speaker" by Scott Berkun
  • "My Freshman Year" by Rebekah Nathan
  • "Power Presentation" by Patsy Rodenburg

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


The summer has been so busy with private sessions I haven't had nearly the time I would have liked to attend to my blogging. Not to worry- I am back! If the fall affords you with any extra time, or the need for a good laugh, I strongly suggest picking up a copy of Lynne Truss's (note the use of the apostrophe here) book, "Eats, Shoots and Leaves". Now, why on earth would I advocate picking up a punctuation book when I am a voice teacher who deals with the spoken word? I'll let Ms. Truss tell you herself:

"Punctuation directs you how to read, in the way musical notation directs a musician how to play. As we shall see in the chapter on commas, it was first used by Greek dramatists two thousand years ago to guide actors between breathing points…"

Give it a try. Take out your next lecture, presentation or script and try breathing each time you get to a comma. Then, check out Lynne Truss's book for a good laugh and hopefully, a new appreciation for the written and spoken word alike.

I've had a few requests for blog entries and podcasts. We are working on getting more podcasts and possibly some with video up soon. Topics will include:


The Mighty Tongue

Presentation Notation



Tuesday, July 8, 2008

How do I sound?

My cousin, a gorgeous young woman in her early twenties with blond hair and a petite frame, is well on her way to becoming a talented director in the film industry. We had a chance to get together over pizza the other night and catch up. I asked her how everything was going and after lots of great stories about the Paramount lot, we got to talking about the work that I'm doing. Somehow she brought up the fact that she consciously pitches her voice low so that people will take her seriously. She has the impression that it is harder for her to attain immediate respect from co-workers because of her youthful appearance.

It is tempting to pitch our voices higher or lower according to how we hope to be perceived, just make sure that you aren't impeding your body's natural ability to communicate easily. So often men come into my sessions vocally tired because they have either consciously or unconsciously pushed their sound back into their throats to sound "cooler" or "more masculine". Forcing your voice into a certain pitch can cause tension in the vocal folds and cut off your natural resonance.

Try this: Sit comfortably in a chair or lying down on the floor while you allow the breath to fall in and out. Place your hands on your face, covering you forehead, cheeks and mouth and begin to hum. Without forcing in any way, hum a few high pitches and then a few low pitches. When the humming feels easy, speak a simple phrase, such as, "Hello, how are you?" Notice whether these words are spoken in a higher or a lower pitch from where you normally speak. How does it feel?

Go on, give it a try!

Thursday, July 3, 2008


It is a muggy, warm July evening at the park where the green grasses obscure a small pond with ducks frolicking among the water lilies. James wheels himself over to where I stand and introduces himself by inviting me to bump fists with him. The fist bump is his solution to a handshake since he is unable to open his fingers in the necessary way for a traditional handshake.

James was about to become a professional hockey player before a work accident left him paralyzed in both legs. He talks candidly about the depression he experienced after his accident, but he is now passionate about the work he does providing accessible outdoor leisure activities, such as gliding, sailing and hiking, to people with disabilities. Part of this work includes speaking in public, like this past week when he spoke at a grade 7 graduation.

When he first began speaking to groups, initially made up of fellow quadriplegics, he admits to being hesitant and that the possibility was intimidating.

"How did you get over that fear?" I asked.

"I just reminded myself that it wasn't about me. I had to get over myself and tell those guys that there is so much out there to live for. Then it was easy."

There was an earnestness and strength in his voice that only his unique life experience could add to his words. I envied his audience and was thankful for an opportunity to learn once again that heartfelt motivation can move mountains and ease many fears, including that of not speaking in public.

Task: This week, make a list of the important life lessons you have learned. Keep the list in your speaking file. The next time you have to speak, you already have a few personal stories ready to go.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Who would have guessed that the most educational part of my week would take place at my cousin's wedding? It was a gorgeous and decadent affair with orchid's flowing over the rims of silver bowls, pink feather bouquets, Cava everywhere and a dessert feast that would tempt even the stricktest of dieters.

