Webinar – The Forem: Know Your Voice

Jennifer Litwin

Hello everyone. I am Rachael Sampson, the new director for Key Women at KeyBank, and I am thrilled to welcome you all to our program today.

This is likely the first time that many of you had an opportunity to meet me. So, I wanted to start off by sharing more about myself and my passion for helping women in business succeed.

First, I'm a wife, a mother, and a servant leader and that's truly what drives me. I'm also a pastor's daughter and daughter of small business owners. So, I intimately understand the determination and grit that it takes to run a business.

I recently celebrated my 15th anniversary here at KeyBank, and probably like many of you, I've had a zig-zag career and have come up through the ranks of our company. And I've held various roles through operations, servicing, and credit, all of which has really allowed me to hone my skills. Most recently, I was a commercial banker in our Cincinnati market serving middle market sized clients, which is where I still reside today. My journey was one of hard work, continuing education, and a willingness to take risks and benefiting from a strong business family and community network. Because, let's face it, we all know that we cannot do it alone and we need our support network. And that's what I hope that Key Women can be for all of you, a community you can rely on committed to the advancement and success of women in business.

We do this by advocating, connecting, empowering women through programming, resources, and nearly 3000 highly trained certified advisors across our footprint who stand ready, willing, and able to help and support you.

I hope to be able to visit our markets in the future to meet more of you in person later this year as things continue to open up. But until then, I will ensure that I am checking in with all of you periodically, sharing program updates, and I hope that you'll stay connected with us by following Key Women on social media or by reaching out to us at key4women@keybank.com. Again, that's key4women@keybank.com.

Now without further ado, I would like to introduce you to today's speaker, Jen Litwin. Jen is the VP and head of financial services, sales and strategy with The Forem.

Jen has enjoyed a successful career in financial services, including competing in the trading floor trenches of Wall Street. She's held concurrent careers as an opera singer and musician that has really helped her to cultivate strong executive and stage presence.

Jen is going to share how you, too, can become a more confident speaker, whether presenting in person, virtually, or simply learning how to have your voice heard during meetings.

So Jen, the stage is yours.

Well, hello everyone and thank you for such a very warm welcome. I deeply appreciate Rachel and the rest of the awesome team running the show, because, you know, it takes a lot of people behind the scenes to accommodate a crowd this huge. And thank you for all taking the time out of your day to be here with me.

Welcome to my Know Your Voice workshop, which I created to give you some important tips on how to enhance your public speaking skills by harnessing the expressive power of your voices.

Think about it like this. We spend so much time thinking about the content that we put out into the world, but when it comes time to open our mouths and actually talk about that stuff, well, our presentation skills are not always as on point. So many people are insecure about public speaking, but don't worry, I've got you. I am excited to be leading this interactive event. And thankfully, because of webinar mode, everyone is muted except for me. (laughs) But it's still interactive. And a blue slide will indicate that it's time for you to shake things up in your home office and make some noise to entertain your pets and your kids.

But before I kick things off, I want to say how grateful I am for the relationships that I've developed with many of you at KeyBank who have come through our Level Up boot camp, a special shout of appreciation out to my friend, Julie Andrews, who I know from my former life in financial services. She initially connected me to Colleen Dugarte and Michelle Weisenbach. So, you see, this event truly came together due to good old networking, which is one of the five critical skills that we teach at The Forem from our career advancement playbook. And I'm incredibly proud to be representing The Forem today, a startup that's dedicated to democratizing career advancement.

We are so honored to count KeyBank as a firm aligned in our mission to help move million women and underrepresented talent up the corporate ladder into leadership. By giving people the tools that they need to work smarter not harder, The Forem ensures that they are maximizing every opportunity to be seen for their impact.

As many of you know, in our Level Up bootcamps, we unpack the critical skills that demystify career advancement. We cover how to build an authentic network, how to hone your personal brand, how to tie self-advocacy to business impact and how to align with stakeholders via workshops, group coachings, and individual mentoring, all supported by the magic word, technology. And our learning platform houses career tools that enhance our training and your execution of these skills. And it drives the development of good habits with our science-based nudge engine.

Effective communication plays a huge role in career advancement. To be a successful leader, you need to sound like one. And being comfortable with public speaking will lead to some exciting opportunities. In fact, public speaking is one of the most obvious ways to demonstrate leadership at scale. I will teach you how to wield it wisely and with style.

So let's take a look at the agenda super quickly so that you know what to expect here. Okay, so here's what we're gonna go over within this hour.

First, I will tell you my origin story. As many of you might already know, it's a little different.

Then we'll cover a few elements of style, and I'll signal that it's time to make some super loud noises together, well, silently together. And I'll take you through three systems of your body responsible for making good public speaking happen.

We'll go over some common mistakes, and then we'll do another noisy thing as a group. We'll touch on some performance elements and stage fright. And then the most important part, the wild applause, which you can be sure I will hear in my head. And if it's comfortable, I always do appreciate a standing ovation. You can call it stretching your legs or whatever, just so you do it. And then we'll have a few minutes left for Q and A at the end.

