San Diego Business Journal
New York Stage Experience Puts Executive Coach's Clients Front and Center
By Katie Weeks
"Business is theater" is the mantra of executive coach and image consultant Laura Darius. The feisty 5-foot, 2-inch native New Yorker has started a West Coast branch of Darius Communications Inc., her 15-year-old firm.
"I believe it's important to put on a costume for business, altering one's character on the stage of business. You're not giving up yourself, but tweaking your image," she said. Darius, who studied speech and theater at Brooklyn College has a
softened East Coast edginess, at least in her business persona.
Her ability to morph her personality to relate to her audience has helped her garner an impressive list of clients, most of which are in the pharmaceutical industry. She has worked with some of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, including Bristol-Meyers Squibb and Merck.
Aggressive, yet refined, Darius' confident style is helping to earn her a respected image among health care and biotech executives.
Locally, Darius works with executives at Amylin Pharmaceuticals Inc., Gen-Probe Inc., and Sharp HealthCare, among others, on skills like presentation and accent reduction. She said she is also beginning to consult for local politicians,
none of whom she named.
"To be able to deliver criticism or feedback and have someone embrace it, that is a unique skill," said Jamee Lynn Smith, a former public relations executive at Sharp HealthCare who now is associate director of marketing and communications at San Diego Hospice & Palliative Care. Smith honed her presentation skills with the help of Darius, who has also worked with other Sharp executives. Smith said she learned to "command more of a presence" in meetings by speaking slower and maintaining a steady tone of voice.
Darius has changed the name of her firm over the years to reflect different focuses.
In the 1980s and 1990s, she employed up to 10 people, but once she realized her name recognition was largely supporting the business, she decided to go it alone
In addition to accent reduction and executive coaching, Darius acts a personal shopper, even once leading a mission to find a suitable bra for a plus-size scientist to wear while she delivered a presentation. Darius also offers help with clutter, personal/professional life balance, executive presence and communication style modifications.
She prides herself on quick diagnosis and subtle adjustments that she says could make or break a promotion, a financial deal, a new client or result in increased sales.
She said her business has doubled over the last five years, and today her revenues are "more than $100,000 per year." She has been working with Gen-Probe's Jerzy Macioszek, associate director of product development, for two years on accent reduction.
Macioszek, who is Polish, has been in the United States 10 years. He taught himself English. Macioszek said, "If someone misunderstands you (in the life sciences industry, especially), there's certainly a high risk." Macioszek and Darius recently gathered for a refresher session, spouting vowel sounds at one another while Macioszek watched his image on a DVD player.
Darius records the sessions so her clients can measure improvements. Macioszek said his supervisor and co-workers have complimented his improved speech, though he joked that at least one colleague said his accent was part of his charm. Darius says such training activities are less expensive than hiring new employees.
Darius, who speaks French, has a minor in music from the University of Wisconsin. She graduated from the High School of Music & Art in New York City. She has been interviewed on CNN, ABC, NBC and featured in the New York Times, Vogue,
Cosmopolitan and Harper's Bazaar.
Darius said she moved to San Diego three years ago to be near her family but still flies between San Diego and New York, where she maintains an office for Darius
Communications. Darius said if San Diego wants to be a larger player in business, it needs a wardrobe boost. "People here pride themselves on being so casual," she said. "I really think they need to up the ante, instead of the flip-flops, Hawaiian shirts and wrinkled Dockers."
Among her advice to "America's Finest City" is that biotech executives should not be so humble. "They don't realize how crucial their missions are," she said. "(Even small biotechs) should see themselves as potential players as opposed to garage operations. It makes an impression on their potential investors." Darius said a visual change is the easiest way to alter others' perceptions. She believes in "investment dressing," buying the best quality clothes one can afford.
Darius' niche in the life sciences has helped her to gain a share of a crowded market.
James Canfield, president and chief operating officer of La Jolla-based Renaissance Executive Forums, which has 40 U.S. locations, noted there are "hundreds" of executive coaches in San Diego. Most don't have more than six people, he said. Canfield employs 15 locally.
Renaissance sponsors monthly meetings of executives who pay fees to be members, who meet with a facilitator to share ideas. Most members are from medium-size companies, he said, with revenues from $1 million to $100 million. The 12-year-old firm's clients come from technology, business services and maintenance and construction. Canfield admitted that a return on investment for money spent on professional coaching is difficult to measure. "Our goal is to move them from where they are to where they want to be."
Firms like San Diego's Laura Silverman & Associates and Jodie Schuller & Associates offer accent reduction services. Both have employees who hold certificates of clinical competence in speech pathology, and specialize in speech impediments, stuttering and other disabilities. They also work with children.
Darius said her services are more comprehensive and personalized and that her clients see improvements after only a few hours. "I do everything from what extends from the mouth to what kind of purse a woman carries," she said. "There is a monetary benefit to this because they are better accepted in their companies, bringing in a better image and ultimately increasing revenues."
American Way Magazine
Accenting the Positive
By MARK McCain
When regional speech patterns get in the way of corporate or social success, retraining ones accent may be a solution.
A New York City accent raises no eyebrows at a precinct station in Queens, and a southern drawl sounds right at home in regional Alabama, but what about elsewhere? "They can be verbal suicide," says one speech therapist bluntly.
That‘s why Alben Corrado decided to retrain his voice when he stepped out of a New York City police uniform into a business suit: "l was projecting an image I didn‘t want to project anymore." And that`s why Gilson J. Capilouto learned a new accent after she moved out West from Alabama: "l grew tired of people asking me if l had slaves chained down at my plantation."