For me, however, the heart of any celebration is revealed in the speeches. The groom's father, known in our family as "Uncle Bruce" is the most accomplished of speakers. A career as a Chartered Accountant, and a longstanding President of numerous boards, his experience shows with the ease in which he presents. His speeches are by the book and yet they transend rules. The result is personal, touching, and revealing. My professional ear was keenly attuned to the nuances, while my heart was open and moved by the weight of such an important speech.

What can we steal from Uncle Bruce? The key to this particular speech was his use of audience. He began speaking to the wider group that consisted of strangers and family alike, bringing us all into a common understanding of his relationship with his son and daughter-in-law. Then he gradually transitioned into speaking to the groomsmen, many of whom he had known for thirty years. This transition allowed him to reveal a different side of his son's character, he even referred to a pivotal event in their lives that he could not describe in detail. Naming this "secret" honoured the many parts of our lives we do not discuss in public that have an important impact on the development of our character. The groomsmen were visibly affected by this reference and we, as an audience, were invited in to a more intimate relationship.

His final transition was perhaps the closest to his heart, as he addressed the parents of his new daugther-in-law. He recalled his own experience watching his daughter get married over ten years ago. He spoke with great empathy and specificity recalling his own feelings of joy, trepidation, and hope. It was with great care and sensitivity that he welcomed this couple into his family and vowed to care for their daughter, as he would his own.

Uncle Bruce's daughter, Leanne, unused to speaking in public, also got up to deliver a wonderful speech. As I complimented her at the end of the night, she resisted accepting such words. I wanted to say, "To me anything heartfelt, meaningful, brave and personal is better than all the well-polished words of a well-crafted speech."

So go ahead, be brave and speak from your heart. If you need help knowing where to start, begin with your audience and trust that knowing who you are talking to will also reveal what it is you want to say.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Benefits of Being Silly

Linking my week's activities and observations is at times a daunting task. However, as disparate as my experiences were this past week, a definite theme emerged as I quickly scribbled some of the highlights from this past week on a piece of scratch paper.

Scene one: I'm sitting with one of my private students in a board room at the university. For the past several weeks we have been observing his tendency to de-voice at the end of his phrases. As we intone and speak/sing funny phrases together he finds a full vibration all the way to the end of his sound and the tone is clear. Unfortunately, as soon as we move back into spoken words the de-voicing kicks back in. "Why are you doing this?" I ask cheekily. We both giggle and then are quiet. A moment of silence as he ponders what to say next. "I think it has to do with giving myself permission to be silly."

Scene two: A sunny (finally) summer Saturday morning in my living room. A student and I are rolling on the floor shaking our feet and making silly sounds. This student has done this type of exercise several times before, but today she feels uncomfortable, the sound is muted and when we sit up to reflect on the experience, she doesn't want to make eye contact. "I felt intimidated by the fact that you could express things so freely. I don't like the way I sound."

Scene three: Tuesday night at the Vancouver Public Library. A room in the basement is brimming with three hundred eager listeners as Dr. Gabor Mate makes his way to the podium to speak about his recent best-seller on addiction. He speaks about the hidden causes of addiction: the need to overcome pain, to experience pleasure, to fill a void or emptiness inside of us and finally the desire to feel exquisitely alive, to stimulate our endorphins.

Final scene: Two two year old boys are rolling on the grass, as the butterflies hover above their heads. They giggle and laugh and then jump up and down screaming at the top of their lungs. "You're so silly!" I tell them, laughing and envious of their freedom and joy.

As Dr. Mate introduced his work on addiction he described the process of inquiry as being akin to looking into a kaleidoscope. In his opinion, assessing the causes for addiction must take into consideration the physical, mental, emotional, and social history of an individual. Once these elements have been observed, the observer must shake the kaleidoscope over and over again to look at all these components in a variety of different ways. The ability to be silly is like our kaleidoscope as we investigate our sound. We let go of the physical, mental, emotional and social constraints we have placed on our expression.