So to get things rolling, I'd like to run a very quick poll to take the temperature of the virtual room to see where we all currently on the thought of public speaking. So if my friends behind the scenes could launch that. How comfortable do you feel about public speaking right now? Your responses can range from just thinking about this makes me want to hurl to I can't get enough, I was born for the stage!

So wait a minute, and then I'm gonna be texted the answers. I can't wait to see where you all come out on this. All right, do we have some results? Awesome, okay. Well, it's pretty, it's pretty weighted toward not loving it so much. So I'm glad I'm here.

So right about now you might be asking yourself, what does she know about using her voice that I don't? Well, pretty much this. (Jen vocalizing) For those of you who need a hint, that's not four perfectly placed staccato high C's in a row. Yeah, I am a classically trained opera singer with a lifetime of professional performance experience. You might also be wondering how an opera singer ended up here. Well, in my late 20s, I came to a very important crossroads…continue singing full-time as a freelance musician or pay my rent. I assessed the practical skills I had at hand which were not many at the time, and I stepped onto my very first trading floor at AIG Financial Products as, wait for it, a temp secretary. Have you all heard of the book, "The Big Short" by Michael Lewis? Yeah, AIG Financial Products was chapter four, and I was there for that. (laughs)

My career journey is an unorthodox one, and I owe a lot to the fact that my mom made me take a typing class in high school. That and piano lessons since the age of three meant that I made a very good impression typing up the endless supply of rate-set notices and delivery versus payment letters dumped with a loud thump onto my desk early each morning.

But most notably, I also owe a lot to AIGFP's Joe Cassano, who as second-in-command at the time, he was a pretty intimidating dude. And during those first few months of my temp assignment, he shocked everyone on that trading floor by tapping me on the shoulder and ushering me, the temp secretary, into a sparkling glass conference room for all to see.

He said, "Musicians have a lot of skills "that are directly transferable to the trading floor," and would I please consider this as my primary gig instead of singing? He went through this whole thing. "Musicians have discipline. You take direction well.” "You're comfortable standing up in front of the group of people.” "You're competitive.” "You know how to project your voice and command a room."

Now, while his words were flattering, I didn't yet understand their significance. Joe was actively embracing cognitive diversity before I even knew what it was.

In the end, I was mostly wowed by the offer of steady employment, health insurance, and the beguiling mystery of a Wall Street bonus. I figured I would do it until my big break came along. I actually said to myself, "And if Luciano Pavarotti calls, I'll just quit."

Well, you all know the end of that story. But the moral of it is, Joe was right. I used all the inherent tools that I had at my disposal, and after paying my dues in back office, I was given exposure and I made the most of it. I was eventually put into leadership positions and a good part of the reason that I was succeeding was that I was drawing upon the skills that I learned over a lifetime as a performer. I ended up spending a little over five years at AIGFP. Then I moved to front office at UBS trading benefit responsive options for another five plus years.

And when the financial crisis was looming in 2007, I made a big transition to relationship management at Greenwich Associates where I ended up spending the next 13 and a half years. I became quite senior in their ranks. And I took on many public speaking opportunities, which led eventually to meeting Alli Young, founder and CEO of The Forem, through a mutual connection in our networks. And in May, mid-pandemic, I dumped it all. And I am now in my dream job partnering with Alli at The Forem.

So after almost 25 years in financial services, what have I learned? Well, the observation I've most consistently made is that the smartest and most confident people in the room can often sound as if they are not either of those things. Now, I happen to think that presenting yourself as a confident and authoritative speaker is one of the most basic and effective tools to use in forwarding your career at any stage. For younger professionals, it's about establishing credibility among peers and senior management. For more seasoned pros, it's more about consistently imparting a lasting, impactful and persuasive message that will resonate with your clients, prospects, and peers long after your meetings, panels, and presentations have concluded.

Having seen over and over and over how people do not always know how to use their voices to best effect, detracting from an otherwise incredibly impactful message, I am on a mission to share what I know, a few tips and tricks about breathing, vocalization, and stage presence, techniques that are all based in classical singing that will make you sound even more compelling than you already are.

Now, in addition to my day job, I also teach piano and voice. And when I teach, I remind my students that there are two parts to mastering a piece, playing the notes on the page correctly and playing them in a way that makes people actually want to listen. So when one of my students proudly says, "Miss Jen, I learned all the notes in my song," my response is, "Well, that's awesome. Now, tell me a story with those notes and make me believe it."

It's the same concept here. So how do we go from that, from saying all of the right words to something that people can truly connect with, understand and appreciate? It starts with elements of style. Excellent speakers are vocally interesting. They are masters of expressive timing and emotional inflection. Modulating the pitch, intonation, stress, and rhythm of your voice not only keeps your audience focused and engaged, but it actually makes it easier for people to fully understand what you're trying to communicate. You may know more about a particular subject than anyone else in the room, but if you're not effectively communicating that expertise, your credibility goes right down the drain.

