In any social situation, our voice is the very first thing that the people in front of us notice and remember. Therein is the reason why developing your voice is so important. Elissa Weinzimmer of Voice Body Connection teaches you how to get in touch with your voice for maximum impact. In a world where first impressions can dictate entire relationships, you’ve got to make sure you’re ready to make a splash from the get-go. With the help of some vocal exercises for strengthening your voice and increasing your range, Elissa helps you find a way to make your presence stronger than ever.
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Using Your Voice To Make An Impact With Elissa Weinzimmer
Before we can begin, I want to invite you to go to the SpeakForResultsQuiz.com and you could take a free assessment. It takes about three minutes to see where your speaking skills are, where you might be able to get a little help and where you are rocking it. I am so psyched because I have the amazing Elissa Weinzimmer. Elissa is a voice and presence coach. She’s the Founder of Voice Body Connection. Elissa suddenly lost her own voice at age 21. She stopped performing and began studying the mechanics of the voice. Over time, she developed a unique concrete approach to voice coaching that empowers leaders, speakers, and performers to optimize their voices and share them more powerfully and authentically. Elissa’s clients include Broadway stars, television personalities, politicians and the heads of startups and major corporations.
She’s led programming for WeWork, Equinox, Microsoft, eBay, Instacart, the Skirball Cultural Center, the Columbia School of Public Health and The Voice Foundation. She’s got an MFA in theater, voice pedagogy from the University of Alberta and a BA from the University of Southern California. She’s certified in Fitzmaurice Voicework and Hatha yoga, which makes total sense that that works together. She’s pursuing somatic movement educator training in body-mind centering. She got an award in 2014, the Clyde Vinson Award for Excellence from the Voice and Speech Trainers Association. She’s based in New York City and she’s working on her first book. Elissa, welcome.
Thank you so much, Elizabeth. Thank you for having me.
I’m excited to have you here because after spending many years as an international opera director, I came from the theater side. I never had vocal training. I was a folk singer. When I was a kid, that was when Joan Baez was hot and all you had to do was sing loud enough to be over the guitar. I never thought that I would need actually to have to sing. I started working with SIRS, so I know enough about the art of vocal production to say I give that to experts like you and work on strategy. Before we start, this is one of the things I ask all my guests. If you were to share the stage with someone no longer living, who would it be? What would you talk about and who would be listening?
I would choose something personal. If I were to share the stage with someone from history, I would choose my great grandmother, Augusta. That’s because if you’re giving me the power to call someone back from the dead, that’s someone I’d like to meet. The reason I’d like to meet her is that I am told that we share some musical talents, she was creative and she used her voice. I’d love to know who this woman was. It’s a thing in the West that we don’t think about our ancestors very often. We don’t consider who they are. I spent a long time in my childhood only thinking to my grandparents’ generation and never beyond. When I did think that far back, I just assumed they were boring people who had no personalities. I would love to meet my great grandmother, Augusta. I would have her onto my podcast, which is called How to Speak Your Truth. I would ask her questions about what it means to her to speak her truth and what’s important to her. We could live record that. That would be super cool.Our voice is our most important tool for communication. Click To Tweet
What years did she live?
I don’t know exactly for some reason that the year 1881 is coming to me. I can always cheat and look at Ancestry.com, but her generation was the generation. I have to go back to the lineage. This is my mother’s mother’s mother. They were an Orthodox Jewish family. In her generation, they moved from the old country, the Eastern block of countries to Denver, Colorado. They probably came to Denver in the 1910s or ‘20s. I think she was probably 20 or 30 then, so the 1880s is my guess, but I’d have to check.
Elissa, you and I are both on a course for career women. This is how I met you. We both have modules on this course for career development. What did you talk about for women in careers to advance their careers? Why is voice important?
Voice is important for women in their careers. If we lose our voice, we can’t speak in meetings. If we have a voice that irritates other people or grates on them, they may not take us as seriously as we would like them to. Our voice is our biggest tool for communication aside from writing emails or reports or things like that. Truly, it’s the way that our personality is read and perceived. It’s important for women who are working in corporate settings or as entrepreneurs interfacing with their own clients or other partnerships or whoever it is. It’s important that we feel that we have a dextrous instrument to use in our voice. If we don’t, then we’re constantly all day long fighting this uphill battle where we’re using a tool that we don’t have a strong, healthy relationship with.
One of the things you hear a lot is people who’ve talked like this, especially women who’ve talked like this and they end the sentence with a question and that deep positions you. What other problems do people have that come to you?