Try it, make some silly sounds and observe how it feels, what thoughts are evoked and how it sounds.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Fearless Speaking

As the summer months hit, hopefully you have a little more time to pick up a book or, if all else fails, pop an audio recording into the car CD player as you journey off to some exotic sunny location. There are two books that I would highly recommend. The first is "Seven Steps to Fearless Speaking" by Lilyan Wilder. I was excited to find an honest and helpful resource for people who become either mildly worked up or absoluted debilitated when speaking in front of a group. The plan she creates for facing these challenges is clear, detailed and realistic. While she wisely refrains from offering a quick fix, the countless stories she provides remind the reader that with careful and conscious work we can all achieve more comfort and pleasure presenting our ideas in public.

My second suggestion is a book called "Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high" by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler and Stephen R. Covey. Reading this book was an extremely humbling experience for me. I recongnized the myriad of ways I impede clear communication. If I can ever begin to implement the communication skills they advocate, life in my household alone will definitely become easier and more enjoyable.

Pick them both up if you get a chance and enjoy the exotic summer vacation!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Speaking from the Body

I love syncronicity! I have been experimenting with the idea of inquiry based sessions when I teach. So as I headed into the classroom yesterday morning, I organized the text and physical tasks we would explore around a set of questions. We began with the question: "What does it mean to speak from the body?" I followed that question up with three others which I hoped would focus on the participant's individual experiences. The discussion was a lively one and as I had predicted created more questions than it answered. So, fortunately, the discussion reminded me that the concept of speaking from the body could take a lifetime to explore. Lorna Marshall's "The Body Speaks" provides wonderful insight and I would highly recommend it to anyone who communicates on a regular basis. The exercises she outlines are simple enough to be done on your own.

So where does syncronicity come in? Before drifting off to sleep, I picked up Michael Gelb's "How to think like Leonarda Da Vinci". According to Gelb, the major key to Da Vinci's extraodinary ability to design, create, philosophize, analyze, scrutinize and produce lies in his ability to constantly question. Gelb's advice on raising children to think like Da Vinci is to ask them every night when they come home from school, "What did you ask today?"

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Feldenkrais and Learning

As I continue to ponder Finkel's "Teaching With Your Mouth Shut", I keep returning to his initial question, "When have you learned something of value that you can apply to your life?" Contrary to his prediction, each learning experience I reflected on did actually happen in a classroom. The fact that the classroom was filled with sweaty students in leotards, sweats and bare feet might not have been his definition of a classroom, but I was nonetheless at a university pursuing my master's degree.

In Ken Bain's "What the Best College Teachers Do", he defines deep learning as "building new mental models of reality." As I was remembering a learning experience that changed the way I viewed the world, I remember being in George Pinney's movement class at Indiana University. George was leading us through a very simple Feldenkrias exercise where we 1) gauged our potential for movement, 2)repeated several small movements that allowed us to move beyond our initial physical boundaries, and 3) IMAGINED repeating the small movements on the opposite side which also allowed us to move beyond our initial physical boundaries. One of Feldenkrais' major philosophies is that our physical limitations are mental. Having seen such a tremdous shift in my physical body after having simply imagined it, opened up new posibilities for me physically and mentally.

I found a very similar exercise on-line that is very effective. Try for yourself and let me know what you think:


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Failure II

I had several ideas for my posting today, but it has taken me until the end of my workday to make a firm decision on the topic. When all the pieces fell into place I was amused to see the title of last week's post: Failure. Little did I know when I wrote that piece that I would be confronting my own type of failure within days.

Since having my son I haven't been out auditioning as much as I had previous to his birth. Recently, I decided it was time to dive back in. So last week I balanced workshops at the university on presentation skills with auditions at several local theatre companies. Both the preparation and audition process were exhilarating, taxing, stimulating and exhausting all at once. No matter how much I reminded myself that the experience of auditioning should be the reward in itself, I found myself envisioning being offered the role I had auditioned for and having the opportunity to work with so many talented and creative people on such engrossing material. So it was no surprise that I felt a sense of failure later in the week when I was not offered the role.

