Have you ever felt it difficult to speak up and use your full voice? Maybe everyone else around you is loud, so you feel the need to be quiet. Or maybe you’re just quiet by nature, and speaking up feels uncomfortable.
I remember as a young girl being told “Don’t speak before your elders,” or “Wait your turn to speak.”
Although I don’t think anyone meant any harm, I internalized these words. And for years, I had resistance toward using my voice and speaking up – expressing myself fully because I didn’t want to be rude or disrespectful.
I’ve outgrown this with age and experience, but there are moments when I still feel the resistance.
Whether you’re shy or more outgoing, we all have strength and power in our voices, and we should use them (now more than ever).
This allows us to feel confident and grounded no matter what we’re doing – asking for a raise at work, getting ready to launch that company, or sharing the vision we have for a just world. Ultimately, it’s how we’re heard and how we make an impact.
That’s why this week I was so excited to interview Julie Fogh, Co-founder of Vital Voice Training.
Julie and I talk about (1) the power of using our voices, (2) what we can do right now to feel more confident and stronger, and (3) how experiences – whether traumatic or exotic – change us forever.
Meet Julie, and learn how to leverage your voice to make big moves in your work.
Give us some background. Where are you from, and where did you start out?.
I grew up in Seattle just as it was transitioning from economic depression (There was a sign outside: “Will the Last One To Leave Seattle Please Turn Out the Lights”) to the tech mecca it has become.
I was a pretty shy child, but always felt attracted to acting.
Along the way, I ended up taking classes at the Tacoma Little Theatre and really found my groove. When a character clicks, it’s the best feeling in the world. Despite my family being three generation Seattleites, I was restless and moved to Denmark for a year where I did a musical version of “Say Anything” with songs from Cake’s “Fashion Nugget” done by a Danish cover band called “Icing on the Cake.”
From there I went to San Francisco, and did the classic wait tables and take classes / perform sometimes. On my 30th birthday, wanting more out of acting, I picked up my life and moved to Dekalb, Illinois to get my MFA in Acting and Northern Illinois University (NIU).
I later moved to New York and pursued further training in voice work. I realized I loved it more than acting, and started teaching. I met Casey, my co-founder, about three years later and here we are with Vital Voice Training.
What is your mission, the work you want to do?
What acting has taught me is there are almost infinite ways to express yourself and still be authentic. There are also solid techniques that are not solely “tips and tricks” to finding your voice.
Hearing what your voice can really do, or be, making that connection and feeling empowered is one of the most beautiful things in the world. It’s visceral and electric when someone steps into their power, and I love that I get to help people do that every day. Since I’m an introvert, I especially love helping introverts find that place.
What led you here? Can you recall any experiences you had that pushed you to your mission?
I was profoundly changed by my work at NIU. The emphasis of the training was on authenticity: you find the role in you – it’s not outside of you.
At the same time, that introduced me to the incredible range of what lives in every human physically and emotionally. I discovered voice work and immediately fell in love with it.
I had always had trouble speaking up, but I finally discover that was not a permanent thing, and that it was linked to how we use our breath and bodies. I was also challenged in school to learn to take up my space in a way that was both thrilling and terrifying.
Another huge moment for me was studying theatre in Moscow, seeing a lot of theatre in Russian and realizing we are always communicating beyond language. And how much of where you’re from affects your core values.
What did you see in Russia that is different from what you’ve seen in the U.S.?
In Russia, there is so much passion surrounding acting work, and that is where the discipline comes in. Students study acting, but also appreciate their physical presence, and study acrobatics. There is strength to the work they do, but also a softness.
My acting teacher, Mischa was once explaining a Chekhov scene: I think it was Olga from three sisters, getting to the heart of it. This very old man, who had the sweetest face, dove into a deep, connected voice to tell us (picture in a Russian accent) “Your love……. Is like…… MISSISSIPPI (gesturing as the river).”
I also found that students were excited to connect, not worrying if their English was perfect. I would say in communication, there is a lot less smiling, but if you make a connection, there is tremendous warmth underneath, and if you are invited over for dinner, you are not only in for a treat (and a lot of vodka), you have a friend for life.
Can you share what we can do to use our voices more and step into our power especially in moments when we’re feeling nervous/scared?
The first thing you can do is to breathe. (This is the first thing that we stop doing when we get nervous.) We recommend breathing into you back. Ground yourself- literally feel your feet on the floor, or your butt in your chair and let that be heavy.
And don’t be afraid to make a mistake. These are simple things, but they make a huge difference.
Also remember you can do a stress redirect: everyone thinks they’re not supposed to be nervous, but it’s very normal. However, that stress is the same as when you’re very excited about something. It can have a lot of energy to it.
Can you share a time you faced a challenge? How did using your voice help you overcome that moment?
I was in San Francisco, walking home from work, and a very polite young man pulled a gun on me. I was mugged. As he was walking away, he dropped his gun, and it turned out to be a toy gun. I found a voice I didn’t know I had then. It vomited out of me as I ran after this kid, yelling at the top of my lungs.
I didn’t catch him, but I, as a relatively quiet person now knew I could be that loud, and full in my own voice.
I find now that deeper voice naturally comes out (though not as loud) when I’m defending someone, or am biking through NYC.
Usually, for people who are very quiet, that moment of discovery of being loud can be very emotional, but once they’ve had it, and the fear is conquered, it’s theirs forever.
What advice do you have for 20 to 30-somethings who want to make an impact through their work but are currently feeling stuck?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Like my high school Algebra teacher said: figure out exactly where you are stuck and work backward to problem solve from there. Be specific! WHAT impact do you want to make? What are your strengths?
We spend so much time trying to fix our weaknesses, we forget to build our strengths. What is the actual problem you are trying to solve? Again, be specific.
Once a problem can be identified, it can almost always be solved. I found an amazing app called “Unstuck” that does wonders for helping to break down a problem so you can get out of the rut of feeling stuck.
To learn more about Julie, check out http://vitalvoicetraining.com/. And now we want to hear from you. Have you ever had trouble using your FULL voice? In moments when you’re feeling shy or nervous, what’s one thing you can do to tap into your confidence?