The VASTA Voice

Volume 11, Issue 2
April 2016

 

Table of Contents:

A Message from the President
Letter from the Editor
The 30th Anniversary VASTA Conference in Chicago, August 8-11, 2016                                 Conference Topic: Politics of Race and Identity
VASTA MD: Hearing Loss and the Voice
Committee Chair Updates
     Engagement Committee Update
     ATHE Debut Panel                                                                                               
Tech Corner: A Review of VowelViz for iOS from CompleteSpeech
Diversity Column
Freelance Coaching Column
     The Clash of Content
Member News


A Message from the President

Lynn Watson

Lynn Watson

Dear Colleagues,

VASTA will celebrate its 30th anniversary this summer at the Chicago 2016 conference, "Dynamic Dialogues and Connections." We are fortunate to be hosted this year by DePaul University and The Theatre School in their beautiful new performing arts complex. DePaul is located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago, so named after the adjacent park on Lake Michigan. Lincoln Park offers a welcoming urban environment with amenities that include casual and upscale restaurants, shopping, entertainment, a nature sanctuary, and historic landmarks.

When planning for the Chicago conference began, Barry Kur reminded the board that one of our Distinguished members, Sue Ann Park, was associated with Chicago and DePaul. For a number of years and through the late nineteen sixties, Sue Ann was a voice teacher at the Goodman School of Drama, which in 1982 became The Theatre School at DePaul. She was a close colleague of Arthur Lessac and a Senior Master Teacher of his work. Sadly, Sue Ann passed away earlier this year. We will remember and celebrate the life and work of Sue Ann Park at the Chicago conference.

The conference will open with a panel discussion with five Chicago theatre artists addressing "The Politics of Race and Identity in Performance," moderated by Cameron Knight, Professor of Shakespeare and Classical Text at The Theatre School. The panel will be followed by an opening reception providing opportunities to connect and continue discussions stimulated by the session. Carrying the theme through the following three days, subjects range from "courage and renewal" in leadership to "transparency, authenticity and intimacy in communication." Read the particulars of presenters and much more here. Many thanks to Claudia Anderson, Phil Timberlake, and the entire conference team who have been hard at work for many months to bring people together for a creative, thoughtful, and celebratory occasion.

Before closing, I want to bring an opportunity to your attention. At its most recent meeting, the VASTA Board created a new scholarship to be funded by special contributions from VASTA members. The “VASTA Member-Sponsored Conference Scholarship” will fund member attendance at future conferences. Everyone understands the financial challenge of conference attendance, and understands also how that challenge can be magnified for many of us. When registering for the conference, at the top of the fill-in form you'll see a "Scholarship" heading and description, with a green "Donate" button below it. If you have been helped in your career by a fellow voice & speech professional, or anyone (!), I hope you will consider "paying it forward" with a contribution to the scholarship.

Warm regards,

Lynn


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Letter from the Editor

Josh Moser

 

Josh Moser

Greetings VASTAns,

Spring is in the air, and the conference is just around the corner. Check out Claudia Anderson's article below for some detailed conference information, and as Lynn mentioned, be sure to check out the VASTA website

Also, by the end of this year we will need a new Associate Editor for the newsletter, as my term as Editor will be over in December, and Lisa will take over as Editor for the next term in 2017. If you are interested in serving VASTA as an officer, and have some basic editing skills and technological capabilities, please email me with your interest and note any relevant experience.

All the best,

Josh Moser

Editor, The VASTA Voice

 

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The 30th Anniversary VASTA Conference in Chicago August 8-11, 2016
Claudia Anderson

Claudia Anderson

The 30th Annual VASTA Conference, “Dynamic Dialogues and Connections”, will be held August 8-11, in Chicago, IL, at DePaul University in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. The conference venue is The Theatre School; a five-story building at 2350 N. Racine Ave. You will enjoy the beautiful classroom spaces and theatre.  

We have secured special rates for the VASTA conference at three hotels in Lincoln Park, to allow you to walk or take a one-stop train ride from the hotel to the conference. Book early to secure a room within 15 minute walking distance to DePaul. The Lincoln Park neighborhood is located north of the downtown “loop” of Chicago.  It is a 40-minute train ride from the VASTA venue to The Palmer House, where the ATHE Conference follows on August 11.  

