Your voice is a huge part of how you present, and thus, your audience’s perception of your voice is vital to creating a good connection between your audience and yourself. But sometimes, it’s not so simple to tune your voice just right to create a presence that’s exactly what you want. Join Elizabeth Bachman as she talks with professional speaker and presentation strategist Cindy Ashton about how your voice affects the way your listeners perceive you. Don’t miss today’s show as Cindy shares specific exercises for better use of your voice and some voice tactics you can use to close sales.
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Voice Tactics To Close The Sale And Get Buy-In With Cindy Ashton
I’m excited to talk to my wonderful friend, Cindy Ashton, whom I first met in speaking in an opera context. I’m excited to have you on. Cindy Ashton is a presentation strategist and partner at Minerva Enterprises, an elite level presentation strategist, professional speaker, singer and award-winning TV host of Cindy Uncorked on e360tv. With many years of experience, she’s an authority on presentation skills, speaking voice, body language, content delivery and leadership presence. She’s Canadian-born, but she lives in the United States under a green card for a person of extraordinary ability. I didn’t know there was that designation.
There is and it’s difficult to get. You actually have to show that you’re in the top one percentile and beat out over 300 million Americans for them to want you in the country. It’s tedious. It’s hundreds and hundreds of pages, different categories where you have to be vetted and they do it mathematically. It’s hard to do. I’m proud of it.
I’m amazed by that. I’m not surprised but I’m astounded. You’re a person of extraordinary ability.
Thank you, I’m still humble and learning.
She’s also considered to be in the top 1% in her field of training, speaking and performing. She’s received awards from former President Obama and Queen Elizabeth II for her lifetime of volunteerism. She’s appeared in multiple media including ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, Inc. Magazine and Forbes. Cindy Ashton, welcome to Speakers Who Get Results.
I am honored to be here, Elizabeth. I always talk about you’re a good friend and we met through the opera link of you being a former director at the mat working with Pavarotti and all of them. How I used to do opera, like Sigma Symphonies and am still a performer. We connected on that level. To see the presentation stuff that we’re both doing, it’s an amazing connection.
It’s fun that you can connect with other people from the performing arts back there and see how you turn it into business because this is a business. Performing arts are a business and presentation skills are a business. Cindy, I’m happy to have you with us. I want to start with the question I ask all my guests. If you were to interview somebody from history, who would it be? Who is your dream interview? What would you talk about? Who should be listening? Who should be in the audience?
Martha Graham and most people are going, “What? Who’s Martha Graham?” Martha Graham is an amazing woman and gone now, who was the pioneer of the modern dance movement. We always watched things like, So You Think You Can Dance and that they always have contemporary, that’s Martha Graham. Although there’s been Lamont and a bunch of other methodologies, you have to imagine this, a woman at the turn of the century, the early 1900s, raised in a time where women are not supposed to be leaders, are supposed to be housewives pumping out babies. Here is this amazing woman who at this time of the turn of the century, there’s much innovation happening, much disruption happening with technology and she’s making disruption in the dance world.
Instead of saying we’re going to do ballet and be poised and whatever, she’s learning how to free her body. She’s creating an entirely new dance form that has now literally taken over the dance world and has influenced millions of people. It’s amazing that she did this at a time when women were not supposed to be leaders. What I loved about her is that she stood out in a man’s world at this time. What I love about her is that she was daring, she was bold and she was innovative. She was willing to piss people off and push boundaries. She was willing to create something fresh and new, that had such an impact on people and gave them freedom of expression in a way that ballet, as much as I love ballet, the freedom that you get with modern. Her work was brave and it was deep. I’m such a huge fan.
What would you ask her?In the presentation world, most things are very formulaic. Click To Tweet
I would ask her, “Where did you get the strength to do this at a time where women were suppressed? Not that we’re not in other ways now, but how did you come up with bravery?” The second question for me would be, “How did this even spark? How did it spark for you instead of doing ballet or push out and stick your leg out with not pointed toes, but with a flex foot? How did that inspire you?”
I always thought she was influenced by Isadora Duncan.
You’re right and I remember.
She’s the one who took Isadora Duncan’s nice ladylike experimentation of pre-Raphaelite ladies in flowing robes turned that into a serious dance. I have to go back and read more about Isadora Duncan herself because I always figured that people like that started their own stuff because they were pissed off. If they couldn’t fit into the one who says, “I’ll make my own then.”
