Find your voice to speak/write

Voices reveal all. Writers wrestle to ‘find their voice’ and that of characters.

Public pressure may cause speakers to lose resonance, even voice.

  • Tension causes tight timbre. (Tip: Hum into your head, so you feel vibration in your crown. Hum while opening your nostrils and nasal passages; and while accessing the front “mask” area of your face. Keep your throat open and posture upright.)
  • Insecurity causes ‘up talk’ or that recent trend, ‘vocal fry‘.
  • Tip: Before presenting, find your natural range with a conversational ‘aha’)

Edit, edit and more edit!

Whether you write for the ear or the eye, prune excess words and redraft. 

But my coming book cries ‘no more culls!’ But how to choose between fascinating stories? Rather than publish a brick doorstop tome, I opted for two books:

  • Burn My LettersTwoCovers
  • Midnight Sun to Southern Cross

Curb – or censor?

My characters expressed their voices in archival letters and recorded interviews. 

These and my research unearthed answers to why refugee Karl Johan Back wrote in 1899 to ‘Burn My Letters!’ Under Russian occupied Finland his words were censored. Letters that were saved from the fire uncover insights into his story–and his unique voice. 

Will you help me crowd fund the final leg of a decade long journey?
This week I launch a crowdfunding campaign to publish my next two books. I’ll post a link when it goes live. I offer rewards in return for pledges from $7 up. Books, of course. Scandinavian goodies like home-baked Finnish gingerbread. 

I’m excited! It’s countdown to campaign lift off. I hope you will come aboard. 

More on my Facebook page.

Enjoy the journey as I have done with its discovery. 

April opportunity – coaching and presentation NZ, Adelaide

As I fly there for other bookings, I can offer presentations and coaching without usual travel costs. Email for available dates. 

Ms. Crotchet calls time on tutti

Group vs. individual music lessons?

Kudos to colleagues who teach mixed groups of instruments, standards and ages as their norm. I know some who battle groups of 30 Bb/Eb clarinet and sax beginners. They’re braver than me!

So I’m blessed…

That last week, in a group of three, some Year 4 clarinet beginners managed a few opening notes of Pink Panther in their third lesson. I was as surprised as they were. With help from parents who play a little clarinet, they managed the first phrase next lesson. Are they practising? Heaps!

But I am OVER mismatched groups!

I sent an email to parents last year:Ruth + Student_6921

“Dear parents,

To best realise your child’s potential and optimise your investment, consider:

GROUP LESSONS – Pro and Con:

  • Group suits family budgets.
  • They nibble a teensy taste of music.
  • It’s sociable – if players are well matched and compatible.
  • BUT age, instruments and standards often vary.
  • Little scope for timetable changes, or adjustment.
  • 2 students in 30’ group = 15’ each.
  • 3 students in 30’ group = 10’ each. Pieces chosen for the group pace.
  • Time goes on aspects where Matt struggles but Jake plays easily.
  • Fingers twiddle while Mr. Quaver fixes a student’s bent key.
  • If a student misses a lesson that others attend, there’s no scope for make-up.
  • Exams aren’t feasible for groups with little time to cover all aspects. Ms. Crotchet talks staccato sfz, marcato, V between brows.
  • Presto to hear what students practised and give new pieces.
  • If no time to play all they prepared, why practice next week? They lose interest.

Practice dwindles > performance nervespractice

They need Ruth’s books (check the half-price deals and class sets).

Capable students stop lessons if frustrated, wasting talent and parents’ investment.

PRIVATE LESSONS

  • Negotiate timetable for premium times in break/before class.
  • Make-up lessons if 24 hours’ notice of illness or tests.
  • With teacher’s undivided attention, students move at their own, faster pace.
  • Ms. Dolce chooses pieces and styles they like, is enthusiastic, relaxed and fun.
  • Exams and competitions are well prepared, so high results are likely.
  • Students set and meet goals, enjoy challenges, realise potential and SHINE IN PERFORMANCE!”

CMP-with-shadow

Andante con momentum

It was a risk. But this year, Mrs Dolce’s schedule is full, her days long, but she emerges grazioso!

