Women and Leadership


Courses for InterpretersI was talking to a female friend last night – an engineer in aeronautics, about the changing face of the female leader in industry. Up until a few years ago many female leaders rose to their positions at the top, fuelled by the energy of the dispossessed. Having to work that much harder than their male peers was the normal way for a woman to get to the top in industry. Government legislation and the success of #female leaders changed that. Now though, with the setbacks in the economies of the west and the quicksand markets, women are once more struggling to maintain their positions on the #Corporate Industry ladder. Indeed many are struggling to get on the ladder at all. Old perceptions of the female in the work place are rising again. It’s timely therefore that Oxford Brookes University is hosting a conference on #Women and Leadership on September 13th and 14th.


The conference is aimed at informing women of leadership opportunities and how they can achieve them. Women in Denmark, Germany and France are much more well informed on work related issues than women in the UK. Perhaps it’s because work related issues are deemed a little too dry and “blue stocking” for the majority of females. It’s a fallacy – I had more gossip with a female client who was a boss with one of the blue chips than with my hairdresser.

Talking Proper


As the founder of Max Your Voice, I’ve just been to a fascinating lecture given by Professor Lynda Mugglestone. I’d already warmed to her before she started, because I thought that with a name like that, she was probably distantly connected to muggles and had magical powers. So much for the perception that names give us. The perception of the way we speak, said Professor Mugglestone, can still very much alter the way we’re perceived and even judged. She gave us some historical examples of how various figures had striven to get us to speak in English, in an accent that would dissolve any prejudice and get us listened to and even in some cases, made MPs. Even the writer Jonathan Swift, known for his liberal ideas was an advocate for a “prescriptive” or standard English accent.

Samuel Johnson didn’t care what people thought of his Brummie accent. His friend and biographer Boswell said “he speaks with a most uncouth voice”. Boswell had his Scots accent ironed out by an elocution teacher called Sheridan. In the 18th century it was as if you dressed with your fine and elegant accent as well as your fine and elegant clothes. Emma Hamilton was more at home in Italy where she hobnobbed with the Queen of Naples – speaking fluent Italian – than she was with the aristocracy in England, who despised her for her “bur” accent as much as her seductive past.

As late as 1930, inspectors of schools classified children who dropped their hs and gs as educationally defective. It made we wonder that such a harsh judgement would perhaps encourage the more successful to make sure their children spoke with a “prescriptive” or RP accent. The acknowledged accent for public schools has been RP and still is in some of them.

However, nowadays our perceptions have changed radically. Regional accents are sort out and used for the “honesty” they impart. People who’ve been brought up with RP have ditched it for a more acceptable accent for their chosen professions. Guy Ritchie, who’s father is an executive in advertising, has done this and Mick Jagger and Fern Cotton. Adverts for bleach have voice- overs using people with modern RP, suggesting that the cut glass accent demonstrates a clinical edge. M&S food have replaced the clear and crisp accent of Samantha Bond in their commercials, with the more regional sound of Caroline Quentin. Using her warmest Manchester, Julie Walters encourages us to go to LloydsTSB “for the journey” . Jane Horrocks does many voice-overs. Her skill as an actress has done wonders in making regional accents so popular. The most successful voice-over artists I’ve trained recently, have used their regional accents to get the work.

Is it any wonder that David Cameron has been urged to take his accent to the neutralisers? – as the Guardian said last Saturday. I think he’s started to sound bombastic and that’s what’s being picked up.

So the new socially acceptable accent is regional. If you’re really adventurous you could go slightly French, Danish, Spanish or Italian. It’s all good – as long as you’re clearly understood…

Next “Speak English Clearly” course starts on August 23rd.

Melvin Bragg’s programme on English accents is being broadcast on Saturday evening on Radio 4. The BBC have dropped their pronunciation department.

Professor Lynda Mugglestone’s book ‘Talking Proper’ is on sale at Amazon.