I had hoped that the long break might have lessened the feelings of sadness over not being cast, but a very recognizable sense of loss was definitely apparent in my gut. I contemplated stopping there, not pursuing any more auditions. However, as the dullness dissipated my senses returned and I happened upon this quotation by Teddy Roosevelt:

"It is not the critic that counts. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marked by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasm and great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

So, come on, let's get out there and FAIL VALIANTLY!!!!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Art of Failure

What do we fear when we get up in front of an audience? Making a fool of ourselves, embarrassing ourselves, being heckled, having rotten tomatoes thrown at our feet, losing our clothes, the list goes on and on. Sometimes the list is completely irrational, but audiences are not always as generous as we would like them to be.

This past weekend, my sister-in-law turned forty and for the event my husband, her brother, helped to organize a wonderful surprise party. Now despite the fact that he runs a busy photography business, helps care for our two year old son, plays hockey and did two years worth of taxes he also thought he could manage creating a slide show telling the story of his sister's life, organize the caterers and fly a friend in from Utah for the event. All of this he miraculously accomplished in a little over a week's time. Several hours before the event; however, he had a brainstorm, he would also give an entertaining and informative speech! As he hung decorations, let the caterers in, and secured a babysitter he was searching the internet for quirky facts about the year his sister was born and managed to compose a few words in his head. Jump ahead a few hours, the party is in full swing, the candles are lit, the gorgeous creme fraiche and smoked salmon pancakes are being gobbled up and my husband begins the entertainment.

He has a vibrant, energetic and engaging personality and loves being in front of a crowd; unfortunately, he runs into a speaker's most dreaded foe, a tough audience. A few wise-cracking friends attempt to cut his speech short and when I see his face turning a burnt red against his lovely white linen shirt my heart breaks and I want nothing more than to alleviate the embarrassment he is experiencing at the moment.

Fortunately, he handles "failure" better than I. The next day we go for a long walk and he tells me about all the discoveries he made. "It always looks so easy when people get up to give great speeches. I guess I should have actually practiced and kept it brief, focussing more on my sister or possibly even allowing for some participation from the audience."

I had told him the story of Bill Clinton getting booed off of the stage at the 1988 Democratic Convention. My husband decided that he will do his best to emulate Bill Clinton's ability to learn from past mistakes. My fortieth is coming up and I have no doubts that he will have perfected it by then!!!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Spoken Word

I don't think a night of my childhood went by without one of my parents reading to me. We started with "Goodnight Moon", "Peter Rabbit", "Blueberries for Sal" and then moved on to "Anne of Green Gables", "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" until I was able to read myself to sleep. Unfortunately, reading myself to sleep never had the same impact. The warmth of my father or mother's tones caressing, shocking or cajoling me into another world was, and still is, one of the greatest gifts they have given me.

What is it that makes the spoken word so powerful? Why do we need to hear our political, spiritual and social leaders speak to us? Why do we read poetry and speeches at weddings, funerals and special events, but rarely on a day to day basis?

There are many ways of answering these questions, but if Socrates is right and knowledge is gained by experience, why not experiment by reading something outloud today?

In case you need some inspiration, here is the link to a poetry blog. The poems are short and rich in their use of language. I suggest reading the poem several times until you begin to feel the weight and texture of the words. If you are feeling very brave, read it to someone else. Speaking text outloud not only warms up your voice, but gives you an opportunity to make choices about how you want to say something.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008


It's Monday night, the onslaught of rain all day has kept me indoors with my two year old. We've gone through all the regular games and both of us are in need of new entertainment. All of a sudden, I have a brilliant idea: we will record our voices in his mini-tape player. This activity is an instant hit, but when I hear my voice played back I notice that it is tight and high-pitched. I can literally hear the tension of the past few weeks restrict my sound. Thankfully, I know just what to do and pull out my Feldenkrais tapes. Later that evening, when the little guy is asleep, I am able to give myself twenty minutes to follow along to the voice of the instructor, moving my arms and legs in easy and enjoyable ways, my voice relaxes and my body feels both lighter and more fluid.

