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with voice coach Marianne Samuels

Tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a voice coach so I work with a variety of people in a variety of industries, mainly in entertainment. I work with actors, drama students, and anyone working on their voice in any capacity, so I do come across some interesting people. The work is varied from working on presentations, accents, dialect, vocal confidence and much more.

I’ve heard a lot of people actually have a lot of training, like news reporters. Is that true?

Absolutely. A lot of people come across very natural but actually a lot of the time they have done a ton of preparation beforehand. I’m always amazed by the number of prep people actually do for work presentations and team meetings. It shows the level of professionalism in certain industries, and also their level of shyness when it comes to speaking out loud.

Within the Villa Maria campaign looking at the Value of Conversation, we have looked at how technology has had an impact, and our research shows people will turn off from a boring conversation within two minutes. How can we use our voice to stop that happening?

It’s one of the perils off the age that our attention span is shortening, and you can see that reflected in the length of modern films and theatre. We need to have an emotional investment and feel that what the other person is saying is important to us. If it isn’t, we tend to cut it out as we have too many other things going on. So, you have to find something that captures their attention, talk to them with eye contact and show that you are giving them your time, presence and focus in the moment. This is something we shy away from as we feel nervous or too confrontational, and technology gives us an excuse to hide behind our screen. However, I also think we are too busy and we don’t have time to finish a long conversation, so a quick text suffices. A side effect of this is a reduction in language skills as we aren’t practising them as much, so when we really need them they’re a bit rusty!

We have previously discussed how body language has an impact, but do you think that the tone of your voice makes a big difference?

Tone of voice is probably the second most important thing when we think about voice and communication, with body language being the first. Even as a voice coach I have to work on the body language as we are emitting signals all the time. They say that 40% of our information comes from our tone of voice, and less than 10% comes from the content.

In a lot of cases tone of voice is important. A lot of women, like Margaret Thatcher, want to deepen their voice to make it resonate and more masculine so they are taken more seriously.

One thing we have found out from our research is that Brits struggle to retell stories or jokes. Do you have any advice on how to make an impact?

I think it’s like any kind of speech; you have to think about the outcome of it. Often, we launch into a joke or story and we have forgotten the punch line to it.

I have found that a lot of accents are hard to understand. What advice would you give someone in this situation?

I think the simplest piece of advice is to slow down. Firstly, we need time to absorb what you have said anyway, which is a problem for people regardless of accent. And secondly, give emphasis to the keywords and information you want to portray, so people can capture the essence of what you are saying. The English pattern of speech tends to be a lot of mumbling and we shout out the important bits, so we get used to what parts we need to pay attention to. So slow down, focus on phrasing and really pull out the key points.

Our research has found that a lot of people prefer not to speak to each other face to face in the workplace, and in the Villa Maria office, we bring out a mixture of wine to the kitchen at 4:30pm on Fridays and stand around chatting. What do you think about this?

I guess it depends on the industry. What I have found, which is the peril of the open-plan office, is that people are afraid to talk and make too much noise. I started my career off in the media at Sky and it was a young vibrant team, we had our own office and were always loud and joking. When they made it open plan everybody put their headphones in, sat at their laptops and made no conversation. It can make you very introverted. Work situations are very different when you can relax as you feel the need to be professional, but maybe we don’t need to be, and we should all try to be a bit more human.

What are some top tips on having confidence when you are speaking?

Confidence comes from the mind, which is one of the things we focus on in my business. So that’s coaching yourself, doing mindfulness, meditation and visualising. A lot of top athletes will visualise receiving that gold medal, and visualising doing a speech and people watching you can help a lot. You can also do physical activities, like yoga and stretches to release tension in the body. But all of this has to happen before you go out there.

What are some tips for being confident in an interview?

Again, it comes down to preparation and mapping out your interview questions. I work with a lot of doctors going for interviews at top consulting jobs and they are grilled, so they have to do pages and pages of prep. You need to know your facts, the company and their strategy and mission. Also, I would recommend working on yourself, how you are coming across and how you are sitting. You can practice in front of a mirror or film yourself, but it’s nice to get feedback which is why it is nice to work with a coach.

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