The Professional Speakers’ Association


The Professional Speakers Association

Went to the Professional Speakers’ Association’s Convention in Bloomsbury. This was a piece of a voice coach’s heaven. Just sitting back and listening to professional speakers for the day. There was an opportunity to meet with experts in their field and it was interesting to meet with Deborah Swallow who was giving advice on Cross Cultural Communication. One of the first things I learned when I started training people in India was to respect their dress code for women. There was a friendly HR lady who advised me at the time. Learning about other people’s culture is one of the perks of working internationally. Debbie spoke about the content of Presentations and how to change the ratio of emotional content, factual content and anecdotal content according to whereabouts in the world you’re presenting. I just love listening to stories – and that’s apparently what Americans like. Graham Davies who’s written the best selling book on Presenting was another expert giving advice. His book is great – so well researched and written. With a background as a barrister he’s in a prime position to know how to sway an audience. The barristers I’ve worked with have sometimes been better sight-readers than actors. The need for a confident voice (not a bullish voice) is an asset for a barrister. I believe that people who give speeches in public and people who present – all benefit from voice training.

Basic Exercises and Tips Before Giving a Presentation or Speech


Confidence & Voice

For effective communication skills, you need to be in good voice, try doing these exercises before giving your next presentation or speech.

Find an empty room or corridor – you’ll be making some unusual sounds!

Only do these exercises if your back is in good shape. These are relaxing exercises and should be done slowly and easily – take this into account if you are particularly stressed.

With the heels of your hands pushing up towards the ceiling, have a good stretch. Keeping your head facing forward, first stretch up with your left hand, feeling your left side stretch out and then with your right hand, feeling your right side stretch out – do this 3 times. With both hands extended towards the ceiling, relax your knees and on an outward breath flop over so that your hands dangle over your toes. Gently unroll from this position while breathing in leaving your head until last.

Stand erect against a wall with your hands and feet about 5 cms away from the wall so that your body is supported from your upper back to your coccyx. Sense that your hands are getting heavier and pulling down and away from your shoulders. Sense the space between your ears and shoulders growing and the back of your head is lifting up through the spine. Gently breathe out completely – and I mean completely. When you can breathe out no more, gently breathe in through your nose for a count of 5 and then out through your mouth for a count of eight. You should feel changes in the muscles in your lower rib cage against the back of the wall while you are breathing out and then in.

Stand away from the wall with your arms by your sides. Start humming on a low note. Make sure you are using your outward breath. Gently raise your right arm in time with raising the pitch of your hum until your hand is pointing to the ceiling and you are in your highest note. Lower the arm back down to your side while humming from your highest note back down into your lowest note. If you feel the vibration in your throat but not your lips stop and say: “muh muh, muh muh, muh muh” multiple times with your lips moving until you feel the vibration in your lips. You should feel a strong vibration or tickle on your lips on the hum. Do this 3 times with both the left and the right arm.

The siren sound (the old fashioned police siren). Gently place the fingers of your left or right hand against the side of your cartilage shield at the front of your neck. With a relaxed jaw and open mouth say the siren sound in a high note and then a low note. Feel the movement of your voice box and the vibration under your fingers. Do this once.

Before others enter check, that the room where your giving your presentation is set out to your liking – make sure that you will have good visual contact with your participants and that they will all be able to see your slides if you are going to use PowerPoint. As they enter, briefly have eye contact with each participant.

For information on Voice and Presentation courses, Click Here.

Accent Neutralisation & Reduction


Francis Parkes with a student

Accent reduction and Accent Neutralisation are terms that have been used by Corporate organisations for the past 6 years or so. We use them as well because people looking for clarity of English courses are Googling Accent Neutralisation and Accent reduction. It sometimes strikes me as strange though, because I, like all voice coaches, like to hear full and vibrant voices and the idea of people neutralising or reducing their accents seems to be taking the life from people’s voice and speech rather breathing life into people’s voice and speech. I don’t like the idea of dumbing down an accent with all the watering down of vocal personality that this implies. Rather, I like to up peoples’ ability to enjoy the sensation of speaking English in a way that they can be understood internationally. The course that I researched and devised is about just that – speaking English Clearly. It’s desirable to express yourself freely when speaking English even though it may be your second language. Accents can enhance our speech – it’s not your accent, it’s the way you use your accent that matters. If the way you use your accent blurs the sense and clarity of what you’re saying then that’s not good. When your accent attracts the listener to pay more attention to what you’re saying, then that’s good.