So let's get into elements of style. First and foremost, you have to control your rate of speed. I'll make it really simple. Just slow it down, way down. You will always, always be speaking much more quickly than you think that you are. And the best wake-up call to nip this habit in the bud is to record yourself and then cringe when you hear how you're ripping through it. But that painful realization is what it takes to make you fix it.

Now that's a pretty obvious place to start. So let's move on now to something more nuanced. People have a tendency, especially when they're nervous, to come up with some strange imitations of natural speech. We all know the monotone is horrible and boring and bad. So we tackle it head on by adding a second tone. Some people develop this one alternate register. It's usually a bit lower in pitch and volume than their normal speaking voice. And they'll use that for emphasis, regardless of context. They'll bounce back and forth between the same two tones over and over again. And it's like being on a very boring roller coaster. Now they've successfully escaped the monotone, but they're still vocally limited.

You may not even be aware of the variety of colors and shades that you can make with your voice. So we're gonna take your voices on a little test drive. And a good way to test your vocal range is to glide from a comfortable high note to your lowest note on the word knoll, K-N-O-L-L. Your voice should be somewhat soft. The point of this is to lightly test out your instrument, not to scare everybody in your house.

So we're going to glide without any hesitations or breaks in the sound, like this: ♪ Knoll ♪ Now let's create some cacophony together. It'll be fun. I wish that we could be making a true rainbow of sound here together, but we'll just have to imagine it. Yeah, I'm imagining that it would sound pretty bad, (laughs) but let's do it, okay? Here we go. ♪ Knoll ♪ Okay, excellent. I'm thinking that your pets are at home going like, "Seriously, can't you see I'm napping here?"

But even just altering your volume is a good way of getting and keeping people's attention. Altering is the key word here. A study from San Diego University found that people associated authority with voices that had wider ranges of volume. So basically people didn't think that the loudest person in the room also had the most power. And they didn't like being shouted at all the time. So convey your “authoritay” by using volume creatively, for example, by building a crescendo across a supporting idea and then delivering the punchline, subito piano.

Another stylistic tip: embrace pauses and silences. They are gifts to your audience. You are so welcome. Pauses give your listeners time to digest information, and data-heavy presentations always want more silence than seems natural. Another little tip for you. You may already know this, but silences and pauses, they are great negotiation tactics. And I learned this on the UBS trading floor, the largest in the world at the time when I was on it. And you can check the Guinness Book. But it was a very loud place where you'd think that instinctively whoever makes the most noise wins, but no, not at all. We as humans, we have a compulsion to fill that empty void with words. But sometimes you can win by letting someone else run on and dig themselves a little hole. So it's a great tool to have in your toolbox. When presenting, pauses also act as the punctuation that your audience doesn't have access to. Without pauses, you've essentially handed your audience this.

And another thing, I audibly wince when a speaker overuses filler words. This is truly a difficult habit to break. And each of us has at one point or another been an offender. In small doses, it's not that noticeable, but filler words can easily get out of control if you're not careful. Repetitive use can crush your credibility, and it makes you seem less confident. There have been times when a presenter has so littered their speech pattern with these little verbal pieces of garbage that I start paying attention to how many ums there are, instead of fully processing the speaker's intended message. Filler words can be used more sparingly to buy a little time to think or to, you know, convey a more casual attitude. But for the most part, they have zero value, are inefficient, and are distracting.

There is a related phenomenon, meaningless tag questions that are mostly seeking affirmation and, as a result, further degrade your credibility. For example, the chronic overuse of the word right as a question mid-stream or at the end of a sentence. Because, right, if you are constantly, right, subconsciously, right, seeking affirmation, right, that suggests to me, right, that you are insecure, right? So how to fix this? You must listen to yourself, record yourself, listen critically. Are you hearing an overabundance of your favorite filler word? Count them up. You will be amazed. Back in the before times when I was still traveling to conferences, I heard a very well-respected global head of equity trading who I know to be brilliant turn in 47 rights in the space of two minutes. For reals. It was absolutely cringe-worthy. So in lieu of handing me another example to use in this talk, train yourself to use the silences and pauses that we just spoke about instead of repeatedly blurting out a filler word or a tag question.

Another stylistic vocal pitfall which undermines your credibility is up-speak. Up-speak is a feature of speech where in declarative sentence clauses conclude with a rising pitch. It effectively turns everything you say into a question. That's decidedly not a way to instill confidence. Now that I've mentioned this to you, you'll really start noticing it too.

Make statements with your actions and with your voice. But let's backtrack a moment. These are elements of style. And while I can tell you which are important and how to use them, it's ultimately up to you to create your own expressive delivery. Your voice is unique. It's like a fingerprint, and that distinctive quality is super important and it should be embraced. And by the way, I love accents. Don't try to hide those, just ensure that you are well understood.

And these tips will work for you. Because what I'm talking about here is how to maximize what your mama gave you and to tap into some skills that help you to be more expressive, interesting, and confident. So in the words of my high school choir teacher, this time with feeling!

