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Free Your Voice (and the rest will follow): This Independence Day, liberate your voice.

Free Your Voice (and the rest will follow): This Independence Day, liberate your voice.

This July 4th, let’s talk about freedom of speech. Are you using your voice to get what you want, or is your voice holding you back? Follow these tips to free your voice. 

Our tagline at Bespoken is Own Your Voice”. For some, that means knowing what you want to say. For someone else, it means practicing how to say it. It can mean not feeling censored or oppressed, or feeling heard and vindicated. Knowing how to use your voice and own it is essential to public speaking and having effective communication skills. Is your voice serving you or undermining you? When communicating, is your voice is in sync with your thoughts and feelings, or are you swimming upstream? It may be time to free your voice.

Here, I share my own story in finding, freeing and, eventually, owning my voice. It’s a constant journey and I learn every day. I hope it is helpful in your own process towards vocal liberation.

Finding My Voice

As a kid, I had crippling social anxiety. I had plenty of close friends but in groups, I would clam up and couldn’t be myself. But as a theater kid, I could be whoever I wanted to be onstage.  I could play a role. There were rules we all had to follow, and they even told me what words to say. It was heavenly.

Even when I started directing theater, I played the role of theater director. The problem was that between shows, I lost my identity. That meant that I rarely took breaks between shows, often double booking myself and working 14-16 hour days all the time. In a rehearsal room, I knew who I was, but I lost my sense of self once I got out of my comfort zone. Being interviewed by the press or meeting with producers was harrowing. I didn’t own my voice and I didn’t know how to find it.

I was hiding behind my role as a theater director. It was time to leave my comfort zone and take a conscious break from theater. What happened after surprised me. Instead of going back to theater, my lifelong love, I became an entrepreneur instead. I found my voice through helping others free theirs. Helping others helped me help myself.

Freeing My Voice

We weren’t taught how to interact with others. We think it should come naturally, but for me, I needed a technique to help me connect with others in a meaningful and authentic way.

Inside Out

Before I could look outside of myself and connect with others, I had to look inward.  I needed to practice vulnerability and connection. For the first time, I started meditating and spending time alone. My father was a lifelong meditator, and we had dabbled in it in acting school, but I always thought I was supposed to turn off my thoughts before being able to “do it right”. Since that was impossible, I always felt like a failure. I started using Headspace, an app which taught me that meditation is not about getting rid of thoughts. There is no “doing it right”. Instead, it’s about not judging yourself for having the thoughts in the first place. That is the practice.

I read The Artist’s Way and took myself on dates alone. For the first time ever, I was asking myself what I wanted to do and I would do it. And yes, sometimes that meant being lazy and not doing anything. I started writing in the morning, which was cringeworthy at first, but helped me hear myself for the first time. My wants, needs and goals became clearer once I was able to listen amidst all the noise.

Outside In

Once I was able to listen to myself without judgment (a constant struggle to this day), I could begin to look outward. In safe situations, I practiced connecting and letting down my guard. I practiced vulnerability by not filling the silences and by allowing myself to be quiet with others. It was extremely uncomfortable but I slowly got more comfortable in the discomfort. I made big physical changes, like dying my hair platinum and changing my wardrobe. Embracing Embodied Cognition made me feel more confident because I would appear more confident which would in turn made me feel more confident.

Owning My Voice

Communication is a muscle and like any skill, the more you do it the easier it gets. Before now I had been avoiding situations that made me feel uncomfortable. I was always terrified that I would spark a panic attack, and when you constantly live in a place of fear it’s impossible to be present and connect with others. I started going to networking events nearly nightly, which happened to coincide with Jackie and I starting this company. The simple act of taking ownership over my fears helped me to move through them, instead of constantly avoiding them.

This Independence Day, I hope you begin the journey towards vocal liberation. Your process for finding, freeing and owning your voice will differ from mine but we all start from the same place: Acknowledging that we are not alone and recognizing that there is something we can do to take ownership over the way we interact in the world.

There’s no ‘I’ in Team….But Should There Be?