Some accents charm the socks off people, but others stir up stereotypes that erode opportunities for success. Retraining those accents may be a solution. Speech-teacher Laura Darius explains: "The key is mechanical practicing. That's what makes new speech patterns become eventually automatic. There`s no magic to it. It’s like learning to type, to move on the tennis court, or do anything that requires coordination." Like the first swings at a tennis hall, early attempts at whipping an accent may be embarrassing. That`s why Darius recommends that people "try out their homework on cabdrivers, supermarket clerks, and other strangers."
Traditionally people have given more attention to the style of their hair or the shine on their shoes than the sound of their voices. But that is changing — especially in New York City, in response to an accent that prompts people to warp their words. "Tree goils" is not a botanical disease unique to Brooklyn but rather a trio of young women, and "axe my `fadda" is not lumberjack jargon but rather a question to be addressed to someone’s father:
"People are starting to realize how much impact speech really has." says Darius, who regularly fills more than two dozen classes at her Center for Speech Arts in Manhattan. A woman can be impeccably dressed and have a super corporate image, but if she opens her mouth and has a harsh accent- boom! — she breaks that image. "
It takes at least six months of weekly sessions to "wipe out" an accent, says Darius. "Most people don't realize the commitment it takes. Your speech has to become almost a preoccupation; otherwise you're kidding yourself."
Robert S. Miller isn't one to kid himself. For more than a year he has been chipping away at his New York accent. "Sometimes it overpowers my thoughts," he says, sighing. "l think so much about how to say something. I forget what I'm saying." But those lapses are fading as clear speech grows into a habit. “There‘s a confidence I'm gaining that l never realized could exist." says Miller, a 50-year-old furniture-company executive. "It's difficult to change when you`re my age, but there's nothing like improving yourself’."
"Depending on how it hits your ear, the New York accent can sound aggressive, Dumb, crass, coarse, or unintelligent," declares Darius. “I’m allowed to say that, being a native."
Accents typecast people socially, as playwright George Bernard Shaw showed in Pygmalion when Prof. Henry Higgins, a phonetics expert with impeccable speech, transforms a cockney flower girl into a woman of refinement. She discovers new speech — and a new world.
Indeed, when someone starts to talk with more polish, it can take the shine off old friendships. "Peers feel threatened because they think their friend is trying to step above them — going one kick-in-the-pants higher," says Darius. "But if a person intends to move up the corporate ladder, he has to do his homework. And if an accent is in the way of his goals, he has to be stronger than his peers."
Everyone speaks with an accent, but "General American" is as generic as accents come in the United States. Most news-casters have adopted it, as have many actors and business people. "It's the voice that comes from nowhere." says a southern businessman who adopted it when he began traveling widely. Basically, General American has one advantage over other accents: It's innocuous.
Darius says: "Many of the people l see want to get rid of their accents to increase their accounts or commissions. They often deal by telephone with clients across the country who do not feel comfortable speaking to a fast-talking New Yorker The accent can be repellent, and on the phone you don`t have the rest of the personality to counteract it."
Even with a warm personality to balance his accent. Albert Corrado saw potential trouble when he left his police beat for a corporate office. He recalls: "The first meeting is very important in business, and the sound of your voice has a lot to do with the impression you leave. l had a very bad, a very unprofessional New York accent. It was a distinct liability."
So Corrado called a speech therapist, signed up for weekly sessions, and started pronouncing words out loud for a few hours every week. "The changes have occurred very gradually," he says. "I`m 75 percent there, but l still need some touching up."
Disadvantageous as the New York accent may be, it is not alone. Any regional dialect that draws attention to one`s voice — and away from one’s message — can cause trouble. "The minute you start dealing with people outside your immediate area, that's when you have to worry about whether your speech is a barrier," says Darius. "l find that a person with a heavy southern accent can have just as much difficulty as someone with a heavy New York accent."
Gilson Capilouto would certainly agree. When she left Alabama for college in Colorado, she felt like a side show. "It was really embarrassing to be from the South. People said, `Talk, talk, let me hear you talk.‘ l sounded to them like people from the mountains of Tennessee sound to me, so l knew it was pretty bad.
BIZ San Diego Magazine
By Adrienne Moch
Need to hone those skills for executive member leadership? Coaching can give you Navy Seal–like preparation for daily business challenges.
Prior to the early ’90s, if you learned someone had a coach, you probably assumed he or she was participating in some sort of sports league. That all changed when executive and personal coaching became popular, and it remains so today, as many professionals understand that they cannot rely on their education and experience alone to succeed in the highly competitive business world.
Laura Darius provides professional development skills to corporate clients, but she focuses on the areas of speech, presentation and image. She founded her first company, Corporate Communications Skills, in 1985, and then changed her focus to executive/personal coaching in 1992 with Darius Communications
operating initially in New York and moving her practice to San Diego in 2004.
Darius brings a theater background to her profession, as she started her career by working with actors to improve their voice, diction and body language for the stage. She finds that many of the approaches she used with actors are appropriate in the business world.
“Sometimes the character a person is projecting is not appropriate for the role they’re playing, so I ‘direct’ them to modify their speech patterns and behaviors, and if necessary, change their ‘costume’—makeup, hair and accessories,” Darius says. “I find that people really like that approach.”
When it comes to speech, Darius helps clients overcome a variety of problems, including talking too fast, talking in monotone, not listening, rambling, never getting to a point, and being too detailed. On the presentation side, she deals with issues like stage fright and presence, speech dynamics, vocal variety, word emphasis, tighter transitions, adding high-level content, and speaking in strategic terms.
Dress for Success
Equally as important as speaking like a professional is looking like one. Darius finds that men think of image in terms of having a leader-like presence, while women think of it as how put together they look.
“At a certain level, you have to dress for the role,” Darius says. “For men, it’s all about crispness; being rumpled just doesn’t cut it. I encourage male clients to press their shirts and trousers, even Dockers, and make sure their shoes are shined. Women, of course, have a few more things to think about.”