Max Your Voice StudentsEveryone is different, Everyone has a unique voice which gives them a unique vocal profile. At Max Your Voice we work with a persons whole vocal profile. The end result is of course clear speech but the voice has to go through different processes to be made, before coming into the mouth to be shaped by the movement of the mouth, tongue and lips into sounds.

English is a language that is spoken all over the world. Some people may speak English with a drop dead gorgeous voice, but that is no good if people cannot understand the words they are saying. And it is no good having perfectly clear diction and saying the words clearly in English, when no one can hear you because your voice is not audible. It is also no good having a wonderful voice and speaking English with perfect diction when the words you are saying are vapid and empty and in no way connect with your thoughts.

This is why here at Max Your Voice we give attention to the whole of your vocal profile – meaning all the aspects of your voice and speech that create the overall sound. Many features including pitch (intonation), rhythm, and speed are addressed when we work with clients. Overall confidence increases with the ability to release your voice into clear speech.

I am often asked about phonetic symbols and how many we work with and looking at page 65 of our Speak English Clearly manual guide which accompanies our course and I can see that there are 27. Of these 27 – 14 are single vowel sounds, the rest are made up of simple combinations, so you can understand how important it is to have the building blocks of the single vowel sounds in place. Phonetic symbols are also a useful tool to really help people identify the sounds in written English and transpose them into spoken English.

Speak English Clearly CD SetOther people ask me how long it takes. Obviously, the better your knowledge of English the easier it will be. Some people have a natural drive to succeed in communication and these people take less time to master the different sounds of standard English. They will telephone and Skype frequently to ask whether it is this sound or that sound that goes in this particular word. Others need more time. Once you know your target sounds and have mastered them, you can put the rest of the sounds into the overall jigsaw. You will get really good results after 3 months, providing you keep practicing using the Speak English Clearly book and the CDs.

Useful Exercises and Tips


Training with Frances Parkes

Breathing Exercises
All voice exercises involve using the breath. It is best to do breathing exercises during breaks when working. Thinking about how you are breathing when you are actually talking is not good. If you find yourself in difficulties with breath when you are talking, breathe out quickly and completely using the muscles in your lower ribcage and diaphragm. On your consequent breath in relax the diaphragm and tummy so the breath goes deeper into your lungs without over-expanding your chest.

Too much breath is unnecessary. Just take in enough so that you can speak without having to let go of any breath before you speak.

Warming Up Exercises
Sitting or standing. Humming. With the right arm hanging by your side produce the hum in your lowest note. Gently raise the arm pointing outwards and in front, as you do this go up the scale until your hand is pointing to the ceiling and you are in your highest note. Breathe in and then lower the arm back down to your side while humming from your highest note back down into your lowest note. If you feel the vibration in your throat but not your lips stop and say: muh muh, muh muh, muh muh – multiple times with your lips moving quickly until you feel the vibration in your lips and then repeat the humming exercise. You should feel a strong vibration or tickle on your lips on the hum.
Do this five times.

The siren sound (the old police siren). With a relaxed jaw and open mouth imitate the siren sound in high note and then a low note.
Do this 3 times

Sitting. Place the fingertips of both hands on the spot just above the navel, the nails of the middle fingers of both hands should be touching. Keeping your fingers in place, allow your elbows to open out so that they are pointing outwards and away from your body like open wings. First breathe out completely emptying your lungs and then breathe in through the nose for a count of five. Gently ease back and down with your elbows until they are touching the top of your waist at your back like closed wings. While your doing this action, release the breath out through the mouth for a count of eight. Raise the elbows again back to the first position while breathing in through the nose on a count of five.

Do this three times.

Get in touch via Skype if you need any help with these exercises.
Our Skype address: maxvox1

Class and the English Accent


Class and English Accent

It must be high summer because the English accent and its class connections are being aired again. In his programme “Fry’s English Delight” Stephen Fry asks whether we’re bovvered by the issue of class and speech.