Probably like what I’m doing with the speaking world and people are, “What is she doing?” I’m like, “No, you don’t understand.” In many years from now, people are going, “Cindy Ashton revolutionized top presentation is.”
Tell us more about that please.
Here’s the thing is that the presentation world, in my opinion, most of it is formulaic. It’s stand here, pose here, do this, do that. At the basic level, it’s good to at least if you’re nervous, it’s great to give you some structure but that doesn’t give you freedom. Throughout my years of training voices, training body language, training speakers, executive salespeople, what I have noticed is how stress sits in the body directly influences body language, voice, all these different pieces. I didn’t notice it, but I had to live it because I was born with heart failure and had a 20% chance of living. The entire left side of my body was structurally damaged. My body’s been through a lot of trauma, multiple surgeries, cutting of bones, tissues, nerves. As somebody who was trained as a singer, dancer, actor, I had the technical training, but a lot of the times, I didn’t present well in auditions because of stress and the trauma in my body was reading louder than my technique. I feel I have yet to meet anybody who works on the stress management trauma piece of presentation in a way that we do.
I have literally over the years heard many voices, seen so much body language that at some point, I’m going to hire somebody at Harvard to take what’s in my head and substantiate it statistically. When I can hear someone’s voice and if they have not released the trauma, I can hear what trauma they have been through based on the nuances, the inflections, where the stress is sitting in their body, how their body posture is. I literally can look at somebody presenting or in a sales conversation and tell you what they’ve been through in their childhood or in their life.
Maybe we haven’t had multiple surgeries or whatever, but people get nervous. How does the stress in your body affect your voice and/or your body language?
I want to back it up because you’re right, some people may not have had the trauma of multiple surgeries. Here are some statistics and then I’m going to answer your question. 70% of people have been through at least one traumatic event in their life. When you have a trauma, it changes your brain and then the brain signals differently in your body. I did my degree in Music, but I also did it in kinesiology with specialization and relaxation therapy.
Can you tell us what kinesiology is? We’ve got an international audience here.
Kinesiology is pre-med, it’s a study of the body. I was taking physiology, anatomy, nutrition, relaxation therapy, stress management, health, those things. You also have to look at 50% of both Americans and Canadians, I’m not sure about internationally, live with one chronic condition. 78% of people within the United States and in Canada, and I apologize I don’t have worldwide stats, live with chronic stress. All these pieces show up in your body. Even if you haven’t had trauma through surgeries, you have something whether it’s a chronic condition, some stress or something. 99% of people are carrying stuff in their body and affects their voice and their body language. Let me tell you about how this comes across. I literally could write books about everything I’ve observed. Let me give you a couple of concrete examples. Let’s say somebody is holding their stress in their chest. I’m holding my stress in my chest. Elizabeth, what happened to how I’m coming across now that I’m holding stress in my chest?
You’re much stiffer and I can hear it in your voice that you’re much stiffer and your voice has got a little bit higher up.
How does that make you feel? When I’m talking to you, how does that make you feel versus now I’m a little bit stiffer and I have stress in my chest and in my shoulders? What’s the difference in how you feel?
You’re not nearly as warm and friendly.
I know. What happens is that when we hold a lot of stress, where voices do two things, they get more aggressive, which pushes people away and makes them feel overwhelmed and you’re attacking them. The second thing is that your voice gets pushed up. From a scientific perspective, when your voice gets pushed up to the higher tones, men are the opposite of dogs. Dogs can hear super high overtones that we humans can’t hear. That’s why when Snoopy or whatever dog you have is howling and you’re like, “Snoopy, what’s going on?” Snoopy is howling at sounds that Snoopy can hear that are high that we can’t hear. Men are the opposite of dogs.
Humans or men?
Men, specifically. Humans in general do not hear as many high overtones as dogs, but men especially the way they’re wired cannot hear higher tones. They’re opposite from dogs. When we hear the old joke, “My husband’s tuning me out.” He might be tuning you out because of your voice. He’s not trying to do it on purpose. It’s literally because of the overtones that if men can’t hear it, the minute that your voice goes up, men start to go glossy and it’s harder. They have to concentrate on hearing.
I can certainly see how this applies in business, but would you please spell it out for us? Why do we care?