But what about the mechanics behind a feeling? How do you properly use your voice? I'm sure you've heard the phrase your voice is an instrument, but to get slightly more literal with it, we are all wind instruments. And when I use that metaphor with my young students I get a lot of giggles, but it is a true and accurate one. Speech production involves many complicated processes, but we'll scale it down to three basic systems, the respiratory or breath system which takes air into the lungs and pushes it up to the larynx, the phonation or vibratory system where the air pressure vibrates the vocal folds in the larynx producing sound waves, that's phonation. And the resonation and articulation system where the phonation is modified by resonation and oral and nasal cavities and by articulators like the tongue and the lips. Now these systems build on each other, and a problem in one can cause the whole house of cards to come down. Don't worry too much about these terms. Just remember them for the quiz at the end. No, just kidding. There's no quiz.

Breathing is the major foundation of all of this and is one of the things that singers work on constantly for their entire careers. And it's something that most other people don't really spend time thinking about but in terms of supportive speaking consistently do incorrectly. The technique we singers are taught is called appoggio, and the verb appoggiare in Italian means to lean. It's a word used to describe the sense of support and leaning that comes from staying open and expanded as long as you can on the exhale. And if that makes you scratch your head a little bit, here is all you really need to remember this. Appoggio boils down to the need to take deep, low breaths to speak in a supported and projected tone. And when you take a proper low breath, what happens is this. Your diaphragm is lowered and it pushes out your ribs, and you expand all around the middle of your body and your lungs fill up with air. Now, back in the olden days when some of us may have occasionally worn Spanx, well, we have a distinct advantage. Think about pushing those out away from you all the way around. Spanx or no Spanx, I think everyone can get that idea pretty easily. That is appoggio.

Here's another way to think about it. A voice professor I once had said that breath management is best achieved by maintaining a noble position which elicits cooperation among the chest muscles, the rib cage muscles, and the muscles of the side walls of the abdomen. Okay, so no, she actually didn't really talk like that, but it just kind of felt right in the moment, so. The objective and what seems counter-intuitive to how you may think about taking a deep breath is that you need to try to remain expanded all the way around and control the exhalation. This will connect your breath to singing or in our case to your speaking tone.

But here's the thing these days though, you shouldn't slouch and Zoom. You've got to give your body every advantage to help support your sound. So when you're speaking, even from behind the screen, maintain that same noble position, sit like a royal. I sit on the edge of my chair with my feet on the little stool underneath my desk, because, well, I'm super short. But I sit like I do at the piano. I need these strong, deep, low breaths to support my sound.

So first of all, everybody, I want you to sit up. Let's go, sit up, sit like a royal. And now I'd like you to each take a very deep breath. Go ahead and do that now. Thank you, webinar mode, for keeping Darth Vader out of our midst. But let's take a deep breath. Okay, even though I couldn't see you, I'm willing to bet that a bunch of you did it wrong. I'm sorry, friends. Thank goodness though that you met me. So now you'll know how to do it from here on out. But yes, many people when I ask them to take a deep breath, they'll do this. (inhales) They'll gulp in air audibly while raising their shoulders. Now, this actually puts tension on your larynx and it doesn't properly let your lungs fill up. Instead, your shoulders should remain still while you just expand in the middle. Now, the best way to observe this technique being used properly is to watch a baby sleeping. And another way to really see this is for you to lie down on your back and rest a hand on your abdomen watching it gently rise and fall with each inhale and exhale while everything else obviously remains stationary.

So instead of asking all of you to get on the floor right now, which would cut my viewership down to zero, I'd like to show you two very basic breathing exercises to help put you in touch with the concept of appoggio. Let's take a minute to enjoy some slow, relaxed breaths at your own pace. Focus on expanding when you breathe in. Okay, now let's focus a little more on the exhale. Try not to come in too soon for your next breath. We're gonna try to inhale over a count of four, and then we're going to exhale over the same count. And we're gonna do that a few times together. Ready and inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Great, now let's inhale the same way, and we're going to exhale to the count of six beats. Ready and inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

Okay, here is another little tip to get in touch with your epigastric region. We're gonna hiss like snakes. And in case you're wondering, I drew that little guy, but this is important for engaging your intercostal muscles in that epigastric region. It will demonstrate how your diaphragm is working hard, and it will help you feel energized. I think this is another one that your pets and kids may really enjoy. So please put your hands on your hips, and we're going to make four short bursts and then one extended hiss. And the objective is to build on the long one trying to extend that feeling of appoggio as long as you can, like this. (hissing) Ooh, it gets a little messy. So I'm glad I'm just in my cozy room here in Connecticut keeping my spittle to myself, but let's do it all a few times together altogether, okay? Ready and. (hissing) One more. (Jen hissing) Excuse me.

Now, work this into your morning routine and then maybe you'll be able to do this someday. (upbeat opera music) You know, I wish I could do that. (Jen singing in foreign language) Okay, so maybe the sound didn't come through so well, but this was more for a visual. But did you see me even within the constraints of that restricted bodice of my gown expanding all the way around as I took deep breaths? Yeah, I know. I'm really amazing.

But now that you are all operatic breathing experts too, we'll move on to a few points within the vibratory or phonation system, specifically your larynx, also known as your voice box. I hear so much laryngeal tension when I attend online webinars or when I used to go to conferences that it's almost physically painful.