There’s no ‘I’ in Team….But Should There Be?

Does a rising tide really lift all boats?  Ask Bacardi Limited’s C-Suite Team.

Last October S.H.E.Summit took place here in New York City.  It attracted over 200 entrepreneurs dedicated to empowering leaders in pursuit of gender equality in the workplace.  S.H.E. Summit founder Claudia Chan, uses the term “macro-movement” to describe the amalgamation of social movements working as a team to ensure women and men are treated fairly.  Chan’s vision is one where leaders in the workplace use their voices to rise up in the face of gender inequality.  And in doing so lift each other up in the process. 

Claim Your Seat at the Table

The most memorable moment at S.H.E. Summit happened during the panel, “Breaking Barriers in Male Dominated Fields.”  It featured Zara Mirza, Head of Creative Excellence for Bacardi Global Brands and her boss, Michael Dolan, CEO of Bacardi Limited.  Mirza described how a fleeting moment signified one of the most important turning points in her career.  At Mirza’s first meeting with the senior leadership she walked into a large board room.  The room featured a ‘u’ shaped table.  She went directly to the far end to take her seat.  

As the new person (woman) on staff she unconsciously elected to set herself off to the side. She figured she should wait until it felt ‘appropriate’ to insert her voice into the conversation.  She didn’t want to seem pushy or presumptuous to her new colleagues.  However, no sooner had she taken her seat when Dolan’s assistant came over and whispered in her ear she was to sit next to him at the top of the ‘u’. To paraphrase Mirza’s retelling of this moment, “Michael opened the door for me but I f**king walked through it and I’ve never looked back.”

The Power of Choice

Dolan is creating a space in which Mirza feels her voice is wanted, desired.  In turn she’s empowered to realize her full potential and he sets a precedent other male leaders in the company as to how they should treat their female colleagues.  Dolan shared with those of us in the audience that day that the choice to create an environment where everyone’s voice is equally valued helps him too.  It helps him maintain a competitively healthy workplace.  It secures Bacardi’s role as an active player in the movement to achieve gender equality in the workplace.  And most importantly, makes him feel thankful that he is able to use his power as a CEO – and as a white man -to help even the playing field.

Having difficulty advocating for yourself?  Start by advocating for others.

Even though you may not be the global CEO of an international brand,  I still think there is immense value to be derived from this story.  Have you ever found it’s easier to extol the virtues of a friend or colleague rather than sharing your own accomplishments?  I certainly have.  Many of our clients feel this way too.  Sometimes it stems from a fear of being boastful.  Or feeling unsure about how to talk about your strengths (hint: Bespoken can help with that!). Or a previous negative experience you had speaking about yourself in public.  

Yet no matter where you are in life, or where you work, look around. I wager you can find at least one place you can use your voice to create space for someone who may be lacking the room in which to find theirs.  Maybe it will be during your next staff meeting.  Or at dinner with friends.  Or at your next family gathering.  Regardless, you will be pleasantly surprised the power to be derived from choosing to be part of the macro-movement and in your own way, in your own time, help all of us trying to move the needle towards a world where all voices have equal weight.

Code-switching: Connect with Your Audience

Code-switching: Connect with Your Audience

What Is Code-Switching?

Linguists traditionally define code-switching as, “the practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation.”  A more contemporarily relevant definition factors in race and identity.  For example, the minds at NPR’s aptly named Code Switch blog offer this framing, “Many of us subtly, reflexively change the way we express ourselves all the time. We’re hop-scotching between different cultural and linguistic spaces and different parts of our own identities — sometimes within a single interaction.”  

President Obama was often cited for his ability to code-switch effectively and flawlessly.  He’d put his audience at ease, making them feel he was just like them by the way he spoke to them.  Without undermining his undeniable position of authority in the exchange.  This video from 2009 shows then President-elect Obama at Ben’s Chili Bowl, a famous eatery in a historically African-American section of Washington D.C.  When the cashier asks President Obama if he needs change from his purchase, Obama replies, “nah, we straight.”  I think it’s fair to say, had President Obama been purchasing refreshment at a restaurant located in a predominantly white neighborhood he may have answered differently.