I'm not sure why Feldenkrais work hasn't gained in mainstream popularity. Perhaps because the philosophy sounds too good to be true: work less and allow your muscles to re-find a way of moving that is less impeded by habitual tensions. The residence centre where my grandparents live is offering Feldenkrais classes weekly which leads me to beleive that although the community centre Feldenkrais classes aren't quite as full as the Pilates or Boot Camp Workouts, there is definitely a growing interest. I've included a link to an article on incorporating Feldendrais exercises in your preparation for leading a presentation. Take a look around the site, there is a plethora of valuable information and aritcles worth exploring:


Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Last Thursday was World Theatre Day and several local theatre companies organized a set of staged readings. I was busy enacting scenes and bringing full scripts to life in front of an audience with a limited amount of preparation. Since I had had a brief break from performing I was able to appreciate the experience in a new way and gain tremendous insight. My first insight was how naturally my body reacted to being onstage again. I must admit, I felt a little rusty, but the years of training and practice did pay off. So often when I am leading sessions on Presentation Skills, I am asked how one can read information off of a page and stay connected to an audience. Yes, there are tricks, like marking your place with your finger as you go and giving yourself permission to pause, but what will help you the most is PRACTICE. Practice speaking written text out loud, and communicating your message, even if it's just to a close friend or partner.

My second realization was how strongly linked the craft of acting and presenting are. This wasn't a new realization but a confirmation of a thought I have had for a long while. I'm still formulating how I can articulate and communicate this more coherently. In the mean time, check out this wonderful workshop on Lecturing by Patrick Winston of MIT. If you are interested in presenting, don't be deterred by the focus on lecturing, so many of the principles apply to both.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

"Smile, Your On-Camera"

Last week, I had an explosive class. Literally. We fled from our on-camera session, escaping the billows of burnt hotdog smelling smoke. Myself and the participants waited outside in the cold contemplating the challenge of seeing ourselves on camera. I overhear a comment from one participant to the other, "It's like hearing your voice played back on a tape recorder. It doesn't even sound like me!" Although slightly intimidating for some, the idea of being able to communicate with students live is an inticing one.

As I browse my favourie home decorating site (yes, that's right, I admit to having a favourite home decorating site) her blogs have now become little videos. Finally, I get a chance to see who this woman is, hear the timbre of her voice, see the items she is discussing. A part of me misses the mystery of only having her words, but the other part of me feels more included and connected. The quality of the "voice" changes somewhat.

Waiting outside on this damp February day, we discovered that the cause of the smoke had been a lit firecracker under a seat in the auditorium next to ours. The professor was giving an exam and it appeared that an unprepared student was getting very creative.

As the smoke cleared I returned to my computer and took another look at the site including the video:


It's worth it, I thought, getting more comfortable with the camera.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Slow down for Obama!

In every session I have led over the past six months, one name comes up over and over: Obama! How exciting that there is finally a public leader who can inspire and move us with his words. My next door neighbor and a participant in a recent workshop passed on this link:


The article points out that Obama's word per minute speech rate is quite a bit slower than most politicians. Slowing down, as the writer and analysts point out, may help to get the message across, but don't forget to watch the excerpt they have included. Obama's ease, confidence, passion and conviction are felt in each phrase, word, sound and syllable. His warm and open smile bursts out at perfectly timed intervals, drawing us in to his humanity.

Slowing down will definitely help when you give your next presentation, but only if you breathe in and experience each word, each phrase, each listener. So give yourself time to try it out.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Canada's National Voice Intensive

Where to begin? I was fortunate to have spent the past week with some of the faculty from Canada's National Voice Intensive. The work was challenging, exciting, revealing and downright fun! Judith Koltai reminded us that some aspects of the body are well designed and some are not so well designed. In light of that fact, we "oiled" a small segment of our spine with a pelvic tilt and felt the rest of our bones fall into place. Ian Raffel shared his ideas on rhetoric and we were all able to tell a great story about sixty pretty women. Dale Genge, from Studio 58, got everyone up and moving while exploring Henry V's "Now entertain conjecture of a time..."-- I'm still sad that I missed that one. And David Smukler? Well, he reminded us that our form is a house, and within that house is a need, and as that need is triggered it becomes a thought, and as that thought is processed it travels through a channel until it begins to resonate, and as we resonate we then articulate, but most importantly our voice is your response.