Darius’ female clients may be counseled on everything from dress and hair to accessories and makeup. She suggests moderation when it comes to the latter two, is a proponent of investing in good clothing, and often finds herself recommending that women with long hair cut it. She’s gotten fantastic feedback from those who’ve followed her haircut advice—they tell her they’re treated with more respect.
Kristin Regan, communications manager at Sempra Energy, who worked with Darius when she entered the management ranks at Sharp Healthcare, says the advice she received definitely resulted in co-workers treating her in a different, more “management-worthy” way.
“I’d never been on a senior leadership team before, so I had no idea how to conduct myself,” Regan says. “Laura videotaped all our sessions, and watching that first one was very hard. I talked too fast, my voice was too high, and my presence—including curly blonde hair—did not command respect.”
Working with Darius, Regan learned to lower her voice, slow down her speech, and modify her appearance to make it more professional. As a result, she’s more relaxed when speaking to groups, even the board of directors, and she feels more confident in any business situation.
“As a new manager, I got basic training, but nothing like this,” Regan says. “This has been the most beneficial thing I’ve ever done. It’s helped me the most.”
Darius is thrilled that her methodology has literally helped change people’s lives, facilitating their career enhancement and subsequent economic success. She believes San Diego professionals can benefit from seeing how upwardly mobile New Yorkers have achieved success.
“If San Diego wants to be a player, the local workforce needs to up the ante and become more driven,” she says. “Professionals, especially those in their 20s and 30s, need to focus on their images and be aware that how they speak and look will affect their ability to advance in their careers.”
How To Find a Winning Coach
There is no shortage of coaches in San Diego. If you work for a large company, ask your HR department about its policy regarding professional development; they may be able to refer you to a good coach. If you’re researching coaches on your own, keep in mind the following:
1. Identify the situation you’re looking to shift. Consider what you think you need to know and what your goals are for your coaching experience.
2. Review credentials. Things to look for are experience (contact references), certification (there are seven or eight major accredited coaching schools) and higher
education (training in leadership and management).
3. Ensure the right rapport can be developed. You know what you respond to, so be sure you work with a coach who uses that style. Do you prefer someone who will push you or someone with a more gentle touch? Do you want someone who will “tell it like it is,” or someone who’s more diplomatic? You can get a sense of these things in interviews with coaches and by speaking with their clients.
Why Not Talk Like A Grown-Up?
by David Hajdu
A squeaky or breathy tone, junk words (I mean, like, you know. . . ) and other verbal tics can ruin your image. Time to start sounding successful!
"Speech is a direct expression of who you are—or who you would like to be," says Laura Darius, president of the Center for Speech Arts in New York City. "Sloppy or unsophisticated speech can mark you as excessively girlish, insecure, or even unintelligent. But you can change the way you talk and be seen in an entirely new and better light."
To some extent, speech is influenced by physiology—the size of lungs and shape of nasal cavity, for example. Yet experts say many of the most common verbal problems are learned: picked up from friends, family, and other role models over the years. The same problems can be unlearned with a little effort.
The Mousy Squeak
"People associate depth of vocal tone with intellectual depth," says Karen Morris, a speech instructor at New Jersey`s Fairleigh Dickinson University and The New School for Social Research in New York City. "If your vocal tone is weak or shallow, that’s how you'll be perceived."
Adds Darius, "Women who adopt a tiny, thin voice do so to seem cuter, more helpless and feminine. Or they`ve been taught to smile and look pretty instead of learning to express themselves." Physically, the cause is a lack of vocal support (the projection of power through proper breathing). Most of us breathe wrong. We tend to tighten our stomach muscles when we inhale, which constricts the diaphragm and the voice. For a fuller, richer tone, it`s better to let the stomach expand while breathing. In fact, voice coaches say breathing from the diaphragm, with full breaths beginning deep down near the stomach, is the best way to project a strong, resonant, mature vocal tone.
The Misplaced Voice
Although we think of the mouth as the source of our speech, vocal tone actually vibrates in the chest, throat, head, cheeks, facial cavity, and nose. When there`s an unusual degree of resonance in any of those areas, the voice sounds unusual. For instance, excessive resonance in the nose creates that stuffy, whiny voice Lily Tomlin uses for her Ernestine character.
How to get rid of this problem? "The voice is a phenomenal instrument," says Morris. "Once you learn how, you can place it almost anywhere in your upper body." To develop this ability, she recommends doing impressions of such familiar figures as Tomlin or Marilyn Monroe. As you do each voice, concentrate on the distinctive source of that voice. "Once you feel how the voice can be placed," concludes Morris, "you can practice moving it and correct such problems as an overly nasal or throaty voice."
Talking Too LOUD
This is rarely good form, unless your career involves barking cheeseburger orders to the guys working the grill. Think of Daisy Buchanan. Gatsby`s great love; F. Scott Fitzgerald described her as a woman whose soft voice brought people closer to her. Truly sophisticated women speak in moderate tones. Jell-O wrestlers scream.
Talking too FAST
Babblers sound like children—undisciplined, insensitive, and ultimately anesthetizing. To slow down, use a technique taught by vocal coaches: Divide your sentences into "thought groups" of about four to eight words. Discipline yourself to say only one thought group at a time, then take a breath.
Every Sentence a Question?
Some people, young women especially, raise the pitch of their voice at the end of a sentence, turning even a straightforward point of information into a question. As a result, they always sound uncertain or confused. A variation: peppering your speech with "Okay‘?" after every sentence.
"This kind of speaker is probably insecure about what she has to say," explains Darius. "She`s subtly asking for approval, even positioning herself in a subordinate role." If you want to convey an attitude of strength and confidence, you must become hyperaware of your habit, then make a conscious effort to end it. Think ahead, anticipate your words, and don`t let that "Okay?" out of your mouth. To eliminate a rising intonation, concentrate on lowering your voice at the end of each sentence.