How can code-switching help me connect with an audience?

One of the most important questions to ask yourself when prepping for a public speaking opportunity is, “Who is my audience?”  A clear understanding of your audience is important for a number of reasons.  Not least of which is so you can decide how you should talk to them.  For example, the language and tone I would use when presenting to a group of high school seniors preparing for college interviews would differ markedly from a workshop with high level corporate executives about to speak to investors. With the group of high school students I may find myself peppering my talk with informal qualifiers such as, “Totally” and “Amazing”.  While in a more formal and corporate setting, my grammar would understandably be more formal and precise.  Yet the underlying similarity in both these situations is it’s still my voice. I’m still me.

Using code-switching to your benefit

I like the reasons Somali author, Roda Osman ascribes to code-switching.  She says, “I regularly use code switching for three reasons: lizard brain, fitting in and getting something.”  Lizard brain she defines as something the brain does automatically.  I think the latter two reasons are the most powerful because they involve deliberate choice.  At Bespoken we often say “your power is your choice” and I think it is doubly true when it comes to choosing the words you’ll use to connect with your audience.  The next time you find yourself preparing to speak publicly take the time to reflect on the language you want to use.  It’s another powerful communication tool to have in your back pocket.

Be the Change You Wish to See in 2016

Be the Change You Wish to See in 2016

Bespoken’s Guide to Making (Lasting) Change in the New Year

You may be hoping that the New Year brings a New You—but we all know it’s never quite that easy. Change is scary. At least that’s how it can feel. Change takes time and is also constant—but it’s the big changes that shake us up and move us out of our comfort zones. And here’s the thing—change is hard, but it doesn’t have to be! Bespoken invites you to #BEthechange you wish to see in 2016 with these steps:

Acknowledge it

“Step out of your comfort zone,” is a phrase we often hear.  Turn and face the strange ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.  And yes, it is going to be uncomfortable.  Acknowledge the excitement, anxiety and fear that naturally come when you do something completely new and unfamiliar. The simple act of embracing these feelings will not only give you strength to persevere, but also empower you to ask for support when you need it.

Look back to go forward

It’s not about the New You—it’s about the You that got you to where you are today. Replace judgment with curiosity and a sense of humor as you take a trip down the memory lane of 2015. You need to know where you’ve been to know where you want to go.

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Maya Angelou

Set an intention

For many of us, resolutions can become a list of semi-vague do’s and don’ts—eat better, drink less, wake up earlier, watch less TV—leading to inevitable (and destructive) disappointment and self-beratement. Instead, set an intention for yourself and for the year. It should be universal and specific at the same time. Make it positive and affirmative. It should feel silly, exciting and new—but most importantly it should speak to you on a deeply personal level!

Make a plan

You know where you’re going, but getting there may be unclear and overwhelming. Put a plan in place to help you succeed, led by the intention you set for yourself. You can write it down, throw it away and start again as many times as you want. Do a practice run over a weekend to anticipate roadblocks and challenges. Refine it. Make it work for you. Include a fail-safe to ensure you know how to pick yourself back up when you (inevitably) fall down.

Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. George Bernard Shaw

Change your mindset

There is no right or wrong when you are venturing into the unknown. Let fear turn to curiosity as you observe your own reactions to change. This is a new and exciting experiment! Listen to yourself and observe what happens to your body in new situations. If you have a tendency to retreat, structure in alone time at the end of the day. If you have physical signs of anxiety, remind yourself that it is your body’s natural reaction to the strenuous process of change.

Share your experience

Start a blog. Share on social media. Acknowledge what you’re going through in conversations. Meditate alone or in a group (Headspace is a great way to start). Be a source of strength and support for someone going through something similar. The more you share your experience, the less alone you will feel. Slowly but surely you will realize that your experience is, in many ways, a shared one.