If you are in a conversation with somebody and networking, do you want to feel you were being barreled at, bullied, and the energy is too hard on you? Elizabeth, have you ever been in a situation where somebody, their presence is big but it’s not routed that you feel you want to close off and push them away? Have you ever felt that?You've got to be careful about people's boundaries. Click To Tweet
Here’s the thing, a traditional speaking training is about, “I’m going to stand tall and I’m going to deliver like Tony Robbins.” It comes across as this push energy that invades somebody’s space especially with the #MeToo stuff going on. We’ve got to be careful about people’s boundaries. These are energetic boundaries. This aggression turns people off or it makes them feel bullied into working with you. It’s not a good relationship because it didn’t start clean. Whether that’s a sales conversation, networking or delivering from the stage, I see a lot of people deliver from the stage with this push energy and it exhausts the audience and it tunes them out.
That’s something that used to work and people are tired of it. They’ve seen enough of it and they’re tired of it. In a meeting, that’s another thing. We’ve been culturally accustomed to men can be loud and pushy, but women aren’t allowed to do that. There’s a pushback or resistance when women do that. A lot of the work that I do is helping women who aren’t necessarily making speeches, they’re speaking within meetings, walking that tightrope between being respected and being pushy. What can we do about it? How do we fix it?
Let’s say that you’ve got all this stress and most of us are holding stress in our chest and most of us are not breathing in our belly. What I love to do is cactus arms. If you are reading, try to imagine this. You’re literally going to put your feet, shoulder apart, spread out your toes, spread at your feet, literally put your feet into the ground and feel them grounding down. Feel like you’ve got roots at the bottom of your feet and they’re going dig into the center of the core of the earth and dig in and anchor. We want our cactus arms, literally putting our hands up as if someone put a gun at you but let’s pretend we’re cactus because we’re positive. You want to do that. Be careful of the shoulders, drop the shoulder blades, tuck your tailbone slightly and stretch your arms back. Can you feel the stretch, Elizabeth?
If you go too far back, you put a strain on your chest and your voice.
It’s about don’t ever do it. You go to your edge, but don’t go beyond your edge. You want to breathe with it and feel the tension of breath into where the tense parts are and release. Sometimes I’ll move around with it and release it that way. Once you’ve done it for 30 seconds, shake it out and then do it again. Once you’re relaxed, we’re going to do it again and then you do it. We don’t have to keep doing it now. You do it 2, 3, 4 times. Here’s what my challenge is for you. I want you to record yourself speaking a paragraph before you do this. I want you to do this exercise and then I want you to stretch your mouth and move it around. I want you to record yourself speaking again and you’re going to notice your voice is more relaxed.
I was going to recommend this to all our audience. This is a great exercise because one of the things that people forget is that speaking is a physical act. You’ve got muscles and often if you’re saying something complicated, make sure you say it out loud because you have to train the muscles of your lips and tongue, not to mention your breathing muscles in order to produce it well.
Here’s the other thing is that I’m 100% about what you’re saying that we as speakers or even salespeople or networkers, business people, we don’t realize that we need to get in the zone. It means we need a warm-up like we’re an athlete or an actor because you want freedom in your body. When you have freedom in your body, you come across more relaxed, your voice is naturally loud without being aggressive and people feel drawn to you. I always say invite people into your lair. I’m a little saucy. You want to allow people to come into your space as opposed to flushing our cell phone out.
That’s fine if you’re doing a keynote address or something and it’s a great exercise for when you’re giving a speech. How can you have time to do this if you’re speaking? What you need to is convince people in a meeting, come across more naturally and believably in a meeting. You’re walking that tight rope all the time. Who has time?
When we work with our clients at Minerva Enterprises, we give them a routine that takes them three minutes. If you needed to go into a meeting, isn’t it worth it to go on the bathroom stall, do a quick three-minute warm-up so that you can be more in your power than to go in there a barrel of stress. We have five steps that you can do in 2 or 3 minutes that gets you in the zone. Here’s the other piece of it. It’s also about your daily living because in your daily living, do you want to be coming across as stressed and not in your power all the time? When we work with our clients, we also give them stuff for those who are serious and not want on the spot but want as a lifestyle change, which a lot of our speakers or salespeople and all of our clients do. They realize that it improves relationships, it has less conflict in how they’re coming across and they have more confidence. People who’ve been bullied a lot got bullied less because they’re not as stressed, they are more present in their bodies. They’re more articulate. It’s harder to abuse and bully someone who is in their body and articulate. We can give you a three-minute on the spot thing. Get it done before you go into a meeting, into a conversation in the workplace.
This is great and we’ve been talking about how women can speak to men and be more believed, respected, taken seriously. What advice do you give men?