A Boring Monotone
"We all have an enormous vocal range to play with," says Hillary Martin, senior vice president in charge of media training for the Rowland Company, a public-relations firm. "We can croon, murmur, growl . . . but we usually settle into one vocal groove and never deviate from it."
In both business and social situations, monotonous speech suggests tired thoughts and feelings. It results from repetition—not just of words or phrases, but of tone as well.
"Anything, including yelling, can be boring if it’s always the same," says Morris. "Keep people guessing by doing different things with your voice. Try varying the pace and pitch, as well as emphasizing a particular phrase occasionally. If you want people to be intrigued by what you`re saying, you must sound interested in it yourself."
Most of the letters in English words are there to be pronounced, but when we’re especially eager to talk, extremely familiar with the listener, or just feelin` casual, we get sloppy. We start dropping letters, (especially gs, rs, and ds at the end of words) or complete syllables (usually when they start with a vowel at the beginning of a word). Most of the time, we don`t realize we do it, because the mind’s ear fills in the sound for us.
Unfortunately, careless pronunciation is easily mistaken for laziness or a lack of sophistication. At the opposite extreme, it is possible to over enunciate, like Woody Allen. He uses the technique because it demonstrates perfectionism, and also sounds very funny . . . when he does it. As a rule, conversational speech should be crisp but understated, to impart an aura of personal polish.
Affected speech turns people off. "Whenever you put on a voice that isn`t really you, you`re placing an obstacle between yourself and your listener," says Hillary Martin. "Relationships of all kinds are built on trust and respect, but by lying to people—a phony voice is a lie—you betray their trust and risk losing their respect and affection." Be yourself.
The Wrong Voice
Just as you have many sides to your personality, you have many different voices. They‘re all you, but the tricky part is using them at the appropriate time. Typically," says Karen Morris, "women get into the habit of speaking in a sexy, breathy voice to attract men. Some of these women talk the same way at work and then wonder why all the men in the office want to sleep with them."
According to Morris, a woman should make adjustments in her speech, according to the protocol of the situation: "You don't dress the same way all the time, so why should you speak the same way? You wouldn`t walk into the office in lingerie, so you shouldn't speak like Kathleen Tumer when you're making a business presentation. You have an enormous vocal repertoire. Use it."
Speaking Sort of Like, You Know . . .
The most easily recognized of all verbal tics is the use of junk words—meaningless fillers we add when we can`t think of anything better to say. The problem is, fillers don‘t fool anyone; instead, they make it all too obvious that we‘re stuck.
It's easy to resort to that weak, waffling speech—injecting an "um" between every other word, or watering down every statement with "I guess" or "sort of." The solution, according to Darius, is to begin building confidence in yourself and your views. "If the symptom is sloppy language, the cure is gaining confidence. And the way to do that is to make a point of developing your own opinions. Then practice speaking forcefully and logically to friends, family, even to yourself in the mirror.
"When you're proud of what you have to say, you carry confidence and conviction in your words, and your speech just flies on its own strength."
Executive Female Magazine
HOW TO PROJECT A POWER IMAGE
If you don't look, sound and act as if you mean business, you can undermine your professional credibility. Finding the best way to "package" your talents is crucial to success.
THE SOUNDS OF SUCCESS
When it comes to climbing the corporate ladder, you probably think more about dressing for success than sounding as competent as you are. Your voice is an often neglected, but vital, aspect of your professional image, and it also affects the way people respond to you. "Projecting power doesn’t mean just wearing the right clothes or preparing a good speech. lf you're not doing what you want to do or you're not as successful as you think you should be, poor communications skills are probably preventing you from effectively selling yourself" says Terry Van Tell, a personal communications consultant based in Manhattan. The way you pronounce words and the pitch of your voice can make a poor impression, agrees Laura Darius, the founder of Corporate Communication Skills in New York. "A woman could be wearing a Dior suit, but if she sounds awful it negates everything."
Darius’ clients are usually sent by companies who hesitate to promote them because they don't sound "corporate" enough. Her goal is to "improve and enhance speech and communication skills" by changing pitch, diction and accents, and by improving grammar, vocabulary and delivery. If a woman mumbles or slurs her words, Darius works with her to make sure she pronounces individual consonants and vowels clearly and crisply and doesn’t swallow any sounds. For instance, she may have a client practice this by repeating individual letters - such as "P—P-P-P" or "D-D-D-D" or "G-G-G-G" - making sure she uses her facial muscles, lips and tongue properly.
One of Darius' major challenges is to convert regional--mostly New York accents, where "talk" is pronounced "tawk" and mother becomes "motha"- into the "standard American accent," so you can’t identify where a speaker is from. According to Darius, regional accents generally aren't considered "professional, corporate or serious. The vocal stereotype is of an uneducated, provincial person who is not very intelligent," she explains.
With a female client, Darius often tries to change the pitch of her voice "from a thin, reedy, little-girlish sound to a lower-pitched, stronger sound." Women, she notes, often have problems with pitch and projection which prevent them from sounding self-assured and assertive. For instance, one of her clients, a stockbroker who does most of her work on the telephone, "wasn’t being taken seriously because she had a high-pitched, mousy voice." When this woman learned how to infuse confidence and authority into her sales pitch by lowering and projecting her voice, she nearly doubled her sales in about 10 weeks.
"The way you sound on the phone creates an immediate mental picture for the listener. Even without seeing you, the listener forms an image of who you are and what level you're on," explains Darius. Moreover, Rush adds, your telephone voice also conveys your degree of interest, your enthusiasm and your credibility.
Women also tend to undermine their authority by raising their voices at the end of a declaration, which makes it seem as if they're asking a question or seeking approval. This sends the message that they're unsure of themselves and easily intimidated. To deliver statements that communicate authority, practice lowering your voice during the last two or three words of a sentence.