I'm gonna cut right to the chase and tell you about the single worst manifestation of what I call vocal pitfalls, vocal fry, also known as glottal fry. Now, what is technically at play here is a loose epiglottal closure which permits air to bubble through your larynx slowly with a popping sound. In other words, you sound like this. Now setting aside those who have suffered chronic vocal trauma or injury, for the most part, this is a stylistic choice. And to my dismay, this appears to be becoming an accepted vocal mannerism. Certain elements in pop culture seem to promote it, (coughs) Kardashians. (coughs) Ooh, pardon me. It's most easily noticed and is most prevalent among younger women, but my antenna pick it up in almost everyone. This sound to me, it's like nails on a chalkboard. I can't tolerate it. And in my opinion, it does not engender confidence and is a symptom of overall lazy vocal production. Many find it distracting and annoying, but we singers also recognize that long-term abuse can be damaging to your vocal chords and most egregiously, it renders your voice virtually powerless.

Here's a real-life example. I was at a huge financial services industry conference back in the before times in a cavernous carpeted hotel ballroom when they experienced a lot of trouble with their AV system. Now, that's not a typical occurrence, but if that happened to you, you'd probably freak out. And when it stopped working at one point mid-panel, I saw that three out of the four speakers were immediately in serious trouble, because they could not project their voices. And one, the only woman on the stage, she suffered from chronic vocal fry. It was truly disappointing, as I otherwise found her extremely impressive. Now, I tried to ignore the fry when the mic was working, but when it went out there was actually no tonal phonation to be carried to the back of the room, much less to the front row where I was sitting like the giant nerd that I am. But it was truly uncomfortable for her, and I hope to help you avoid this.

So why does it happen? Well, it's pretty simple. It's a lack of proper breath support coupled with a loose glottal closure. Now if you're too squeamish to view a larynx in action, just look away. Yeah, vocal fry is gross. So what's happening here is this person is squeezing the back part of the vocal folds tightly such that they vibrate irregularly. Sometimes it's an unwanted side effect of trying to lower the pitch of your voice perhaps to sound more serious when what you really should be doing is the opposite so that it carries more successfully. That is how sound waves work. It's very easy to fall into the fry if you are manufacturing a lower sound and are not supporting it with your breath.

And if you suffer from this, I suggest that you pay attention to two things. Number one, make sure you plan your phrasing. Pace yourself so that you finish a phrase with something in the tank. You need a consistent airflow to overcome vocal fry. And when you peter out on fumes, the fry, it sneaks right back in. And number two, work on keeping the volume of your speech more consistent and speak a little higher than you do typically. That way you won't be putting excess pressure on your larynx and taxing your vocal folds. You may at first think that this will make you sound shrill, but it won't if you create the proper resonance space.

So this is a great segue to the next bit, correct oral posture and articulation technique. To create a sound that is more pleasing to the ear in a way that also sets up a clean inhale, you must lift your soft palate. Think about yawning, that feeling right there, right before you go into a full-on yawn. That is lifting your soft palate.

Let's do a nice relaxing one so you can for the first time probably think about actively lifting your soft palate. Everybody yawn. Smiling or lifting your cheeks will also help lift your sound. And a side benefit is it makes you seem more confident and at ease on the stage or in your home office. A more resonant voice sounds more pleasing to the ear. It makes you sound way more confident, and when coupled with strong breath support will carry your voice to the last row of the room. It will be more nuanced and beautiful.

Now, a tip for doing this remotely. I have found it helpful to have a quality microphone as an add-on to my laptop, which just on its own doesn't really do the job as well as it could. I use a very cool one from Yeti called Blue. Isn't it cute?

But that still doesn't mean that I'm gonna understand your words. Diction plays a huge role. And a large part of what voice majors study at conservatory is foreign languages. We sing opera and art songs primarily in Italian, French, and German. So we take the standard grammatical and literature courses but we also take a diction course in each of those in addition to English. And one thing that you swiftly realize is that English speakers do not move their mouths and lips to the degree that native speakers of those other languages do. So if you want to be properly heard and understood on stage or over unstable wifi, you need to overenunciate almost to the point where it feels grossly exaggerated. You'll make a distinct improvement just from thinking about where your tongue placement is. Keep it forward.

Aside from running through your presentation out loud numerous times, the best practice is to do some warm-up exercises to get things moving before showtime. Childhood tongue twisters actually work practicing them beginning at a slow speed and then gradually pick up the tempo. There are different ones for different articulators, but here are two good ones to start with. The tip of the tongue, the teeth, the lips. The tip of the tongue, the teeth, the lips. The tip of the tongue, the teeth, the lips. The tip of the tongue, the teeth, the lips.