It’s the same because there are a lot of men. We have about 50/50 in our company in terms of men versus women as clients. It’s the same thing. There are a lot of men who end up finding that learning is going to take out of the workpiece. They find that because they’re able to be more present in their body, more relaxed, it’s helping them in their relationships. They’re not coming across as aggressive or they don’t care. They’ve learned how to be present and more relaxed and be able to listen better. When you’re holding all the stress in your body, it’s harder for you to be present and listen. Sales is not about talking. It’s about listening.
Anytime you’re selling, you’re in a meeting or you’re talking to someone, when you’re speaking because you want them to do something which you suggest, that’s selling an idea.
Men have as much stress and trauma in their bodies. Women tend to carry it. When women are being traumatized, it’s harder for them to let it go for scientific reasons. It is harder for women to truly be able to be more present than men are because they carry trauma differently.
Also those women are socialized to not push back as children. It’s one of those things and some of it is nature, some of it is nurture.
Things are changing, but way too slow.
That’s okay. For it to be a true change and for society to truly evolve so there is parity, I don’t know if economic parity will ever happen, but let’s say gender parity and diversity parity, it’s not just men and women, it’s also different cultures and backgrounds. All of that history comes into play. Especially because when someone looks at you, they’re going to assume something automatically depending on how they’re from. You’re Canadian, I’m sure there are things where you look around and you say, “That’s so American.”
I found it shocking to me. We have racism in Canada, but when I moved to the US, I was pretty horrified at the level and the depth of racism in America compared to Canada. I’m not saying we’re perfect, but what I saw here and continue to, it’s like, “Holy crap.”
We’re in an international business world. More and more we’re working with people from all over the world and you have to be able to speak to them in a way that they can listen to.
That’s why you and I are doing this speaking training is different. It’s not about canned poses and gestures because that disconnects you from another human being if you’re busy being in your head. When you learn to drop in your body and listen that even if it’s a different culture, first of all, you’ll be more inviting to them or relax them. Secondly, you’re going to be in a position where you’ll be able to, because it’s not about you and being perfect, but it’s about listening and taking in the energy. You’ll then be able to communicate because you’re going to be able to communicate based on what you’re picking up and reading. It takes bravery to be able to drop in and let that happen. It’s an acting thing to be able to be that present and connected.You need to get in the zone and warm up if you want to get the freedom in your body. Click To Tweet
What do you do if you’re speaking to a whole group and you’ve got lots of nationalities there, you’ve got lots of diversity in your list? How do you connect to 500 people?
The first thing is that you ask that meeting planner a heck of a lot of questions. What’s important to them? What’re their common values? Why are they there? What are they trying to learn? I see too many speakers not make it about the audience and make it all about, “Look at me the divo or the diva. Look at all the great info and look how fabulous I am,” when it’s not about the speaker. They don’t customize, most speakers. You have to understand the questions they should be asking, “What is the culture of this company? What are the values? What’s the mission? What are the objectives? What are these people trying to do, feel and be?” Get to the deeper psychological level. Because you and I come from the theater performing background, we understand this. Once you understand that, then already you’re way ahead because of the fact that you have created content that’s going to be relevant and great for them, that they’re going to already have good buy-in with you. First, you’ve got to look at your content and get that clear and understand those values and the beliefs.
Knowing that then when you’re on stage, it is about being present. It is about being connected. When you drop all the facades and you focus your energy on taking in the energy of the audience, as you’re delivering, then you’re able to pick up a laugh and smile. You’re able to pick up what’s coming in. If you see people are engaged, you’re going to stay on that part a little bit longer. If you see you’re losing them, you’re going to change your pacing. It’s about listening and responding.
I always say that the rule number one in speaking is it’s about them. You’ve got to make it about them. You have to speak to people in a language, way, and manner that they can take it in. Let’s talk about speeches then. One of the great things about Cindy and Minerva Enterprises is you help speakers find the right places to speak. When I talk about getting speaking gigs, you don’t have to be a professional speaker. It’s if you are speaking to represent your company. If you’re speaking pro bono, doing a pro bono speech to raise your visibility so that you become considered a thought leader and then are more promotable. That’s also a speaking gig. Cindy, if one is interested in getting out there speaking, whether it’s as a keynoter or whether you’re speaking to raise your own visibility and share your wisdom, one hopes. How do you find the right places to speak?
It depends on where you’re at in your career. If you’re starting out, you’re trying to figure out your message, you speak wherever you can because it’s a profession. You have to test out that message everywhere you can.
It’s a skill that can be trained.
