Business 12 December 2016
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?
You have to listen and you have to speak. Engage the human in front of you and actually talk about things you may disagree on. It’s not easy. Sometimes you have to shut up and listen, sometimes you have to shout from the hills but we can’t forget in communication it’s about talking and listening. It is also about picking your battles and knowing you might not change a personas mind but someone else might be listening, so it’s important to stay the hard thing, and it takes bravery.
9. Do you have any tricks for combating nervousness?
In acting, you are focused on your scene partner. You are trying to communicate and it takes the focus off of you and shifts it to being present in the space. Whether or not they are responding, your audience is still your scene partner. You are looking for comprehension, you are looking to make sure they are with you. The notion that you aren’t supposed to have nerves when doing high stake things is ridiculous. We are professionals and we still get nervous. Nerves are human. So, if you can reframe that idea mentally from thinking feeling nervous means you aren’t doing well to “I’m nervous because I’m human” you will be ahead of the game. Nerves are not the enemy. Your body actually receives the information of great joy the same way it does being scared. People aren’t used to having emotions in their body because we are a culture of “I care less than you do” and that’s why I’m in control. Part of our work revolves around practicing how to deal with feelings in your body.
10. What are some voices that inspire you.
For me (Fogh) it is Michelle Obama. I also love the I Have a Dream Speech in the moment he goes into improve from his script because you can feel the change in energy. I also always enjoy offbeat leading ladies that give off authenticity like Toni Collette, Frances McDormand, and Laura Linney. They are not afraid to be unattractive, beautiful and engaging in their own right. And I (Clark) love musical theater voices, especially lady voices that have edges, range, passion and power and aren’t about pretty. I love Carol Burnett, she’s in her 80s and she is so utterly comfortable in her own skin, so quick on her feet, clever and funny. She also has a deep generosity of soul that makes her incredibly powerful. In a perfect world that exchange of giving is beautiful.
3 Min Read
"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.
Find A Need And Fill It
I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.
Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.
Have Working Capital And Credit
There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.
I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.
Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.
My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.
Know Your Product Thoroughly
I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?
My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.
My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!
More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.
Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth
I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.
I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.
Delegate From The Bottom Up
I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.
In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.