This is our first conference to use an App to access conference schedules and information. As soon as that information is available, we will post it on the VASTA website. Take advantage of WiFi at The Theatre School, and sign on to Eduroam.

Lisa Nathans and I have been working on shaping the structure for the rich array of Member Presentations that were submitted to us. We have scheduled thirty-five sessions, ranging in time from 30-minute warm-up sessions to 70-minute workshops and panels. Members were encouraged by the conference theme to submit sessions with multiple presenters; therefore, the potential for rich dialogue is very exciting. Topics range from "Training Trans Voices", "Marrying the Art and Science of Voicework in the Classroom", "Accents of the African Diaspora", to "Teaching Voice and Speech in the Corporate World" to name just a few.

Plan to arrive early on Monday, August 8, sign in between 2pm and 5pm in the lobby at The Theatre School, and arrive on time to the Fullerton Theatre just off the lobby for the opening event: “Chicago Theatre Artists Panel: The Politics of Race and Identity in Performance.” Following the panel is the opening night reception, from 6:45-8:30pm.  During the next two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, we will have breakout sessions facilitated by E. Patrick Johnson, anchored by respondent/presenters Cynthia DeCure, Michelle Lopez-Rios, Amy Mihyang-Ginther, Joy Lanceta, Phyllis Griffin and Jerome Beck, to further explore the topic and “Implications for Voice and Speech Training.” These sessions have the potential to inspire “dynamic dialogues” among conference attendees--about training, consulting, and performance.

Tuesday and Wednesday, Jeffrey Crockett will lead sessions focused on a direct experience of breath. Crockett describes the workshop: “The goals of the work are to bring about transparency, authenticity and intimacy in communication. The foundation of the work is based in the phenomenon that sensation, presence, and breath that comes and goes on its own are all three interrelated. The unconscious breath can be sensed consciously setting up a powerful dialogue between conscious and unconscious, strengthening the self, stimulating creativity, authenticity and spontaneity. As we practice we become aware that breath reflects states of being and we practice not only with a focus toward our inner experience, but also with a partner and with the group.”

The third in the triad of featured sessions in rotation is an opportunity to explore your own leadership. “Authentic, Wholehearted Leadership” is based on the principles of the “Academy for Leaders” and “Courage to Lead” programs. Experienced leaders in leadership development, Greg Eaton and Barbara Hummel have decades of experience working with university administration, not for profit, and businesses. Greg and Barbara will facilitate sessions in groups of 30-35 members, meeting both Tuesday and Wednesday. Read A Hidden Wholeness, by Parker J. Palmer, or take a look on the Courage & Renewal website at the many articles and videos that will give you some insight into this work before the conference.

On Tuesday early evening will be the Identity Cabaret, featuring VASTA members sharing themselves in performance for each other in the Fullerton theatre. Led by organizer and emcee Judith Shahn, the cabaret is presented by the VASTA Diversity Committee. On Wednesday evening, Master Lessac Teachers Barry Kur, Deborah Kinghorn and Nancy Krebs will lead a workshop designed to acquaint or reacquaint VASTA members with the Kinesensic sensory learning process devised by Arthur Lessac. They currently lead the major workshops of the Lessac Training and Research Institute and mentor certification candidates. The workshop will explore the basic body and vocal energy principles and share the evolution of the training. Coincidentally, Sue Ann Park, Master Lessac Teacher, taught at the Goodman School of Drama beginning in 1961, the year Lessac privately published the first edition of The Use and Training of the Human Voice. The Goodman School of Drama would become The Theatre School, DePaul University, in 1978. 

On Thursday morning, Sue Demel and Bill Brickey from Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music will lead us in song. In their session, “Letting Legacy Evolve.” Sue Demel (member of Sons of the Never Wrong and Come Sunday) a seasoned singer and teacher, and Bill Brickey (Come Sunday member) who infuses soul and funk into the palette of his singer-songwriter roots, will combine their talents to take traditional songs, invite harmonies, and work in call and response. The Old Town School teaches and celebrates music and cultural expressions rooted in the traditions of diverse American and global communities. Bill and Sue embody that tradition. 