In terms of vocal inflection, in terms of literal contours of the sounds of your voice, the ones that I hear most often, there’s vocal fry, which is when people talk at the bottom of their pitch range and I have extra access to it as someone who just had a cold. Vocal fry is not super helpful in a lot of times it just happens at the end of a sentence because we trail off and so we go into vocal fry.
What happens there is you lose the last word of a sentence.
I call it the gymnast sticking the landing type thing. You lose your landing. Vocal fry is a common one. Up top where you go up at the end of a sentence or the end of an utterance, even if it’s not a question is when you just mentioned, up-talk, up-speak. Any pattern is going to get in the way of someone’s understanding. Even if it’s a monotone pattern, if I stay down here all the time, or if it’s high pitch pattern, I stay up here all the time or if it’s just me going, “Everybody, it’s important that we finish these reports.” It doesn’t matter what the pattern is. The deal is that the human brain wants to categorize a pattern. The human brain wants to go, “That’s not novel. I can predict that.” It wants to send it down into parallel processing land and then pay attention to something that’s new and novel. When we’re speaking with a vocal pattern, what we do ironically is we trick people into not listening to our message.
Sometimes if you hit a pattern that sounds like marm as a woman in business, it sounds like marm or the schoolmarm, then you get an automatic pushback.
That’s the other thing about patterns that patterns a lot of times have sociological and psychological implications as well. I think that there are two approaches to rectifying that issue. One is to get rid of the vocal fry, get rid of the up-talk, get rid of the shrill pressed sounding like your mother yelling at you type sound. Another important part of the equation, in my opinion, is to educate the general populace on those patterns that don’t necessarily equal unintelligent. The reason that’s important is that if we don’t bring this stuff up to the surface, then we as women in examining our vocal patterns might unconsciously go, “I suck. That’s terrible. I shouldn’t do that.” When in fact a much more productive process is to go, “I’m doing vocal fry.” That’s not only leaving me vocally fatigued, but people can’t understand my message. I noticed that I do that choose not to do it and I’m going to choose to make a different pattern. The choice of navigating the situation is a much more productive way of making a change than going, “Everyone hates vocal fry. I sound stupid when I do vocal fry. I shouldn’t vocal fry.”Breath support is akin to turning on a hose. Click To Tweet
What do you find with your male clients?
They do vocal fry too. Ira Glass is a great example on This American Life of vocal fry all the time. Truly, just because what ultimately we’re getting to is patterns are the enemy of deeper understanding. Men wind up with different patterns. It may be this e deep authoritative pattern of speaking or it may be this bullet-like type pattern that’s stereotypically masculine. This is not necessarily gender-specific. I’m getting away from inflection into actual content, words, and meaning, very often we go into this mode where we spew words. What by that is that we’ve said these things 1,000 times, especially if we’re giving a speech that we prepared and memorized. It’s easy to go into the mode of spewing words. That’s a very left-brain linear 0, 1, 1, 0, 1-type computer processing way of speaking. What we want to do, what feels human, what feels genuine, what feels authentic is speaking from a more right-brain frame of mind, which is thinking in thoughts. The differentiation I explain is words versus thoughts. If you’re spewing words, then your audience is just going to hear a string of words. If you’re thinking of thoughts, then the audience can understand your thoughts. I think for whatever reason, because we have fewer hang-ups over men’s vocal inflections, I wind up giving this note to men sooner, but the note is for all humans of all gender.
Let me ask you another one because here’s one that I have found a lot. When I work internationally and I work with a lot of people who are doing speeches in English where English is not their first language. The infliction that they have in French, Sanskrit, Hindu, Chinese or Japanese, you could hear people on the street and you can tell if they’re speaking Japanese or Chinese because of the melody of the message and then they get into another language and the vocal range shrinks. What do you do with that?
A lot of times, speakers are retaining the melody of their L1 as we call it, their first primary language into their L2. To start playing around with pitches and melody, the phrase that my graduate school professor taught me that I love that I share is let every thought have its own energy. We want to let each thought be a package that has its own contours of pitch and sound. One metaphor that I give credit often is if you imagine a shelving unit and I wanted to display all my ideas on the shelf. Each shelf has a different pitch corresponding to it. This is where I put my plants and this is where I put my books. Hear how my vocal inflection changed. I’ll do exercises like that with people where I make sure that we feel the permission and even the capacity to put sounds in different places in their vocal pitch range.