Moreover, both the volume of your voice and your choice of words can make the difference between coming across as a weak or strong character. "For instance, there's a big difference between saying 'Like, we sort of have a problem here' in a high-pitched voice, and asserting 'We have a problem here' in a lower tone without using filler words," Darius points out. In addition, if you speak too softly, people will disregard what you have to say. Keep in mind that your voice tends to sound louder to you than it does to anyone else.
"You can project confidence by smiling and talking louder than you normally would," says Van Tell. "Your voice will give you a power image and your smile will give you a friendly one, which are both key to being 'business-likeable." Speaking up also indicates that you believe in what you're saying. A "listen-to-me" voice conveys confidence, conviction and energy.
The Four P's
"By monitoring four fundamental elements of vocal projection, you will be able to pinpoint the areas where you must improve to communicate your message more clearly and dynamically."
To ensure that you will be heard clearly, your voice should remain about five musical notes above the lowest note you can sing easily. Test your pitch by actually singing the musical scale "do, re, mi, fa, sol, Ia, ti, do." Watch for the note that will allow your voice to sound loudest without straining."
This best note - usually sol, la or ti - will yield a fuller, more resonant and easily produced sound. Remember that supporting words—the words that frame a key point or idea—should be spoken at your "best note," while key words should be spoken somewhat higher.
Pauses act as vocal punctuation marks. Leaving a brief moment of silence after each important thought will emphasize that statement. You can also use pauses to pace yourself to make sure your audience is able to absorb your message easily.
If you find some words or sound combinations such as "prerequisite"—consistently tricky, replace them with easier to pronounce synonyms. If you have trouble pronouncing consonant sounds or speaking clearly above background noise, try this exercise: Place your hand just above your hipbone and practice vocalizing initial consonant sounds more clearly by saying words that begin with the letter ”z"—such as zucchini, zest and zoo—or "th"—such as theme, thumb and thwart. When you emphasize your words correctly, you will feel a slight outward flexing of your muscles.
When sitting or standing, keep your shoulders back and your spine straight. Be flexible, rather than rigid, as this assures sufficient breath for you to speak with clarity and ease. Slouching will make you sound breathy and less energetic (and less enthusiastic).
To test your breathing, place your hands on your waist with your fingers forward. If your waist remains expanded as you speak, you are breathing properly and maintaining good posture. If you feel your abdomen protrude as you exhale, your posture needs improvement.
Say "I'm not sure It’s only my opinion" or "l think this is a dumb idea but...", speak in a soft, breathy or a weak, shaky voice, or speak in a meek, little-girlish voice
You are ineffectual, unmotivated and don’t believe in what you're saying.
You sound apologetic, as if you doubt your words or are unable to assume responsibility for your ideas. Such disclaimers indicate you lack confidence and authority.
You are weak—a pushover. You convey a lack of power and authority.
You don't sound like someone to be taken seriously. This diminishes your effectiveness on the job.
ON THE PHONE: GET YOUR POINT ACROSS
Communicating on the telephone involves more than just having a good connection. Speech consultant Laura Darius, president of Corporate Communication Skills, Inc., in New York, has the following tips for improving your telephone clarity:
Think through the purpose of your call and plan your opening line. People often mumble and sputter on the phone when they haven’t planned what they need to say. Before dialing, take a deep breath, relax and focus on the call.
Hold the phone properly in your hand, not cradled against your neck. Keep the mouthpiece about one inch from your lips.
Use a cheerful voice. Try to smile as you speak, which improves your clarity. Some people even keep a mirror on the desk as a reminder. You owe it to your listener to sound pleasant.
Project your voice, to make it not loud but energetic. Projecting energy helps give you variety, which improves your diction and increases the impact of your message. To be more animated, imagine that you are talking to your listener face to face.
Concentrate on your articulation. Speak slowly. Rapid speech leaves out sounds and even whole syllables, confusing your listener. Keep your sentences short and to the point. Don’t ramble.
Being businesslike doesn‘t mean being cut and dried. Try to use as much vocal variety as possible and "color" the positives; for example, "I have an excellent proposal for you." If you’re enthusiastic, your pitch will automatically go up on adjectives and your rhythm will be livelier.
If you have a heavy regional or foreign accent, it’s especially important that you speak slowly and purposefully. If your listener is unfamiliar with the accent, she will need an extra beat to decipher your rhythm and pronunciation.
BEAUTY & HEALTH REPORT
By Stephanie Young
YOUR VOICE: Does it support or sabotage your work image?
Your voice can make all the difference in the image you project and in how others react to you. If it’s dull, shrill, young-sounding or indistinct, even the most dressed-for-success suit and sophisticated, poised manner can't compensate. If it's confident, clear and self-assured, your voice could make you stand out from the pack. Is your voice doing you credit? Find out how to improve it with these easy, at-home speech-polishing pointers.
How important is your voice on the job? What should it sound like?
In a work situation, your ability to express yourself effectively and to persuade others to accept your ideas is key. What many people don't realize is that how they speak is as important as what they say. "Your self-image is reflected in your voice," says Laura Darius, president of Corporate Communication Skills, Inc., New York City. "A woman sounds as she is or thinks herself to be. If she thinks of herself as a mouse, chances are her thin, hesitant voice will reveal this self-image to others. Changing the way she speaks can bring improvements in the way she is treated and how she sees herself."
Whatever her job level, profession or career, a woman should express authority, poise and self-confidence with her voice. How does that voice sound? It’s well-pitched—neither too high nor too low; full, not thin, distinct, not mumbled, rhythmic, not monotonal; neither too loud nor too soft. And it doesn’t have to sound like a man's.
