Casey Erin Clark and Julie Fogh, are not only business partners, but they are also the other sides of each other’s brands. The two former actors, who discovered one another at a meditation workshop, believe the right voice can mean the difference between success and failure in business. Their company, Vital Voice Training, which launched two years ago, is dedicated to helping both men and women improve their communications skills in the workplace.
“Our shared backgrounds and philosophies about voice made us really powerful partners and the rest fell into place so naturally,” says Clark. “We believe in using your voice to bring different parts of yourself to the table.”
The duo’s first gig was a workshop that the two designed in just six weeks.
“It was called “what does authority sound like,” says Clark. “It was about examining emotional and mental components to sounding authoritative, deconstructing that and finding a way to find your authentic voice, combining your ideas and emotional intelligence, and bringing that to the table in an authentic way.”
After that first workshop, “it was off to the races,” as Fogh says, adding that their clients have been featured in top magazines and even made presentations at the White House. “We knew we were onto something. We found that our work was deeply satisfying and since then the clients we’ve had that have stunned and amazed us. The more people that we meet, the more we see it’s a lot of the same issues that over and over again. Authenticity is magnetic and access to it is the most powerful thing a person can do.”
1. Why is your voice so important in terms of business success?
Voice is an oft overlooked piece of your personal brand. There is so much advice out there about how to dress and carry yourself but the sound of your voice and how you communicate is such a crucial piece of how you are seen in a board room. It goes also to the words you speak but there has to be real alignment in your physical presentation and the sound you are conveying. That’s what makes you charismatic, that’s what makes you believable, that’s what makes good rapport in the office. Your voice is your aural fingerprint. It represents everything you’ve ever experienced. Head, heart, body, the power when you connect, you see someone come alive. It’s like plugging in the Christmas tree.
2. How can a person be authentically themselves but still be seen as professional?
Any iteration of authenticity is a combination of you and your given circumstances. You cannot ignore your circumstances, but that doesn’t mean you have to be someone else. It means you have to be attuned what that environment is asking of you. Authenticity is such a buzzword that it’s become almost meaningless and people have a negative idea of it. It’s a fixed idea of “this is who I am and I don’t care.”
That’s not authenticity, that’s rudeness. We have different aspects of our personality and someone’s one aspect will serve me better than another, so I bring one forward and let the other take a back seat. It doesn’t mean I hide or reject any of part of who I am.
The ultimate way to have presence is feel your body, feel your feet on the floor and breath deeply into your back, which is where the majority of your lungs exist.
3. What are some of the biggest mistake people make in public speaking?
The biggest mistake is when people try to lower their voice to sound authoritative. It’s not about deep voice, it’s about full voice. It’s not about being loud, it’s about being heard and connecting to your audience. If you have an idea in your head of what you’re supposed to sound like or how you’re supposed to act, and you are putting that in the room rather than being present in the room and responding as a human, there will be a disconnect. Don’t have a checklist of things to go through and instead by vulnerable and really listen.
4. But how can you be present when your mind is concerned with the task at hand?
We spend so much time trying to control conversations and how we are seen by the world, that we forget presence it is key and crucial. It also makes us vulnerable. Tension is a mechanism in the body that protect us from being fully present and that’s fine. When it comes to the idea of letting go of control, it can be very difficult. But when you switch your perspective from controlling the situation to telling yourself “I know I can sit in my chair and feel gravity” everything changes. The ultimate way to have presence is feel your body, feel your feet on the floor and breath deeply into your back, which is where the majority of your lungs exist. Doing this brings you back into the room and that’s when the most inspiring communication happens.
5. What’s a quick and easy way to sound better when communicating?
The number one thing that people don’t do is they don’t breathe. We talk a lot about the fact that your lung space exists almost twice as much in back than front but because of stress habits, we don’t connect with them. If you can it signals to your nervous system that you are OK and you will speak more clearly and be more present. The moment you breathe into your back you come alive.
We’ve been taught a lot about “belly breath” in yoga, but the lungs are not in our stomachs. We are not taught to think of ourselves as 360 degree beings, but the fact is we are 3D creatures. Getting just a hint of that into your own consciousness can up your power by multitudes.
6. What’s the biggest concern that your clients come to you with?
The most common thing we get asked is “Am I too X” This is everything from “Am I too loud to quiet?” to “Do I speak too quickly?” to “Is my accent too strong?” Everyone always wants to know how they are being perceived by others. At Vital Voice, we don’t believe you are “too” anything. If you are reaching out to us, chances are you are ambitious and you want to get to the root of the problem and fix it.
Our first message is always “you aren’t broken.” You don’t have to be fixed. You have to shift from what you need to do to doing less, and trusting yourself more, because that’s how you will be effective. Usually it’s the trying so hard that’s the problem.
We also tell our clients there is no quick fix; so many little mental shifts have to happen. The ability to practice something until you can let go of it is not even a skill that people learn. People think if you practice it you locked it in stone, but actually it’s the key to let it go.
7. Can you speak a little about women in the workplace? How can they speak up without being seen in a negative light?
I want the whole conversation to shift from women being labeled as bitches or aggressive because they speak up in a business setting. We’ve heard it again and again, and we even saw it in the election. It’s more important than ever for women to normalize speaking up and normalize expressing themselves. When you hear a sexist statement, the more we speak up and say “that’s inappropriate and unacceptable,” those who do speak will become less marginalized. It takes a certain amount of bravery and emotional labor. The more women realize that there is no a perfect standard to meet in terms of personality type, the more you are able to explore alternative responses to dealing with sexism. If you are going to be penalized no matter what then the game doesn’t exist.
8. Speaking of the election, do you have any tips for sidestepping awkward conversations?
9. Do you have any tricks for combating nervousness?
10. What are some voices that inspire you.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.