Elocution, as a word, has developed a rather impoverished image over the years. Many of us immediately picture a kind of corrective training to ‘sound more posh’ that feels like something out of the 1950s. However, the original meaning, and the one we use at Speak Easily, is that Elocution is the art of clear and expressive speech. And this is clearly a fundamental skill for business people to develop.
Why is it important?
Clear and expressive speech is obviously essential for many professions. Actors have to be vocal artists, which is why voice coaches, such as we employ at Speak Easily, are trained to the highest level to provide accent, speech and voice training in every high-level Drama Training School in the world. Other professions: barristers, teachers, tour-guides and TV presenters for example, are obviously also entirely dependent on their vocal performance. However, there is barely a profession in the world, especially not in the business world, where there is not some element of direct human communication, face-to-face or on the phone, and where the ability to have impact, give clear communication and express yourself with integrity and ease is not vital. And the higher you go in business, the more your vocal and physical impact, your impression of integrity and leadership, and the clarity and effectiveness of your verbal communication become paramount.
How can it specifically help a business?
From the perspective of a business owner or manager, clear communication and engaging speakers result in an internal team that is motivated by each other and working efficiently with each other, and a strong and effective external impression of the business. Everyone in a business gains from clear and expressive speech. Customers feel engaged with and trust the staff. More expressive and eloquent employees lead to greater sales, clearer messages, and more rapport and passion. And the greater impact your staff have vocally, the more your investors and shareholders will feel they have the leadership and personal quality necessary to take the business forward. A business needs to feel confident, and the vocal and physical confidence and expressivity of every member of staff contributes to positive feeling and belief across the company.
So, it’s important. But does training actually work?
Yes! It is tempting for us to accept how we speak without question, as if it were just a unique quality of our character, like fingerprints. Our voices and speech certainly are unique, but unlike fingerprints, they are dynamic, physical, muscular activities. If you are a bit unfit and overweight, you are aware that, with a change in your actions and physical use, you can make dramatic changes to your body. Your voice and speech are similar. Whether you have a weak sound that tires easily, or mumbly, indistinct speech, or a feeling that your voice is flat and uninteresting, or an accent (native or non-native) that others find hard to navigate, professional speech training can help you change your physical habits so that your voice and speech serve you better. Or, from a manager’s perspective, could raise the vocal and speech skills of your whole workforce.
Will I become all ‘actory’ and unnatural?
No, you won’t feel like a different person and you won’t lose your individuality, on the contrary you will express it more fully. Imagine the voice you had as a baby, powerful, multi-octave, able to giggle, whimper or wail. This vocal flexibility is your birth right and any loss of that is a diminishing of who you are, not a development. As elocution training returns you to vocal fitness you will feel a far greater sense of your impact in the world and a far greater enjoyment of that impact.
This also applies with speech. Clear speech is also your birth right, but physical and psychological habits can weaken this too. Local or foreign accents add different challenges, although they are not always the root of the problem. Some accents are ‘naturally’ very muscular and distinct, but individual speakers of them may have habits that weaken that muscularity and cloud their meaning.
Whatever is happening in your speech, elocution training with qualified voice and speech coaches can help you to improve your communication, sharpen your speech sounds, observe better the impact of your words and develop a better use of pause, tune, and rhythm. As we remove tension and add muscle tone to your speech muscles, your speech will have more carrying power, more impact and more personality, even without changing an accent. And if you do want to change your accent, either because you want to perfect your mastery of English as a foreign language, or perhaps just make your speech more accessible to a wider number of people, then elocution training known as Accent Reduction training, when taught by MA qualified, theatre trained voice and accent specialists, is hugely effective at achieving this.
Even with accent changes, you do not need to feel that you are losing yourself. As you gain control of your speech apparatus, you realise that it is a wonderful instrument that can be used easily in many ways, and this empowerment to use your voice and speech with range and expressivity, also allows you a clear discovery of who you are, linked to how you want to sound. And the skill of theatre-trained accent specialists such as Speak Easily’s team, is to make you feel confident and fully at ease with any changes you make.
What can I change?
Speak Easily’s team of MA qualified voice and accent coaches work in many of the leading Drama Schools and theatre companies in the country on every aspect of performance. This includes the body, complex text, voice production and accent. It is these rich and detailed skills that we use to help business people access their most powerful and effective communication.
That means we may look at helping you change how you use your body, so that your visual impact is strong, open, presence-full and clear. We may look to strengthen your vocal production so that you have a rich, tuneful voice that people will love to listen to and which really expresses your individuality. We may work on your speech to enhance your clarity and sharpness. And we may work on your accent, both on the particular rhythms and music of your speech, and on the individual speech sounds and the muscular habits that underlie these.