"A woman's voice can have all the firmness, power and authority of a man‘s voice without resorting to mimicking a man‘s tones," says David Blair McCIosky, a voice teacher and therapist, and clinical associate at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Boston. “In fact, a woman shouldn’t try to sound like a man. A low bass voice doesn't give a woman instant power. What does give a woman power is knowing how to use her voice correctly, according to her situation and audience. A woman can get a greater range of effects from her voice than a man generally can."
Self-evaluation: How does your own voice sound!
The best way to find out how you sound to others is to tape-record your voice. To capture as natural a voice as possible, place a recorder near the telephone so that it will catch you in spontaneous speech. Then, play back the recording and "diagnose" your voice. Take note of speed (too slow, too fast); tone, or sound quality (shallow or deep, husky/breathy or sharp); resonance, or amplification (full or thin/reedy); volume (too loud, too soft); pitch, or voice level, (high, medium, low); rhythm (smooth/flowing or choppy/jerky) and enunciation (mumbling, slurring or clear/distinct).
Don‘t get discouraged if you find your voice lacking in one or more areas. You can develop a better voice by learning to use your vocal equipment correctly.
How to be your own voice coach
While there is no substitute for a qualified teacher, McClosky notes that there is plenty you can do on your own to improve the quality of your voice. It takes time and practice. As described in his book Your Voice at its Best (Boston Music Company), key areas of practice are: relaxation, respiration, resonance and recitation. Think of them as the four Rs for a better voice.
1. Relaxation. "Most of us are muscle bound as we speak," says McClosky. “Tension in the face, tongue, jaw and neck prohibits muscles from functioning properly in sound production." To relax McClosky suggests the following sequence, repeated up to five times a day.
• Massage face with finger tips from hairline to lower neck.
• Stretch tongue out of the mouth as far as you possibly man several times, then allow it to flop out over lower lip. Let it hang. Jaw should be slack.
• Press fingers gently into soft part of throat between chin and voice box, which is in the middle of your throat—where a man’s Adam's apple is.
• Grasp chin between thumb and forefinger, move it up and down like a hinge.
• Hold the voice box, or larynx, between thumb and forefinger; wobble it gently from side to side.
• Allow head to nod up and down lazily.
2. Respiration. The most common breathing mistakes that affect voice production are shallow or upper chest breathing and uneven air release. Proper breathing involves the diaphragm. McCIosky suggests inhaling with your nose, while keeping your mouth slightly open. Stand up straight and take a deep breath: Your rib cage should remain still, while your abdominal wall expands.
Once you've learned to inhale correctly, you must learn to exhale correctly. One way to think of it: "As you exhale, imagine your breath as pellets of air. Concentrate on parceling out an even steady stream of pellets," says Darius. An even exhalation gives your voice a fullness and firmness. You won’t falter or fade out in mid-sentence.
3. Resonance. The sound produced by the larynx is actually quite small. What amplifies the sound is the resonance in the mouth, head and chest cavity. Good use of body resonators results when neck and throat muscles are completely relaxed and breathing is proper, McClosky says. Hum softly. Feel your lips and cheeks vibrating.
To experience chest resonance, says Darius, say "oh" and as you do, imagine that your chest is an old-fashioned well. An awareness of the role of resonance in sound production can help you make the deep full sounds associated with an authoritative, mature voice.
4. Recitation. In order to learn to coordinate relaxation, respiration and resonance, you need to practice. The best way is to read aloud while recording yourself. Read poetry to practice inflection, expression and pace as well. Don't be afraid of overdoing it.
A rich, attractive speaking voice can enhance your entire personality. Learn to develop yours . . . and project it through pretty lips for added appeal.
A woman’s allure can be diminished by a voice that's too thin or harsh. But according to Morton Cooper, Ph.D., director of Speech Pathology Corp., L.A. and author of Change Your Voice, Change Your Life (MacMillan, 1984), undesirable speech patterns can be corrected. "Nearly everyone has the potential for a beautiful, natural voice," he says.
lf your voice isn't up to par, don't be discouraged: "Retraining yourself in terms of sound quality, volume and rate of speed is a perfectly reasonable goal," notes Dr. Cooper. His definition of the optimal speaking voice:
"One that is neither too high nor too low—full and rich with a balance of resonance."
Laura Darius, director of the Center for Speech Arts, Inc., NYC, adds that women in particular have significant speech problems: "A combination of weak self-image and improper use of the vocal instrument (poor breathing and speaking from the head or nasal area) results in a non·assertive high-pitched voice—the curse of the career woman." Developing strong, mature sounding speech takes time and practice.
Exercises you can do at home will improve the quality of your voice. "Everyone is born with all the basic material," says Jay Walman, director of Actors Training and Acting Therapy of America, NYC. "It's just a matter of proper training." Be your own vocal coach by practicing the following:
1. The breath must come in and go out from the stomach, not up and down with the chest. To learn what this feels like, lie flat on a hard surface, close your eyes and concentrate on breathing. You automatically breathe properly in this position. Then, stand up and focus on recreating the same breathing pattern.
2. The throat should be open for tones to flow smoothly. Visualize weights attached to your jaw, pulling down. Let the heavy sensation continue through the throat until it loosens, opens completely.
3. The mouth should be open. Simulate a large yawn, stretching the mouth wide. Try to recreate this feeling while speaking -- though, of course, you won’t keep your mouth quite as wide as during a real yawn.
Los Angeles Times
Brooklynites whose accent is a stigma at the oawffice can take classes to change how they tawk.
By KAREN TUMULTY - Times Staff Writer
Frank Potente thawt the way he tawked was just foyne—until he spent some time in San Francisco.
"I would utter two words, and they would say. ‘Where in Brooklyn are you from?’” he said. "The Brooklyn accent may sound cute to some people, but l don’t like it anymore."
So the 39-year-old electrician, who plans a permanent move back to California, signed up for Mary Ann Caskin's evening course, "Lose Your Brooklyn Accent."