Tips to handle questions

Even experienced presenters can struggle with a question from left field. And alienate listeners if they stonewall or become defensive.

“Are there any questions?”

Part of your speech preparation is to jot down potential queries and practise appropriate answers.

What if no one asks?speakoutmedium

People may be shy of speaking or not ready to verbalise. Listeners use a different part of the brain when absorbing content.

• Give time; “While I drink a glass of water, think if you have any questions to ask me.” That water will also help you to think fast if someone lobs a curly one! in which case draw on the POWER OF THE PAUSE. Reflect.

• Clear the fog with: “Often I’m asked …”

• Plant a colleague in the hall, primed with a question you know inside out. This breaks ice and triggers other questions.

• Loosen them up with “Turn to the person next to you and discuss…”

Handling Tricky Questions 

If you can’t answer, it’s better to admit it openly than to tangle yourself up in convoluted attempts. People appreciate honesty: “I don’t think I could do justice to that without research. Let’s follow up later.”

Or “I’m not prepared to answer that at present; could someone else enlarge on it?”

Remember, you are the expert. Most couldn’t match your command of the topic.

Handling hostility

Dodge inelegant public power-struggles which will alienate the rest of the audience.

• Drop your shoulders, take a deep breath and a drink of water.
• Listen carefully to their points, looking to agree on some common ground.
• Empathy helps to defuse possible aggression and maintains rapport with listeners.
• Remain objective.
• Maintain a neutral, even voice. Curb emotive language.
• See it as an opportunity to re-state your position: “Let me clarify my point.”
• Find a source of agreement: “I understand that you do agree with me on …”
• Deal with a threatening point briefly and call for the next question.

Manage Grandstanders and Big-Noters

An “on-edge” presenter may mis-read an enthusiastic question as an effort to trip. Most wheelbarrow pushers will desist once they have their quota of attention. If they try to turn it into a debate, suggest following up the discussion later rather than take time from others’ questions.

Phrases like “Perhaps you might briefly share your expertise with us …” defer to their knowledge while giving yourself time to marshal your own thoughts.

[Excerpt from Speak Out – Don't Freak Out; Public speaking with confidence
available as hardcopy book and eBook] 

Need help with coaching and speech/blog writing? Email Ruth

Do SHAKES rattle your presentation?

What is your deepest, murkiest fear as that presentation, competition or recital looms? Shakes? You’re not alone!

Many performers, whether they present through words or music, have been disconcerted by jitters at some stage. String players dread wobbly bow strokes; vocalists that unintended vocal vibrato. Shaky hands or lips inhibit many instrumentalists. Pity the trumpeters, whose fingers are all too obvious right under their noses! At least public speakers can hide their hands in pockets (NOT a good look, however) or grip the lectern (only minimally better).

It’s all part of the fight/flight adrenalin rush

We cannot rabbit off stage. Avoidance is counter-productive.  Authors may be solitary types, happiest with a pen and paper or a keyboard, but they must face audiences and media on the promo tours.

We need tactics to counter jitters.

SHAKES seem obvious to the performer – small comfort that most listeners are oblivious.

Our society tends to silence problems with pills rather than find a solution.

“Beta-blocker” drugs block the adrenalin reaction and anxiety symptoms by slowing the heart rate to reduce sweating and tremors: they do not stop nerves, but lessen symptoms. Medical prescription is essential as they can be dangerous for people prone to diabetes, certain heart conditions, bronchitis, depression, hay fever and asthma.

Test suitability well before a performance – rather than discover an unsuspected cardiac or asthma condition onstage. Reported side effects include dizziness, light-headedness, nightmares, hallucinations, lethargy, insomnia, visual disturbances, diarrhoea, drowsiness, cold hands and feet.

Surely there are practical, doable and non threatening solutions? Well, I’m glad you asked…

Channel Adrenaline

Diffuse excess adrenaline with Brain Gym’s “Positive Points” technique. Place a hand on your forehead, inhaling deeply. This simple action encourages blood flow to the frontal lobes where rational thought occurs. It curbs fight or flight jitters, releases memory blocks and enables you to walk onto the platform accessing your whole brain. If memory slips intrude mid-performance, simply pause between movements, breathe deeply with a hand to your forehead and regain focus. Also, holding these emotional stress-release neurovascular balance points of the stomach meridian curbs stomach queasiness.