And I bet when you woke up today, you didn't think that you'd be watching someone speed race herself through Peter Piper. Here is the moment you've all been waiting for. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked? Almost did it, almost. Now, this is the fun part where typically a brave volunteer shows her stuff on these tongue twisters and obviously we're not gonna do that, but I hope that you'll take a minute on your own later today and try these. And I have some more in the appendix that'll be sent around to you later. It'll be a little cringy or maybe even a lot cringy, but that's the point. This is why you need to practice and then practice again. And while the exercise itself may seem a little silly, I promise you that the process is not.

Okay, this next one is a vocalize and it will involve some light singing. And the reason that this is a great warm-up to try before you give a presentation or deliver anything in a meeting is that it helps to identify the proper forward placement that will be most effective in helping your voice to carry and project. Please do try what I'm about to show you. It's important to feel the resonance, and you'll see what I mean.

You're going to begin with a hum, and you're just gonna ride that down all five notes. (Jen humming) Let's try that again together. We're gonna start on the same note that I just used. Okay, this one, everybody. (Jen humming) Okay, so look, this, it doesn't need to sound good. What I want you to focus on is the sensation. Do you feel that vibrating in your nose? That is nasal resonance in action. So after a few times of that one, you stick to the hum on the first two notes, but then you're gonna switch to the vowels for the following three notes, each time raising your initial tone by a half step. ♪ So we were here, now we're gonna go here ♪ (Jen vocalizing) Do you still feel that same nasal resonance when you switch to the vowel? I like to start with those, because E, that's the most forward vowel. But do work with all of them to help identify how each should be shaped to best maintain that sense of vibration. That is putting your voice in the mask as some singers say or in a forward placement. And that is the key to a projected tone and to avoiding vocal fatigue.

Now, if you want to go all in with your new vocal prep routine and combine that with your hissing and diction exercises, I give you my all-time favorite choir warm-up from my all-time favorite choir director at Oberlin. Really, I just wanted to low-key drop an Ohio reference for all of you, but ♪ Me, may, ma, moh, moo, ma, ma, may, mee, may, ma, moh, moo ♪ ♪ Be, bay, ba, boh, boo, ba, ba, bay, bee, bay, ba, boh, boo ♪ ♪ Pe, pay, pa, poh, poo, ♪ ♪ pa, pa, pay, pee, pay, pa, poh, poo ♪ ♪ Ve, vay, va, voh, voo, va, va, vay, vee, vay, va, voh, voo ♪ You can substitute any consonant that you want. It's just important that you go up and down on the same five notes until your lips and tongue feel engaged. And if you've got a little flub in your voice, any of these vocalises will help to shake it off.

Because of my training, I see almost everything as a performance. I prepared for this presentation the same way I prepare for a role on stage down to selecting my outfit. I had to show up looking like a legit opera singer, didn't I? But the techniques that make an operatic performance successful are some of the same ones that will cement your status as a strong communicator and as a beautifully resonant and confident speaker.

Another performance element thing before I wrap this up. Strong body language is a must. Confident presenters appear to be at ease and don't fidget in front of an audience. Fidgeting takes many different forms, tapping your feet, rocking back and forth, playing with your hair, wiggling your fingers, licking your lips. And now that we're all talking into our computers, wandering eyeballs can also be distracting.

As opera singers, we are trained to tie gestures to specific references in the text and to not scratch that itch. I once sang an entire aria, Gilda's death scene at the end of Rigoletto, with a huge clump of hair stuck in my lipstick. I was dying to pull it away, but it would have meant breaking character. The danger in not thinking through your gestures or not being conscious at all times of what your hands are doing is that you can end up distracting the listener. If you're not paying attention to every movement, a lot can happen. You may feel compelled to move your arms and hands to make a point, but empty gestures, moves that are not tied directly to the punctuation of your idea, they're meaningless at best and they're distracting at worst.

Now, another captain obvious piece of advice. You should work in front of a mirror or just fire up Zoom and record yourself there or with your phone experimenting with different gestures. You'll find ones that are right for you and that look natural. Now, keep in mind that now that we are all remote, you sometimes have to rethink these. If you're just waving your hands around at the level that you used to when standing in front of someone, well, now that's just off-screen in your lap and that could look a little funny. And if you say that you caught a fish this big, well, that's also going to be off-screen. And another thing to think about is that when things get blurry, it happens really quickly, especially if you have crappy wifi. So this is one time that I will say gestures do not need to be operatic. It is perfectly acceptable to have a physically quieter presentation style. Just make sure that you know what those hands are doing at all times.

Another related tip: If when pandemic times are over, you are making an in-person presentation with slides, please do not turn around and address the screen when you were speaking about a particular data point. Like a singer, always remain turned out and facing the audience so that your voice has the best possible chance of projecting. The same thing goes these days for reading from your notes. If your head is down, you are not engaging with your audience, and your sound, it could be muffled.

Now, while many of you here are presentation pros, it's highly likely that you'll still feel nervous when it's showtime. Even for someone like me, who looks at these pictures and get super excited, that's completely normal. I have sung for audiences as large as 20,000 people, and of course I was nervous. But I will even admit that I'm riding some butterflies right now. But because I trust my technique and my practice regimen, I have learned to embrace them and to harness their power in an energizing and motivational way. I teach my young students that the butterflies are their friends. They show up when you are about to do something momentous and important. They are there to share the exhilarating ride with you while reminding us not to take any performance opportunity for granted. It's a special thing, respect the inherent challenges, deliver a great performance and enjoy coasting on the adrenaline high afterwards, because you earned it.