How can you know what you’re capable of if you don’t embrace the unknown? Esmeralda Santiago

Shake up your routine

As creatures of habit, it can feel like a shock to integrate big changes all at once. Start impossibly small. Wake up half an hour early. Set one goal for each morning and complete it. Think of one thing you’ve always told yourself you could not do and do it. Take yourself on a date. Surprise yourself. And don’t forget to fail—it’s the only surefire way to move forward.

Go outside-in

Making a physical change literally alters the way the world sees you which in turn alters the way you see the world. It doesn’t have to be drastic or big—dye your hair! buy a new hat! change your glasses!—but it should feel monumental to you. And remember to stay active—physical activity gets you out of your head and into your body.

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. John F. Kennedy

Be your own best friend

We all do it. We apologize. We beat ourselves up. Sometimes our internal critic is so vocal and self-assured that it can take quite some time to unravel the habit of believing every word it says to be true. #UNapologize yourself. Literally take care of yourself—that means not beating yourself up for beating yourself up either. Defend yourself the way you would your best friend. When you tell yourself you can’t do something, refuse to take it as a given. Practice sticking up for yourself, whenever you get the chance.

Change it up

Treat your process as a living document rather than a rule book with consequences. Be a willing participant in your journey. Make changes constantly. Make it work for you—not for anyone else. Remember that you are in control of the expectations you set for yourself! Work in little victories. Celebrate each win. Return to your intention. And if you fall, which you will, get back up again and keep moving forward.


Bespoken is a coaching firm based in New York dedicated to empowering professionals and entrepreneurs to speak with conviction and communicate with confidence through customized 1×1 and small group coaching. We believe everyone has an innate ability to communicate purposefully and powerfully.

#UNapologize Yourself: How To Put Yourself Out There

#UNapologize Yourself: How To Put Yourself Out There

We’re all guilty of it: Apologizing. The onslaught of chatter about Impostor Syndromevocal fry and pay gaps may have us thinking it’s a female problem, but we all do it. We backpedal. We trip over and lose our words. The internet has made creativity immediate and accessible but it has spread an almost contagious blanket of near-constant self-doubt. We apologize for everything—but mostly we apologize for ourselves.

Start listening for it. Watch it happen. It’s like a jealous best friend who can’t stand to see you happy. That great idea you just had? It’s been done, and better, she says. Good grief. You would never encourage a best bud to hang out with a friend like that, so why would you?

It’s a process: UNapologizing yourself. It takes time and courage. But the next time you have a glimmer of a dream in the corner of your eye and a voice inside tells you why you can’t achieve it, ask yourself—Why not? Follow it through. If it’s something you can’t immediately change—resources, safety or skill—you have work to do. If the answer comes in the form of an apology—Seriously, you think that’s a good idea? You’re just crazy. You’ll mess it up—it’s time to UNapologize yourself.

The work of UNapologizing starts and ends with awareness. Awareness of your body and of your voice. Awareness of your strengths and weaknesses. Awareness of yourself in time, space, content and form. Awareness of what you want to say and the impression you want to make. Awareness of who you are and what you have to offer and refusing to apologize for it!

Apologizing is easy, but only because it’s so familiar. For some of us it’s an impulse we can’t even see. For others it’s a habit we can’t seem to shake. For me it’s always been fear of fear itself. Anyone who’s ever had a bad experience public speaking knows that nerves breed nerves, and bad experiences lead to more bad experiences. But actors have nerves too. The exact rush that keeps an actor coming back for more can be paralyzing and crippling. Olivier had itGandhi had it. Even Hugh Grant has it. To combat the fear of feeling powerless an actor practices committing. They rehearse in a safe space so that they understand what they’re saying, where they’re going and why they’re there. Once they are confident in their choices, they can tell a story, get out of their own way and make a connection an audience will never forget.