Try the contrary approach

The more we try to control shaking, the worse it gets. Instead, try the paradoxical approach. Rather than fight against shaking, allow yourself to do so. Give yourself permission to shake. “So, you want to shake, fingers. Well, go on – shake.” Some performers consciously make their hands tremble, their knees shake or their palms sweat as a way of trying to produce the symptom rather than conceal it.

Wiggle your toes

Focus your attention elsewhere. On your toes, as did John, a talented organist and clarinetist I coached in an American summer music program. He admitted to suffering every symptom possible when performing. Soon after his session, he performed creditably. I congratulated him on his poise and calm; if he experienced any jitters they  were not obvious. “Oh,” he said, “my hands shook in the beginning, then I remembered what you said and focused on my toes. When they started to shake I brought my attention back onto my hands, and by then the piece was over.”

Work those fingers

Jittery fingers may be a product of tense muscles or of too much energy as a result of the adrenaline rush. Before going on-stage, shake or rub your hands together. Squeeze your fingers into a tight fist, then release.

Move thoughts elsewhere

Another solution is to direct thoughts onto another aspect of your performance. Our minds just cannot think of two things at once.

Choose to focus not on your weaknesses, but on your strengths. 

 

The Joys of Communication

Welcome to my debut blog. If you communicate with words or music this is for you.

THE GIFT OF SOUND

My dear friend died recently, a few months short of his century. He was like a father to me. By that age communication was limited. But I cherish memories of our last meeting, when I played my clarinet for him as I did for my mother in her hospital bed. Some Mozart, but mostly the old-timer songs and hymns they knew well. My gift of sound reached to their remaining faculties.

HEAR AND READ BODY LANGUAGE

Our digital age sacrifices as much as it gains. How many conversations are two-way? We spit words out into the ether – to what response? But pick up the phone and we hear voice nuance. When we talk over coffee or via Skype we relate with multiple faculties. When I met a friend Peter at a café he could barely talk through bad laryngitis. We updated by writing on his iPad. But laughter, facial and body language compensated for his voice.

The reason we have two ears and only one mouth, is that we may hear more and speak less. (Greek philosopher Zeno, 335 BC – 264 BC)

IF YOU HAVE EARS, LISTEN

How acutely do we listen? We can learn much if we listen back to a recording.

Musicians note uneven passagework and erratic rhythms or intonation.

Speakers, we hear, don’t we, the frequent ‘um’ or up-talk, the tendency to rush.

A pre-presentation recording helps us note and avoid words that stutter or stumble. In the writing stage of a presentation, I tape record while walking by my creek or along a beach. The words flow more naturally than when sitting at the computer keyboard. I can then transcribe it and edit further. ‘It is solved by walking’ wrote St Augustine. (Many use dictation software; my efforts to train it are still at the bolshy toddler stage.)

Authors, if we read aloud our manuscript we discover that clunky phrasing, those convoluted sentences, the reiteration of words.

Teachers, challenge your students to tape-record or video some of their practice. Together you can discuss whether they use their time to improve or merely reinforce mistakes.

CAUTION: Recording can daunt. If we listen back immediately after a performance or presentation when still in a sensitised state, we will be appalled by our mistakes. Wait a week so objectivity can temper such reactions. We need balance and to be kind to ourselves. Give credit for how effectively we expressed that phrase.

 ENJOY BEAUTIFUL MUSIC – with the faculties we are given

It’s inspiring that international percussionist Evelyn Glennie is deaf, yet she lives a busy productive career.

“Except for a few minor inconveniences, I am not disabled from achieving anything in my career or private life. How then do the terms ‘Disabled’ or ’Deaf’ really apply to me? In short, they don’t, not even the ‘Hearing Impaired’ label works because in some respects my hearing is superior to the average non-impaired person. I simply hear in a different way to most people.”

Read more: http://www.evelyn.co.uk/Resources/Essays/Disability%20Essay.pdf

 THE BOTTOM LINE: Does our communication diminish others – or uplift them?