 

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Conference Topic: Politics of Race and Identity

Marie Ramirez Downing

Marie Ramirez Downing

As Assistant Conference Planner for VASTA 2016: Dynamic Dialogues and Connections, I am very enthusiastic about this year’s guests and sessions. As a member of VASTA’s diversity committee, I am especially eager for the topic that opens the conference and continues in rotation over the next two days of the conference. Discussion begins with the Monday evening, 5pm panel moderated by Cameron Knight, Professor of Acting, Shakespeare and Heightened text at DePaul University on "The Politics of Race and Identity in Performance". Chicago theatre artists Chuck Smith, Ron OJ Parson, Sandra Marquez and Coya Paz will be opening the discussion from their points of view as practitioners. Over the next two days, E. Patrick Johnson, Carlos Montezuma Professor of Performance Studies and African American Studies (Northwestern University), will be leading the sessions on "The Politics of Race and Identity in Performance with an emphasis on the Implications for Voice and Speech Training." All of the Monday and Tuesday sessions include presenter/respondents from the VASTA Community, to specifically tackle the very complex but immediate discussion and what it means to us as voice trainers, teachers and consultants.

I am particularly invested in the Politics of Race and Identity because I am a person of color that has dealt with my own identity as a Mexican American Actress feeling like a political debate, but also because I currently teach two classes at CSU, Chico that relate very closely to this session.  One is called “Performance of Identity”, the other “Politics, Performance and Power”.  I am challenged every week to produce plays, articles, and exercises that engage my students in what it means to perform identity and what the political and social impact is when doing so. In my Politics class, students are being introduced to theatrical techniques to send political, ethical, and social messages through performance, and exposed to a diverse playwright base gaining knowledge in both the classic and current repertoire of theatre activists that are still relevant to today’s political and theatrical climate. In my “Performance of Identity” class, my students are reading and seeing plays and performances that portray a wide variety of identities, and we examine the challenges performers face when they perform identity and have to modify or conform to “fit” an identity they are cast in. Also what conforming to a stereotype does to their psyche and the political message it sends to those close to them and the broader media audience.  At VASTA this year, I am hoping to gain even greater insight into the discussion as it relates to the performer and how race politics play a role in their theatre and film careers.

When I spoke to Cameron Knight about what some of the opening night questions might look like we touched on a variety of topics, but one was, “How do actors navigate the professional world of theatre as an actor of color once they leave the training world and embark on work in Film, Television and Theatre?” One of the challenges we agreed on, is how the professional world expects actors of color to sound and behave.  I shared my own experiences as a Latina actress and being told by directors that I sound too “white” and that I need to “Latin it up” and perfect my “Spanish accent” if I want to be successful and get roles. As a young actor I did that and therefore I got roles and fit the stereotype they wanted me to play. This was contrary to my early training in the mid 90s where I was taught a "prescribed way of speaking" to sound more stage neutral and less like an individual. So I was caught between playing a stereotype of a Mexican American Woman, and sounding like a blank articulate canvas of an American Stage Actor and not knowing how to express my true identity when it came to bringing myself, my voice, to a role.  Cameron also talked about his classical training at The University of Delaware and how his voice and speech are reflective of his training but did not prepare him to fit the stereotypical “African American sound” and he felt like he could not even access that part of his identity.  Yet directors still ask that of many actors, who are left thinking, as Cameron put it, “I didn’t go to school to be a stereotype.” Yet, both of us have friends that live and work in LA that say things like “I can’t afford to have principles right now.” This is difficult to swallow but it’s a reality actors are faced with when playing race politics. What we hope the opening panel of practitioners can touch on is navigating racial stereotypes and casting in the professional theatre.  We will hear from Sandra Marquez, a Mexican American actress as well as Ron O.J. Parson an African American actor and director both in Chicago among others and get their perspective on the matter which we feel hopeful will be a fruitful and insightful discusion.

The rotating session will be facilitated by E. Patrick Johnson.  E. Patrick is a scholar/artist, and performs nationally and internationally and has published widely in the areas of race, gender, sexuality and performance. The section will spark a discussion about ways Voice and Speech teachers currently approach a diverse classroom and whether there is something we could be doing in the classroom that paints a broader picture of those students of color in the way of material used and exercises explored. When I spoke with E. Patrick he felt that rather than accepting theatrical material that is fed to us as actors, we should make a statement and break stereotypes in theatre and film by creating new work that reflects how we as actors of color want to be portrayed. He also said that this discussion is “so complex, so layered” and it’s bound to be a colorful conversation, and full of several passionate and strong opinions.  Some of the best work I have seen from my students has been work they have created about their personal identity, heritage and story. It is truly “their voice” and they are not ashamed of it nor are they reaching to achieve a “neutral” sound. However E. Patrick also felt that “We should provide a pedagogical experience…we should be doing the classics and Shakespeare.” I hope the panel of educators discusses how to let the individual identity of the student be heard but also the question and balance and exposure to the western canon of theatre and whether it is relevant or not to the diverse classroom in today’s theatre programs.