It’s startling that we’re sometimes made shy by the way we speak. I heard someone say today, that the only time they heard RP sounds nowadays (received pronunciation – upper class English) was when a foreigner spoke, as if by trying to emulate the sounds of English some people overshoot the mark of English as spoken nowadays. I have in the past, sometimes heard a weird “O” which sounds like the Queen in 1950 “eeeow – similar to the sound that young Americans make when they are really turned off by something. The Queen sounds very different today. She along with the rest of the general population, uses more open sounds, requiring a more open mouth. There are papers that have been written about how spoken English was affected by the two world wars. The closed mouth and tight vowels were in line with the stiff upper lip needed for fortitude during the time of war.

Great to hear Penny Dyer who’s always been my favourite dialect coach for RP and standard English. Penny Dyer is a great believer in how you use your accent. I have a friend who I can tell immediately if she’s cross about something because her speech becomes very crisp with short sounds and very precise ts. This is one of the things that can be so useful to actors who are using a dialect in a part. The one thing that I am sure of is that everyone has the right to speak and we should never be put off saying anything because we think that we’ll be judged by our accent. Once we think like that, we will sound odd.

Opening of the Thistle Theatre at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama


Frances Parkes with Rona Laurie

Plenty of fun and a chance to see friends at the opening of this theatre just around the corner from Moorgate. It was great to see the inspirational teacher Rona Laurie. A great lady who proves that voice work is fantastic for your overall health and well-being. It was good to see Geoffrey Freshwater too, he’s currently playing Gloucester in King Lear with the RSC, to fantastic reviews. The much loved Lesley Nicol or “Pickle” was there. Great news about West is West and the new Downton Abbey series.

The Kennedys


Greg Kinnear

Why have the broadcast companies in the States got it in for the miniseries about the Kennedys? I saw the first 2 episodes and was really grasped. Greg Kinnear was over-ish in his face acting but very truthful for someone in almost continual physical pain from a back injury. I was scared by Tom Wilkinson as Joseph Kennedy and I thought that Katie Holmes was a convincing young Jackie Kennedy in everything but deportment and voice. Jackie Kennedy was the product of a public school that produced girls with ramrod straight backs and crystal clear diction. In the sitting and speaking stakes, Rose Kennedy won hands down.

I’ve been told that people in the States are not keen on Katie Holmes because they feel she’s getting the parts through being married to Tom Cruz and not on merit. Wow! Imagine the pressure of having to justify yourself every time you go on camera at her age.

I’ve read that the History Channel dropped the miniseries because of pressure from the remaining members of the Kennedy family. Surely they can’t believe that the series will discredit the Kennedy family? Is there anything imagined or known about the Kennedys that hasn’t already been aired.

I think it’s great that we can watch it on BBC2 along with everyone in Ireland where John Kennedy remains a legend and even the most devout excuse his marital infidelities as minor mishaps.

Public Speaking – take a deep breath!


Public Speaking

How often did your mum tell you to take a deep breath when you were young and had to say something in public? I know mine did.

What you actually do is breathe in so deeply on top of breath that’s already there that your lungs get the information that you have to breathe out completely in order to take a clean deep breath in.

If you try to speak after the initial deep breath on top of breath that’s already in your lungs you’re going to have to let some breath out anyway before you vocalise and that in itself will reduce the power of your voice.

Why not allow yourself time to do the deep breathing before you get up to speak? No one will be aware of your preparation except you. A simple way of doing this is releasing slowly all the breath from your lungs and then breathing in deeply 3 times. You can count out for 8 while expelling the air and in for 5 before the next breath release.

It’s particularly good if you’re sitting down on a chair with a high back as you can feel the deep air being released from the base of your lungs inside the ribcage against the back of the chair as you breathe out and filling up again as you breathe in. It has the added benefit of taking your mind off all the scary faces waiting in the audience for you to speak. If you’re standing you can still perform the exercise and it has the effect of grounding you and making you more stable on your feet.

With this simple preparation you won’t have too much breath in your lungs and you’ll be able to speak cleanly on your first outward breath.

This plus other simple techniques that we use in our voice training programmes enable you to concentrate at once on what you want to say not how you’re saying it and allow the process to become enjoyable for everyone. While you’ll get sympathy from some of your audience when your nerves are revealed in your voice, most of them will feel edgy on your behalf.

Public speakers require different use of their breath flow to singers. Of course it’s always great to increase your lung capacity and singing is great for doing this but the techniques for delivery are widely different.

The Voice, Speech and Communication Specialists