Another great technique for this is to pick up Dr. Seuss or some children’s book because we give ourselves better permission when we’re reading a children’s book to be vocally diverse about where we go. You’re right, I think what happens is it’s unconscious most of the time. We start having this idea of what we should look and sound like when we present, especially in a language that’s not our primary and we start going into this box. People don’t realize that as you walk down the street, if someone were to jump out in front of you might make a high-pitched noise. Men too. If someone challenges you, you might go, “Absolutely not.” We have access to a huge range in our everyday voices. As soon as we start going into a presentation mode, we think this is the only part of it that is available to me as a smaller little box. That’s not the case. A lot of times what I’m doing is encouraging speakers to feel the full range and bring their full range into their presentation.
One of the things that you can do is plan that. If you find that you’re going into a monotone, then find a place in your presentation where you can let yourself get excited. If you’re going monotone and frozen faced, find places where you can smile. There are a couple of tools I use to remind people to smile. I’d be curious, do you have any tools that you give people to help them remember to smile or slow down?
One of my favorite tools ever is something that I recommend for when people are on camera because you can’t necessarily do it in the same way when people are already looking at you. Every time you start a new take of something. Let’s say you’re recording a video of some kind, what I encourage speakers to do is the breath out, get all your air out of you. Breathe in and paste a smile on your face and then begin because you begin from the place of already smiling and having taken the breath that you can now speak. I call it the breathe out, breathe in and smile and begin. That trick is helpful because then you start from a place where you want to be as opposed to working your way up to where you want to be. That’s challenging. That’s the reason for rehearsal because rehearsal ultimately is the cells of our body, the inflections of our voice, we’re giving them permission to do things that we might not automatically do unconsciously. Once we have practice giving ourselves that permission, it’s much easier to do it in front of a group of people while our adrenaline and our cortisol are high.
That’s patterns again. Here you are dealing with the patterns of teaching your nervous system those patterns. This is what the brain wants to do. This brings me to another question though because Elissa has a cool YouTube channel and I recommend you look her up. It’s full of warm exercises. Can you give us a couple of examples of some of the exercises that you give?
One that already came to mind is what I call the zipper. A lot of theater voice teachers call this the zipper. You reach up high and then you’re going to reach down low and you basically allow your voice to go from high to low back up to high or vice versa. Because I do like to think about pitches on the vertical axis. The volume is on the Z-plane. When a speaker is stuck in a pitch range and then we do this exercise. Also, it’s a good exercise for breath control. It requires a nice big breath to get all the way through that.
I noticed that I didn’t breathe to do that and I was running out of breath. How do you deal with the, “I’m going to sound so stupid on this recording?”When we speak with a vocal pattern, we're ironically tricking people into not listening to our message. Click To Tweet
When I recorded that YouTube video with my videographer, he was like, “Elissa, you are blowing out the mic.” I was like, “I’m sorry.” I had to be temperate. We’re doing this exercise to find our pitch range, and then inside of it we can go, “Everybody, welcome. I’m glad to be here.” We can start doing exercises to find vocal inflections and break the patterns. In response to the idea of it being goofy is great. Part of what makes a good speaker is someone who is vulnerable. That means that we can’t be 100% polished. We have to show up authentically and vulnerably as ourselves at the moment. To be able to let yourself get a bit goofy, move your body in a way that you wouldn’t actually have to sing move your body, move your face in a way that you wouldn’t normally move.
If you watch the How to Warm Up series on YouTube, if you click around and watch the different videos, they’re all goofy. It’s a very important part of the equation. The other thing I was going to say is in terms of another exercise, I thought it would be smart to do something for breath support. I’m going to show something that ideally would require a much longer explanation, but I think it’s useful to bring into our awareness. Our vocal cords are in our throat. However, the power source for our voice is down below. Think about a garden hose. The way a garden hose works is not just that you point it in a direction. You have to turn on the hose first.
Our breath support is akin to turning on the hose. Our breath support I believe comes from our low belly, down above our pubic bone below our belly button. Think of it like a toothpaste tube is another good metaphor. When you squeeze the toothpaste tube at the very bottom, all of the toothpaste is going to go up and out in the usual direction, which by the way, that’s the only way our voice can get out. We cannot send our voice out through the holes of the bottom of our body. Our voice goes up this way. When we use our low abdominal muscles, when we’re connected to the guts of us as we speak, all of our voice travels in this direction. If we squeeze at our throat, if we squeeze at our rib cage, if we squeeze somewhere in the middle, then some of the metaphorical toothpaste will go down and get stuck and we need to do more work later to get it out. The most efficient pattern, in my opinion, is squeezing the toothpaste tube from the bottom. If this helps anyone at home resolve a dispute with your partner, you’re welcome.