In anticipation of the August Conference, below are a few articles, books, and a video I find useful on the topic.  Ayanna Thompson, one of VASTA’s former featured presenters, has authored/co-authored books and articles on the matter of Race and Performance. One particular video that really fed my soul in regard to performing racial identity because it fights the stereotypes African American Women are faced with in today’s society is by Mahogony L. Browne entitled “Black Girl Magic.” I think it’s a powerful piece that speaks to the expectations forced on African American Women in everyday life and to the African American performer.  This can be seen on the PBS Newshour “Brief but Spectacular” segment.  Sessions like these are one of the reasons I feel VASTA is a place I can really have a voice and that I can gain new perspectives by collaborating with fellow members, colleagues and guests panelists such as the ones at this conference. I look forward to seeing you all in Chicago.

Ayanna Thompson. Passing Strange: Shakespeare, Race, and Contemporary America (Oxford University Press, 2011) Performing Race and Torture on the Early Modern Stage (Routledge, 2008) Editor, Weyward Macbeth: Intersections of Race and Performance (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) (co-edited with Scott Newstok) Colorblind Shakespeare: New Perspectives on Race and Performance (Routledge, 2006)

E. Patrick Johnson. Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of Authenticity, Duke University Press Books (July 23, 2003)

Bear Bellinger. Vox.com essay “I’m a black actor. Here’s how inequality works when you’re not famous.”

Valerie Strauss. The Washington Post: “Teacher: A student told me I ‘couldn’t understand because I was a white lady.’ Here’s what I did then.”

 

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VASTA MD: Hearing Loss and the Voice

Dr. Yolanda Heman-Ackah

Hearing loss alters the way one perceives his/her own voice, which in turn, can alter the way one uses his/her voice.  Human hearing occurs through the actions of the ear drum and the small bones (ossicles) in the middle ear, which transmit sound waves to the inner ear.  The inner ear is a fluid filled organ that houses microscopic hair cells that bend when the fluid moves from the force of the sound waves.  The hair cells then transmit an electrical current corresponding to the pitch of the sound to the auditory nerve, which transmits a signal that is interpreted as the perception of that sound by the brain.

When there is an issue with the middle ear, sound waves are ineffectively transformed by the ear drum and the ossicles to the inner ear.  The result is that the individual has a decreased hearing sensation and sounds in the environment are heard at a lower volume than others hear them.  Because sound that originates within the individual has the ability to vibrate bone within the head, however, the individual often perceives the sound of his/her voice as being louder than how others perceive his/her voice to be.  This happens because sounds from the atmosphere are perceived by the individual as being softer than normal, so there is less background noise to dampen the sound of the individual’s voice from how he/she would ordinarily hear it.  In ensembles, theater performances, and choral singing, the individual will have difficulty projecting his/her voice because of this altered self-perception.  Conditions that typically cause middle ear hearing loss (also called conductive hearing loss) are ear infections, fluid in the middle ear, holes in the ear drum, tumors in the middle ear, stiffness of the ossicles, and/or disruption of the ossicles.

When there is an issue with the inner ear or auditory nerve, the perception of all sound is decreased.  In this situation, everything that the individual hears is softer to him/her than it is to others.  The result is that the individual will often talk or sing louder than others in order to hear his/her own voice.  He/She has difficulty modulating the volume of his/her voice, and often overuses the voice to compensate for the hearing loss.  These individuals are at increased risk for damage to the vocal folds from overuse and commonly develop nodules, polyps, cysts, and other lesions on the vocal folds.  An integral part of rehabilitating the voice when overuse problems occur is to correct the hearing loss with the use of hearing aids.  If hearing loss is identified before damage to the vocal folds occurs, hearing aids/assistive hearing devices are usually recommended to help protect the voice from injury in the performing artist.  Conditions that cause hearing loss from inner ear or auditory nerve problems (typically referred to as sensorineural hearing loss) usually are congenital (present from birth or early childhood), acquired from medications (such as antibiotics and chemotherapy agents), caused by autoimmune disease, caused by vascular disease (such as hypertension or vasculitis), acquired from infections (such as Lyme disease or syphilis), or are caused by tumors on the auditory nerve.