It’s not about becoming someone else—that’s not what actors do, after all—it’s about harnessing all that you are and refusing to apologize for it. But it’s up to you to make the choice to UNapologize yourself. And when you do that, you trick your mind into believing everything you say to be true. Because it is, you just didn’t know it yet. And when you believe it, others will too. In UNapologizing, you stood up for yourself. You did something proactive in the face of fear instead of letting the big bad happen to you. And it felt real good. Maybe you’ll do it again sometime. That’s how it all starts.

Putting yourself out there is scary. UNapologizing is scary. But only because we’re out of practice. Once you become aware of it, you start to understand it and only then can you get underneath it, make it yours and ultimately use it. As Lady Gaga said: “Slowly but surely I remembered who I am.”

Go Pitch Yourself at LMHQ on November 3rd

Go Pitch Yourself at LMHQ on November 3rd

DATE: 11/03/2015
TIME: 6:30 PM

FEE: $40

“You cannot think and hit at the same time.” – Yogi Berra

Communication is a skill. Have you honed it? Your expertise and enthusiasm for what you do make you uniquely qualified to speak about your work and your company.

Go Pitch Yourself is an interactive, on-your-feet masterclass where participants hone how to persuasively talk about what they do with potential stakeholders – think: lunch with an Angel Investor or coffee with the Director of Annual Giving at that huge foundation which actually read your LOI.

You’ll practice vocal and physical techniques that will help you make the impression you intended even in the toughest conversations. Together we’ll help you own your ideas and speak from the heart.

Given the interactive format of this event attendance is limited to 15 participants.

Register to Attend

We are Bespoken

We are Bespoken

We’ve walked you through our process. We’ve shared our methodology. In the final part of the series, find out how we use acting techniques to help you own the room and speak with confidence and conviction.

There is a common misconception that the best actors have perfected lying or pretending when actually the opposite is true. Actors train for years to learn how to be truthful in the most unrealistic environment of all–the stage: stakes are high, lights are bright and there are strangers watching their every move.

Actors learn how to speak from a place of truth, clarity and distinction and develop their bodies to be open and responsive. Actors know that the stage acts as a magnifying glass: their words and gestures and the ideas they share must be clear–otherwise, they risk detracting from the story and confusing their audience. Actors spend countless hours in the rehearsal room dissecting the choices they will make onstage in order to consistently connect to the truth of each moment in the play, no matter what is thrown their way. This is called technique.

We believe that these technical skills can be taught to anyone speaking to an audience of any kind.

We trained at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in a method that encourages each actor to use their unique vision to imagine the world of the play so completely that they are not acting at all but merely existing in a set of given circumstances defined by the playwright. Stella Adler believed that the growth of the actor is synonymous with the growth of the human being: “The play is not in the words, it’s in you.” Stella also believed that drama depends on doing, not feeling; feeling is a by-product of doing. Her approach to acting depends on connecting strongly to each other by way of actions and creating dramatic events that take place between “I and thou,” not between “me and myself.”

Like Stella, we believe that you are at the center of your most passionate ideas and that it is essential to optimize your unique perspective in order to connect with your audience. This cannot come through “feeling” but instead must come through doing; physically implementing active tools for communicating effectively.

In addition to training at Stella Adler, we have trained in a wide range of performance techniques—Commedia dell‘arte, Shakespearean performance, clowning, Viewpoints, improvisation, voice and speech and many forms of movement–each aimed at stripping away destructive habits and improving physical awareness in order to engage an audience. We thrive on working with people from all backgrounds and experiences, adapting techniques and tools to fit each person.

At Bespoken, we believe that great public speakers are made, not born. Get in touch to find out how we can help you tell your story and speak from the heart.

What it Means to Bespoken

What it Means to Bespoken

“The strongest principle of growth lies in the human choice” – George Eliot.

At Bespoken, we help you get out of your head and into your body—because we believe you can’t connect the two without speaking from the heart. Last month, we gave you an inside look into our process. Read on to find out how our methodology helps people speak powerfully and purposefully through customized, on-your-feet coaching.

Our approach focuses on how to use your voice (command) and body (presence) to get what you want (intention).

We believe that everyone has an innate ability to communicate.

We believe that everyone communicates in his or her own unique way.