I said, “I’m sitting up to make sure that I have a column of air here instead of slouching back.” I record from lots of different places and this particular location, it’s an awkward chair. A lot of people when they get nervous, they might clench the lower abdomen and then they forgot to breathe, they only bring it from the top-up. How do you train yourself out of that habit when you’re nervous and when the adrenaline’s going?
It requires training outside of the nervous situation and then blending it into the situation over and over to get better. I’ll give you a little bit of description. My hands are below my belly button. I’m going to make an S H sound. As I make the S H sound, I want to be gently drawing my low belly in. One thing that you’ll notice is essentially when I squeeze my low belly and when I gently dry, it’s like Pilates, drawing my low abdominals in and up towards the front of my spine. When I draw in that transverse abdominis, those core muscles, my chest actually goes up a little bit. It’s almost like you can see the metaphorical toothpaste moving through the tube, the column of air is rising. The most important thing is after, what do I have to do next in order to allow the next breath? I have to let go. I call this the Let It Go exercise. It could be I draw my belly in and then I let go and the breath comes back in. When I do this exercise, especially with women, especially those of us who have been holding in our belly for a long time because of whatever reason, including body image issues, the let it go part is the hardest part.
We know how to draw our belly. The question is can we let it go? Is it valuable to do sit-ups at the gym? Totally. Is it valuable to have access to this rock-solid strong ab things? Sure. As human beings, ultimately we’re in the game of dexterity. We’re in the game of having many different options for how to breathe and how to communicate and how to stay alive ultimately. This pattern is an important pattern to train for speaking that I use my low belly support and then as I breathe in, I let it go.
It’s like going to the gym and realizing that you’ve been spending all this time working on your abs and you totally forgot to get your biceps going. This is another tool to use. If someone’s reading this and understands why it matters, then let’s talk about how can they learn more? How can they learn some of these exercises?
One thing is you say it is to go to my YouTube channel, which is you can look up Elissa Weinzimmer, my name and/or Voice Body Connection and you’ll find all these videos, the How to Warm Up series and beyond. If you want to be connected to me, the best thing is to go to my website so that we can be connected. I’ll say that I work with two different types of people and it is likely that in your readers both types of these people exist. One method of training that is part of my own story of having lost my voice as you spoke about it is that I had muscle tension issues that were gripping my voice. If we go back to that hose metaphor, I had a tangled hose that I needed to untangle.
If you’re reading this and you’re finding yourself having vocal fatigue issues or hoarseness or having trouble literally making sound, then that’s some of the work that I do. I teach a class annually called Release Your Voice, which is a very robust approach to untangling vocal tension. The other portion of my clients is entrepreneurs, founders, and also people working inside companies who are looking to have more confidence and presence in their speaking. That side of things is I run a mastermind group with clients. I have a podcast called How to Speak Your Truth. I have a community that people can join to do warm-ups with me in the mornings and practicing body and speaking. Essentially, if you go to VoiceBodyConnection.com, one of the useful tools that you’ll see right there at the top of the homepage is a quiz that will let you know which of these categories you fall into. I can help send you in the right direction for the type of training that would be most useful for you.
Elissa, thank you so much. This has been a conversation with Elissa Weinzimmer and all talking about how to make your voice better because it matters. It affects how you are perceived. Only 7% of what people perceive about you comes from your words. The other 93% is who you are in the room and your voice is a huge piece of that. This was great. Thank you so much. I’ll see you at the next one.
- Voice Body Connection
- How to Speak Your Truth – Podcast
- How to Warm Up
- Elissa Weinzimmer – YouTube
- Release Your Voice
About Elissa Weinzimmer
Elissa Weinzimmer is a voice and presence coach and the founder of Voice Body Connection. After suddenly losing her own voice at age 21, Elissa stopped performing and began studying the mechanics of voice. Over time she developed a unique, concrete approach to voice coaching that empowers leaders, speakers, and performers to optimize their voices and share them more powerfully and authentically.
She has led programming for WeWork, Equinox, Microsoft, eBay, Instacart, the Skirball Cultural Center, the Columbia School of Public Health, and The Voice Foundation. Elissa holds an MFA in Theatre Voice Pedagogy from the University of Alberta and a BA from the University of Southern California. She is certified in Fitzmaurice Voicework® and Hatha yoga, and is currently pursuing Somatic Movement Educator Training in Body-Mind Centering. In 2014, Elissa was the recipient of the Clyde Vinson Award for Excellence from the Voice and Speech Trainers Association.