If that doesn't make any sense, send in your application for Canada's National Voice Intensive.


Thursday, January 31, 2008


Seventy-five high school drama students in a small theatre. Sandwiched between their early morning technical rehearsal and their afternoon run-through, I had the privelege to deliver a two-hour workshop on Voice. Some of them definitely did not want to be there. Some maintained a steely concentration that allowed them to focus on the material for their own benefit, others went through the motions because that's what they "should" do, and still others were much too pre-occupied by the woman or man standing in front of them. The challenge of being heard was multi-layered. Physically the task of enabling them to hear my voice, was a challenge to say the least, then the idea of communicating a message was an even greater challenge. To allow them to move through their own fears of being embarrassed, doing something different, trying a new way of relating that may not be be deemed "cool" was a mighty endeavor. I encouraged them to participate, bravely, and speak from their hearts.

This morning a faculty member was experimenting with gesture. "I'm not good at that." she stated. The rest of the class refuted her claim. "Yes, you are, you just did it!" And she had.

At night, in the few moments between doing dishes and preparing for the next day, I pick up "Reading Lolita in Tehran" by Azar Nafisi. Nafisi asks her students how novels can relate and inform their lives. I ask myself how this book can relate to my life. It is teaching me bravery and passion around my profession. To allow myself to believe in the transfomative power of voice work, even in it's smallest gesture.

At the end of the workshop for the high school students, a young man with pale blond hair and a red toque came up to me and gave me a hug. "Where did you learn all that?" he asked. He had been brave and spoken from his heart in front of the group. Somehow, despite the noise, I had been heard.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Vocal Yoga?

So I finally had a chance to get back to my yoga routine. Twenty minutes was all that I found, wandering between the dishes, email and a fast approaching bedtime. I wanted to kiss those twenty minutes when they were over. My body felt more relaxed than it had in ages and it was as if I had polished all the rough edges off of my voice. While working with a student last week, we were opening up the rib case (cage) with some gentle lengthening. "This is just like yoga!!!" She exclaimed. "It is yoga." I replied.

I did a little search and found that, sure enough, someone is actually leading coarses in Vocal Yoga. She even has a nice and simple description of Fight or Flight's association with breath. Check it out if you get a chance:


I'm not one for selling products but if you need a quick twenty-minute guided yoga workout, get ahold of either Suzanne Deason's Stress Relief Yoga for Beginners or Patricia Walden's PM portion of the AM/PM Yoga for Beginners and ease your way into a blissful sleep.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

What I didn't get for Christmas

To prepare for my graduate defence, I was required to read what felt like four hundred books, consisting of both theorectic texts and plays. Like any sensible student, I put off reading the majority of them until the final six months. Bleary eyed, I became more excited about the little red check marks used to tick off the title of each text than the process of reading. There was one exception-- the voice books.

Huddled uncomfortably in a wooden framed library chair overlooking the snowcovered limestone walls, I started to feel my breath in the same full and easy way I had experienced in my voice classes. The more I read about the breath, the more I experienced it in my body. Since then, I have relied on books on breath and voice to keep me sane whenever I have been unable to attend a voice class.

In the chaos of this holiday season, traveling back and forth between relatives and attending celebration after celebration, I realized that what I should have asked for was a breath book. The one I am most curious about is called, "Free Your Breath, Free Your Life" by Dennis Lewis. I haven't had a chance to pick it up yet, so let me know if you get to it before I do.

In the meantime, here's a great little exercise to keep you busy, or rather to slow you down:


Happy New Year!!