Potente and the 10 other Brooklynites taking the course at Kingsborough Community College are modern-day American counterparts of Eliza Doolittle, the Cockney flower girl of "My Fair Lady."
But all Prof. Henry Higgins had to wrestle with was a little rain on a Spanish plain. For a real challenge, just try teaching a native Brooklynite to pronounce "sofa" without letting an "r" creep onto the end of it.
Caskin, who teaches from the perspective of having grown up in Brooklyn, said that in her old neighborhood, the Grenada Theater was known as the "Grena-der Thea-tuh."
The New York accent—spoken at the blurring speed of New York life in general-is a linguistic stew that combines ingredients from Yiddish, German, Italian, Irish and all the other languages that have immigrated here.
For many, the accent no longer is a proud reflection of the city‘s diverse culture--it is a stigma that brings to mind rude cabdrivers and tough movie gangsters. And it can get in the way of moving up the social or career ladder.
Laura Darius started out helping aspiring actors correct their speech, but she quickly learned that there was a bigger market for her services in the business world. Now her Corporate Communication Skills Inc. boasts a list of clients that includes many Fortune 500 companies.
New York accent reduction accounts for a significant part of her business, and she charges up to $150 an hour for private sessions. Many of her clients, she said, are mid·level executives" who moved up through the company by dint of their knowledge and ability, and suddenly, the whole package is being judged. The first thing that pops up after dress is speech."
Some come on their own, she said, and others are asked to by their employers. Bill Harding, a 25-year-old partner in a commercial fabric and carpet maintenance business sought Darius out because he hopes to knock off the New York hard sell. A lot of people are intimidated by it."
Personal Business Column
By Rochelle Shoretz
Suggy Chrai, director of pharmaceutical technology for North America at Bristol-Myers Squibb in
New Brunswick, N. J., is sitting before a video camera, repeating words such as “management,” "industry," and "chairperson" until he gets them right. It isn't easy. Chrai emigrated from India almost 25 years ago and still feels frustrated when he is misunderstood because of his accent. With the help of speech consultant Laura Darius, president of Darius Communications, he is modifying his pronunciation and putting the polish on his presentations at work.
Chrai, 45, is one of thousands of professionals who have called upon accent-reduction specialists to enhance their communication skills. Employees with heavy foreign or regional accents complain they are misunderstood frequently. Others feel colleagues pay more attention to how they speak than to what they say. Sometimes, situations can be humiliating. Take the Spanish-born professor, thrilled with his new job at Yale University, who told everyone he was “spending the semester in Jale."
Most accent-reduction programs include lessons on enunciation, pronunciation, and sometimes diction. Students read from drill sheets, then imitate the instructor on audio or videotape for review at home. Some programs specialize in business exercises with vocabulary that is specific to a client's profession.
Because of their need for effective communicators, companies often foot the bill for accent reduction programs, sometimes held on-site.
When Chrai approached the human-resources director at Bristol-Myers Squibb for help with his accent, the director found a specialist and got the company to pay for training. "lt helps the company if good ideas are more easily communicated. We do not want brain power diminished by an inability to get those thoughts across," says Burke Stinson, a spokesperson for American Telephone & Telegraph, which has a similar program.
Experts are careful to emphasize that accent reduction is not meant to remove all traces of one`s native speech patterns. As Diane Paul·Brown, ASHA's director of speech-language pathology, explains: "The focus is improving communication, not eliminating accents." Professor Henry Higgins would approve.
The Wall Street Journal
“MANAGING YOUR CAREER”
To Win Advancement, You Need to Clean Up Any Bad Speech Habits
By Joann S. Lublin, Wall St. Journal,
Three months after she joined an infomercial company in January 2002. 23-year-old Kristy Pinand moved up to producer from production assistant. “The promotion was, like, so cool”. But Ms. Pinand’s routine use of such "teen speak" bothered her boss. "She sounded very young," potentially hurting her ability to win clients’ respect, recalls Collette Liantonio, president of Concepts TV Productions in Boonton, N.J. She urged the youthful looking staffer to watch her words.
Ms. Pinand, who still gets mistaken for a teenager, heeded the constructive criticism. She now rehearses her remarks aloud before she calls a client. “How you talk should not be how you’re judged, but of course it is," she observes.
Whether you sound like an adolescent, curse at colleagues, talk tentatively or exhibit an abrasive Brooklyn accent, you risk derailing your career because you appear
Humphrey S. Tyler, president of National Trade Publications in Latham, N.Y., frequently rejects sales and editorial candidates because they exhibit grammatically incorrect speech. "It's as if they pulled out a baseball cap and put it on backward," the publisher complains. “It simply reflects a low level of professionalism."
The well-educated controller of a Chicago-based company has long aspired to become a chief financial officer elsewhere. But recruiter Laurie Kalm refuses to recommend him because he often says "me and so and-so," followed by the wrong verb form. "I don‘t know how much he’ll be able to advance," says Ms. Kahn, president of Media Staffing Network in Chicago.
A growing number of businesses retain speech coaches for rising stars with speech flaws. This assistance typically costs a company between $250 and S400 an hour. A coach analyzes an individual's discourse, pinpoints shortcomings and videotapes each session. Clients take the tapes home and do daily drills in front of a mirror.
Earlier this year, a suburban New Jersey healthcare company hired a speech coach to counsel a 43-yearold middle manager whose tentative communication style was hindering her mobility. The manager regularly employed "wimpy" words such as “l think." She also engaged in “uptalk," a singsong pattern in which declarative sentences end with a rising inflection. Bosses and mentors said "that I needed to be more confident when l spoke," she recollects.
A senior project manager at a major financial-services company was surprised when his supervisor blamed his stalled career trajectory partly on his thick Brooklyn accent. Despite his M.B.A., he was speaking too fast and skipping many consonants; his “deez" and "doze” made him sound uneducated and inarticulate.