But you can easily bust down those butterflies a notch or two with some slow, quiet, deep breaths. And I find that no matter how nervous I am, there is comfort in routine. I am always able to focus and to get my nerves under control by going through my breathing and vocal warm-ups, which includes all of the stuff that we've done here together and of course, some very, very advanced things that are only safe for operatic professionals.

One last trick that I will share with you has to do with eye contact. Unless you are superhuman and indelibly unflappable, you'll want to know this performance hack. You don't actually have to be looking right into someone's eyes to effectively communicate. When I sing live in a concert hall, I find a few focal points way in the back of the room, just above everyone's heads. And in pre-COVID times, I shared many deep, intimate, meaningful exchanges with light switches and electrical outlets in a wide variety of performance spaces. And these days, my new trick is to be connected to that tiny green light on my laptop. And I'm telling you, it works. It saves you from being distracted if someone moves or reacts in a way that you find unsettling while still looking as if you were connecting with everyone. There, I shared my little secret security blanket with you and I hope that you take good care of it.

I will conclude with the most important and obvious tip of all, practice. Practice the words, practice your gestures, practice your clicks, practice your pauses and your breathing. Video yourself practicing and make notes of all the things that you did unconsciously. Confidence is everything, and it's established with deliberate action and control. Planning out your pacing and emphasis is important. In my notes to make sure my emphasis is exactly where I want it to be, I go so far as to highlight words in bold, underlined, put things in all caps or even add musical notation, such as a crescendo, diminuendo, or a fermata. And if any of you are the lucky ones who can speak more spontaneously without notes, well, you still need to be thinking ahead to properly pace and to be vocally nuanced. Be specific for your own benefit. Pay attention to your breath. Finish strong, finish with something in the tank. This will keep those nasty vocal pitfalls like vocal fry and up-speak at bay.

If you hear yourself slipping into old habits in the heat of the moment, that's okay. Take a minute. Pause, circle back to those low, slow breaths. It's all about proper diaphragmatic support. Also remember that each performance is a learning experience for the next one, even if you're already functioning at a very high level. Professional opera singers still check in with their voice teacher and coaches on a regular basis. I know my voice well, and I know that it is a powerful tool. And I've shared with you simple things that have helped me work my way up the ladder during my successful financial services career, things learned from a lifetime of performing. And I've only really just scratched the surface here with you, but I hope that you got something out of it and I hope that I made you smile and maybe even chuckle. And for you already polished presenters, at the very least, I hope it reinforced and reaffirmed that your current technique is opera diva approved.

But before we say farewell, let's give this little poll another try. If you could please launch that, friends. Did I change your mindset at all with these tips and tricks? How do you feel about public speaking now? A through D with responses ranging from you're entertaining and all, but I'm still taking a hard pass on public speaking or, you are preaching to the choir! I'll wait for my text from my wizard behind the scenes.

Yes, you guys, there's nobody at A anymore. I'm so proud of you. I am so excited. Well on behalf of The Forem team, thank you for being such attentive participants today, or who knows, maybe you just faked it. But I do seriously hope that I inspired you to do this with a more deliberate approach and confidence.

You will all soon receive a follow-up email from Key4Women leadership with a PDF version of my slides. And it has an appendix with more exercises for y'all to work on together. If there's any overachievers in here, you can set up sessions where you can help one another and continue to work on these skills like a little mini Toastmaster club. I am also happy to help coach any of you who have a big event coming up. If you're a member of The Forem, you can find me on the Mentor page.

And above all, I want to thank again the leaders of Key4Women for thinking outside the box to bring unique and relevant training to all of you. And I hope to get to know many more of you through our continued work together with The Forem and our Level Up boot camps. And to that point, you will also receive a link that if you fill it out with your email and reference Know Your Voice, you will receive a $50 discount to join us for the Level Up boot camp we're kicking off in mid-April. The regular price is 495 for a six-week boot camp followed by three months of membership. It's a great deal for everything that we teach you. And if you liked what you saw here, I facilitate this in your cohort. So I wish you all a very happy, healthy, and successful year devoid of up-speak, vocal fry, and filler words. And now it's time for you to stretch those legs. And I am happy to take any questions that you have for me.

Perfect. Thank you, Jen for that informative and thorough presentation with actionable tips that I know we can all benefit from. And it sounds like based on the feedback from our last survey is that our audience is more confident right now than they were when they started. So virtual round of applause to you, absolutely.

To everybody for being great participants. Thank you.

Yes. Well, we'd love to take questions from our audience in just a moment, but before you go and we talk through some of our Q and A, we invite you to join Key4Women at key.com/joink4w or take your camera and hover over the QR code. It will take you directly to our site to join. Also, mark your calendars for May 12th. Our Key4Women's seminar will feature experts from KeyBank and FBI cybersecurity group to talk about fraud threats and actions that you can take to better protect yourself, your business, your children, and the seniors in your life. So we want to talk about that fraud and how to protect ourselves.