I find that a lot of speakers are not targeted enough. A lot of the reason why speakers are not getting booked is that they don’t have a strategy. They don’t have a proper platform in the sense of their materials are a mess. They don’t present themselves like somebody who’s worth being hired. There are a lot of speakers I’ve seen. I had a client who has been speaking for many years. She’s a good speaker. She is experienced. She’s never gotten paid to do it. I looked at her materials and how she’s pitching and I’m like, “You should have talked to me many years ago.” She is experienced but she didn’t have the right marketing materials. First impressions are everything. It’s important first to don’t make it generic. Having a strong point of view that makes you stand out. Everybody will say, “I have a unique story. I have a unique message.” They tell me that they help people to grow their business or to overcome obstacles. Ten million other people are training, coaching and speaking on that. How are you different when it comes to overcoming obstacles? How are you different when it comes to business growth, health, wellness or vitality? How are you different? This is where people say, “I am different because I have a story.” You’re making it about your story and not about you.
I told you my story, but I related it back to why I do what I do and why I understand about stress and trauma and why many of us live with it and how I can help them. What you need to do is ask yourself deeper questions around, “What do I believe is different from everybody else? How can I present my point of view from my life experience as not just my story?” I’m tired of all the marketers saying, “Tell your story and you’ll make money.” They’re trying to get you to spend $10,000 to write a book. Telling it like it is. The problem is, do you want to be known for your story or do you want to be known for all of your richness and brilliance? It’s limiting. You need to look at taking some time if you don’t know what your strong point of view is. Take time and say, “What’s my education? What’s my big life experiences being? How have I gone through? What have I overcome? What have I accomplished?” Brainstorm it all out and then start to see how it connects.
What value do you offer, for instance?
What’s the strong point of view that differentiates you? If I was pitching for a gig as a presentation trainer and somebody else was, everybody else for the most part are pitching, “Let me help you be confident.” I pitched confidence is overrated. The meeting planner goes, “What?” They want to read the rest. I talk about how stress is in the body and what the statistics are and if we don’t address this, people are losing sales or whatever they’re losing based on the audience. I have a strong point of view that is defined and you want to figure out, but that confidence is overrated because I’ve managed to put together my story, my background, my training all into one sentence. You need to be able to have something that people go, “I’m sorry, you said what?”
I had a life coach once and all the life coaches say, “If you feel you have too much energy and energy vampires, put a bubble around you, a pink bubble of life, whatever. Her strong point of view is F the bubble. She swears a lot as a life coach. She says, “F the bubble.” You put a bubble around you, you’re squishing all the bad energy to you. It’s about expanding out. People go, “That’s different. What else do you know?” You need to start thinking about, what is other people saying where you go, “They’re a little bit off the culture?” What have you gone through in your life as a whole that gives you a strong point of view that differentiates who you are? If you don’t have that strong point of view, you’re just another life coach, business coach, wellness coach and speaker.
If you’re in a corporate setting, you’re just another manager, another speaker, somebody out there. How are you ever going to get hired to come in and be on that panel or something like that? That’s a great thing. Cindy Ashton, it has been so much fun to have you with us. Can you give us one thought to leave people with as we close?
Trust your power. We live in a world where we have a million people voices coming at us at all times and that takes away from our power and we are spinning because we have many opinions and thoughts coming at us that we’re not being our true self. First of all, it creates chaos in your business and in your life, but also it doesn’t allow you to step up as that leader in the business world. It doesn’t allow you to step up as that leader on the stage. You can’t possibly be in your full power if you don’t trust your power.
Cindy Ashton, thank you so much for being on the show. I’d like to remind the audience you can go to our free assessment at SpeakForResults.com. Thank you, Cindy, for being with us. I will see you on the next one.
Thank you for having me.
- Minerva Enterprises
- Cindy Uncorked
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About Cindy Ashton
Ashton is a Presentation Strategist & Partner at Minerva Enterprises LLC, an elite-level presentation strategist, professional speaker, singer, and award-winning TV host of Cindy Uncorked on e360tv. With twenty years of experience, she is an authority on presentation skills, speaking voice, body language, content delivery, and leadership presence.
Canadian-born, Cindy lives in the United States under a green card for a person of “extraordinary ability” and is considered to be in the top one percent in her field of training, speaking, and performing. She has received awards from former president Obama and Queen Elizabeth II for her lifetime of volunteerism, and has appeared in multiple media including ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, Inc. Magazine and Forbes.