We do not believe that there are inherently good speakers or bad speakers.

We do believe that one bad past experience may lead you to believe you are unable to speak well in front of an audience.

We believe that the more you understand how to control your body and voice in high-pressure situations, the better you will be at communicating your story.

We teach you techniques that will show you how to gain control of your own ability to command a room in high-pressure situations.

We help you get comfortable with the discomfort that’s standing in the way of you being your best in the moments that matter most.

How to Bespoken

How to Bespoken

At Bespoken, we help people across all industries speak powerfully, particularly in high-pressure situations. Our work is interactive and collaborative, but also highly personalized, which can make describing what we do challenging. We’re excited to be tackling the art of making human connection–possibly the most gratifying experience there is–and each connection we forge teaches us more about the work ourselves. In the first part of this series, we describe our process in order to give you an inside look into the way we work.

Our Mission

We help you speak powerfully and purposefully through customized coaching designed to harness your unique ability to communicate in any situation. We believe everyone has an innate ability to communicate when given the tools to do so. We employ proactive and practical theater techniques to help you optimize the connection you make with your audience and to give you more control over the impression you make.

Our Clients

We work across many different industries but our clients have one thing in common–they each have something to communicate in a verbal context, whether that’s presenting, pitching, networking, interviewing, etc. We help them be better communicators internally with colleagues and externally with clients.

We’ve worked with entrepreneurs looking to hone a presentation; filmmakers pitching a grant maker for additional funds to finish a project; executive directors looking to improve leadership and communication skills; members of the healthcare sector  imparting sensitive information telephonically; and freelancers at a co-working space seeking tips for networking in high-pressure situations.

Our Structure

When working one-on-one, we meet over multiple sessions to identify and hone a specific communication challenge. Goals are usually achieved in three-to-five 1-hour sessions.

In our masterclasses, a small group (i.e., freelancers at a co-working space) gets a Bespoken primer. Masterclasses usually run 1.5-to-3 hours and can accommodate up to 12 participants. We also collaborate with organizations to meet their specific needs through customized internal workshops.

Host a masterclass at your organization
Host a masterclass at your organization

Regardless of the structure, you leave with a conversational narrative that’s authentic, tools to help you relax when speaking in front of a crowd, control over the way you present yourself, confidence in your communication style and command of your vocal and physical choices. We help you articulate your unique perspective. We help you find your literal and metaphorical voice. We give you more control over the way you present yourself and your ideas. We teach you how to be your best self in the moments that matter most.

Our Process

At Bespoken, we first help you dissect, organize and shape your ideas. We then train you to make powerful verbal and physical choices to support those ideas and together we develop and ingrain personalized techniques, tips and tricks to help you commit to those choices in high-pressure situations.

We begin with an intake meeting to discuss challenges, goals and logistics and to make sure the process and purpose of the work is understood. Guided by the fundamental creative process of making theater, we work through three phases:

  1. Craft It – Together, we identify the audience and craft a distinctive message that articulates your vision.
  2. Work It – On your feet, you learn how to use your voice and body to engage your audience.
  3. Own It – Through rehearsal and situational role-play, techniques are refined and ingrained.

Get in touch with us to find out how we can help you own the room, speak from the heart and free your mind!

Own the Room at SoTechie Spaces on August 3rd

Own the Room at SoTechie Spaces on August 3rd

What happens to you before making a pitch? Sweaty hands? Shaky voice? Inability to connect your thoughts to your words? In our Own the Room master class, we give participants customized, immediate feedback to beat nerves and confidently pitch your work authentically and powerfully.

Join us on August 3rd at SoTechie Spaces for our Own the Room Master Class. Harness what makes you uniquely qualified to pitch your work in a way no one else can. Our Own the Room master class will teach you practical and proactive techniques to improve your vocal command and presence. Participants act as each other’s audience as we give you personalized, in-the-moment feedback to help you craft the impression you want to make, no matter the stakes. Click here to register to reserve your spot — there are only a few spots left. See you on the third!