Also, as Jen mentioned, you'll have access to receive today's recording session as well as that discount code to participate in The Forem's Level Up program. So with that, Jen, we do have some questions already in our Q and A box.

Oh, good. Is it all right if I stop sharing so that I can see your face instead of staring at my wallpaper and my camera? Does everyone have the code? Take it quick.

Great, I think we're good. Thank you.

There you are, Rachel. So great to see you.

You too. And so, you know, as we talk about standing and that presence and projecting your voice better, since most of us are at home and both of us, of course, are sitting down and need to remain seated at times, are there tips that we can use to better carry our voice even when we're sitting?

Absolutely. So I was talking about sitting like a royal. That's a reference I use, but really what I'm talking about is sitting on the edge of your chair. And because I'm short and I like to see over my laptop and see out the window and see what my birds are doing out there, I sit up, my chair is like jacked all the way up. So my feet don't touch the floor, but it's important that your feet touch something. So that's why I have a little footstool under there so that I feel like I'm firmly planted. And just your lower back should be very straight. And the reason for that is just so that when you do expand like I was referencing Spanx, because you need to expand all the way around, like push out that donut, you'll feel it all the way around. But that will give you the best way, the best chance of doing that if you're sitting up. So if you're hunched over like this, it's just, your lungs will not properly fill up with air. And then the other thing, oh, I'm sorry, Rachel. But the other little tidbit is is to make sure that your voice, that's why we did the exercises about vibrating and nasal resonance and getting that feeling up here, because that is what is going to turn your sound into the waves that carry better. And also I do recommend getting a good microphone.

Awesome. That is great. A microphone and a great camera go a long way with presentations. I know you mentioned about confidence and those butterflies and using those to your advantage. You know, and some people do really okay in small groups. And others, you know, when they get into these large group functions or even today, we probably have hundreds and hopefully a thousand folks on the line right now. How do you keep from internalizing? You know, we hear that you can hear your heartbeat in your head, and you feel like you're talking inside versus externally. How do you work through that as a presenter?

I'm not gonna lie, it takes practice. It takes doing. And you also should be thinking about, like what's the worst thing that could happen? Okay, you stumble. I messed up in here. I don't know if y'all heard me, but I did. And you just, you keep swimming. Keep on swimming, keep on swimming. I smile. I know where my notes are going. But I think also just ground yourself in the breath. Breath is the foundation of everything. So whenever I do feel myself getting a little bit nervous, maybe something catches my eye or I lose my place in my notes and it's one of those moments, stop, take a nice deep breath. When you're thinking about how you're staying open on the exhale, when we did the snapping, and that feeling should make you feel a lot more relaxed. Also just reframing the thought about those butterflies, and that's why I explain to these little kids that I teach that they're your friends. They're only there because what you're doing is like, it's cool. It's exciting, the thing that you're doing. If it was just ordinary and no big deal, they wouldn't even bother to show up. So they're there to keep you company and to remind you not to take it for granted. Pay attention, be on your toes, but enjoy that feeling. And when you can reframe it and encapture that sense of adrenaline and that pride of doing a good job, afterwards, you'll see that when it's the next time, you say to yourself, "Well, I didn't die last time I did this, so I suppose I can make it through this one too." And that's what I mean about the practice. Repetition is so important to a musician and I think it's equally as important to a corporate speaker.

Perfect. Thank you.

Practice definitely makes you better. So, to our audience, thank you so much for participating today. You can check out more Key4Women in our resources at key.com/women. And to learn more about The Forem, go to theforem.co.

We'll be sure to share this recording as well as Jen's presentation along with our event survey to anyone that needs to complete that follow-up. And of course, for the many women in business in our communities and on the call today that are not members of our program, I highly encourage you to join us at KeyBank.com/join the number four, join K, the number 4, W. That's key.com/joinK4W.

Thanks so much for joining us today. And I hope you enjoy the rest of your day. Take care.

Thank you. Bye-bye.

Whether you want to present with more confidence or make your voice heard during meetings, our recent webinar, The Forem: Know Your Voice, is for you.

Key4Women® Director Rachael Sampson talks with Jennifer Litwin of The Forem about how Litwin applied her performance skills as an opera singer to her successful career on Wall Street and beyond. Access the replay to learn about how to avoid vocal pitfalls such as vocal fry and upspeak. You’ll also get tips on proper breath support and stage presence.

As always, we’d love to hear from you. Connect with us on LinkedIn or Facebook and let us know what you’re doing to build your public speaking skills.

The Support You Need

Not a Key4Women member? Visit key.com/joinK4W to join today.

For more Key4Women resources to help you reach your goals, visit key.com/women, or email us to learn more.


Jennifer Litwin  Biopic

About Jennifer Litwin

Jennifer Litwin is the VP and Head of Financial Services Sales & Strategy at The Forem. Jen has maintained successful concurrent careers for more than 20 years on The Street and in classical music as an opera singer.
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