“Some words didn’t come out the way they `should," the 46·yearold Brooklyn native admits. “People will draw conclusions about your leadership abilities based on how things are expressed.”
The man‘s employer covered the $5.000 tab for 14 sessions ending in March 2003 with New York coach Laura Darius founder of Darius Communications. The project manager later assumed a wider role that requires constant interaction with senior executives. He believes his communication ability has improved so much that he will soon become a managing director.
What should you do if you suspect your speaking habits are retarding your professional progress--but management doesn’t offer a speech coach? Seek frequent feedback about your communication competency from your boss, both informally and during performance reviews, suggests Joshua Ehrlich, dean of a master‘s program in executive coaching sponsored by BeamPines, a New York human-resources consultancy, and Middlesex University in London.
Feedback helped cure Ms. Pinand, the infomercial producer. When she slipped into teen speak during shoots, Ms. Liantonio “would give me a look that said, ‘There, you are doing it again'." In July the young woman became the company’s production
Sharpening Your Communication Skills
By Laura Darius
Good communication is the key to efficiency and productivity in every organization. Poor communication causes error, loss of time, money, clients, reputation, self-esteem and morale. There are several principles that are crucial to keeping the flow of information smooth and efficient.
When these basics are abused, communication breaks down and productivity suffers.
Communication is a process of transferring images, concepts and feelings from one mind to another by way of words. Words don't always have the same meaning or connotation for everyone. Many barriers can interfere with the accurate transmission of the
me sage. The following guidelines will improve your accurate reception and perception of information.
• Don't Assume or Prejudge:
When you assume you know what is in the speaker's mind or anticipate what he will say next, you simply aren't listening. This is dangerous because you may totally miss what is being said or not perceive the underlying message, or not hear that the speaker has totally misunderstood your words.
• Don't Be Distracted: When you are distracted by other thoughts or events in the environment you cannot fully focus on the content or non-verbal messages being presented. Don't allow yourself to be distracted by noise or the speaker's bad pronunciation, poor grammar, vocabulary, voice or appearance.
• Create a Positive Listening Environment: If the speaker feels you are too busy to listen, and too indifferent to care, the speaker will tend to censor and minimize his communication. If it is truly impossible to listen at the time, explain this and set a time when you can listen attentively. Face the speaker directly and maintain good eye contact.
• Don't Interrupt or Respond Too
Quickly: Interrupting is disrespectful, and responding too quickly gives the impression you are not really listening. Occupy your mind with the content and all the implications of what is being said.
• Listen Reflectively: To really make sure you have understood the message correctly, repeat what the
person said in your own words. If there are emotional components, repeat what you have observed to be the speaker's feelings. If you are wrong, the
correction will be made on the spot. This insures that the message has been transmitted and received accurately. This is the only way to verify information.
• Ask For Clarification: If you do not understand the communication, ask for elaboration or restatement. Ask for the specifics by asking "who, what , where, when, how and why" questions. Encourage the speaker to elaborate by saying "Tell me more," "Explain th t more fully," and make sure your voice is neutral or positive, not threatening.
• Speaking - Giving Information: One of the greatest causes of poor communication and the resulting mistakes, delays and ruffled feathers, is incomplete information. Directions are not specific enough; too much is assumed or the urgency of a deadline is not stressed adequately. The following guidelines will help you discipline your communication to say enough but not too much.
• Be Specific: Use simple down-to earth language. Talk about specific items, and keep the generals and abstracts to a minimum. Use words of color, size, quantity, shape, location, people, times and events.
• Move From General to
Specific: When introducing a topic, state the topic and central idea up front to orient the listener to your subject, then present the details.
General: There's a luncheon on
Sunday in the Blue Room. I want you to be in charge of it.
Specific: The luncheon starts at 12:30.
The meal has to be finished by 2:00 and everything cleared off the table because there will be a speech after that. Everyone will have the same menus.
• Don't Use Fillers: Qualifiers will
weaken your message. Unless you are intentionally t.rying to be vague, don't use "I think", "maybe", "sort of", "like", "about", "you know."
• Use Good Voice and Diction and Body Language: Face your
listener(s) directly, use good eye contact and sit or stand with authority. Speak clearly and energetically. Don't mumble, rush or slur your words. Take enough breaths to support your voice so every word can be heard. Use appropriate tones of voice for the content of your message. Weak, unsupported voices lack authority and assertiveness.
• Emphasize Cause and Effect: Whenever possible relate what you are speaking about to preceding and subsequent events. Always stress strategy and rationale. This is the best way to stress the urgency of deadlines.
• Clarify and Verify: Ask your listener to repeat his or her understanding of your instructions. Do not hesitate to do this. Emphasize that this process is necessary as a routine protection against misunderstanding. After a while this will beco1ne a habit, for you and your staff and any self-consciousness or discomfort you may feel will subside.
As we move forward in the information age, communicating ideas will beco1ne the essence of corporate life. Trends in
management will encourage more democratic, participatory, bottom-up communication. This requires an adult to-adult communication mode. The following suggestions will help create a more productive communication climate.
• Communicate Adult to Adult: Speaking to people with respect minimizes the potential for negative feelings. Avoid sarcasm, and condescending comments when speaking to subordinates and peers. At the other extreme, don't be intimidated by superiors. View all communication as a process of meeting challenges and cooperative problem solving rather than a process of blame, guilt, and
Laura Darius is an Executive Coach, specializing in speech, presentation and accent reduction. She has trained thousands of professionals from Fortune 500 companies
for the past 35 years. She has appeared on the Today Show. Good Morning America, CNN, ABC and featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles
Times, San Diego Business Journal and numerous other publications.
On Communicating Effectively in the Workplace
PLEASE NOTE: On-Screen phone number has been changed since this interview was recorded.
Please call 858-581-9227 for current information.