When coaching an individual who has difficulty modulating the volume of his or her voice, a hearing assessment and an evaluation by an otolaryngologist is recommended to evaluate for hearing loss.

 

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Committee Chair Updates

Engagement Committee Update

Joanna Battles

Joanna BattlesHappy Spring, VASTA Community, from the Engagement Committee!

Please join me in congratulating VASTA member, Suzanne Cerreta, recent awardee of the Interdisciplinary Engagement Grant. Suzanne will present her paper, "Engaging the Senses: A sensory-based Approach for L2 Pronunciation Teaching", at the American Association for Applied Linguistics 2016 Conference. Suzanne's research centers on the use of theatrical work with second language learners. In the spirit of the upcoming VASTA conference, Dynamic Dialogues and Connections, we would like to encourage further applicants for the Interdisciplinary Engagement Grant. You can find out more information here.

The Engagement Committee continues to broaden the visibility of our organization through initiatives such as the "VASTA Award" presented at each of the regional conferences of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, as well as the creation of VASTA marketing materials, such as a VASTA bookmark available for wide distribution at conferences and festivals. If you are interested in helping us with the implementation of projects like these, please consider joining us at the upcoming VASTA Conference this summer in Chicago. We will be meeting to discuss the future endeavors of our committee and would love your participation. Details to come.   

Lastly, the Engagement Committee would also like to bring your attention to a VASTA Conference Scholarship available for junior high and high school drama teachers. VASTA will pay up to $500 toward airfare and waive the conference fee for a lucky drama teacher seeking to enrich their teaching and refresh their artistic inspiration. If you know of a worthy junior high or high school drama teacher who would be excited by this opportunity, please have him or her email a letter to engagement@vasta.org stating why attending VASTA's annual conference would be of value, and how it would help to meet personal and teaching goals. Be sure to include the name and location of place of employment, mailing address, email, and phone number.

 

ATHE Debut Panel

Kristi Dana

Kristi Dana

Hello VASTANS!

We have extended the deadline and are accepting last-minute submissions from VASTA members interested in being a part of the VASTA Debut Panel at ATHE. We encourage First-Time ATHE Presenters who have short presentations to share, approximately 20 minutes, to share hands-on voice and speech exercises and/or paper topics.  Please send your 250-word paper/presentation abstract directly to me no later than April 22nd, 2016. You may still participate in this panel, even if you have already presented at conferences other than ATHE.

See you in Chicago in August for VASTA and ATHE!

All best,

Kristi Dana                                                                                                                                       

Officer, ATHE Conference Planner for VASTA, 2015-2017                                                    athe.planner@vasta.org

 

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Tech Corner: A review of VowelViz for iOS from CompleteSpeech

Eric Armstrong

Eric ArmstrongLast fall I got the chance to participate in a webinar that was hosted by Lorna Sikorski of LDSAssociates, in order to see the possibilities of a new iOS app, VowelViz from SmartPalate, now "CompleteSpeech". VowelViz is an app for iPhone or iPad that allows users to visualize their vowel quality by mapping in real time where their vowels lie on a standard IPA Vowel chart. I enjoyed the webinar, which suggested that users would be able to see what they hear when learning to distinguish vowels.

I purchased VowelViz from the App Store on my iPad, and installed it easily. The app opens directly to a large, full screen standard IPA vowel chart. As their website suggests, "by changing tongue position during speech, users use their own speech as a verbal joystick to guide the movement of a small orange ball to ranges for targeted vowels." You can select an IPA symbol on the chart (the chart includes the symbols , and the program then highlights a target space on the chart where you should try to move the orange ball towards. 

Unfortunately, there is no way of adjusting the vowel chart to work appropriately with different vowel tracts. Interactive vowel charting of this nature is done by comparing F1 and F2 values, and the appropriate values differ quite significantly for adult males, adult females and children. The software must be trying to make some kind of adjustment based on F0 (the pitch of the speech it is measuring), so that it can adapt to different voices. As a result, its effectiveness is highly variable. Most of the time, it didn't work for me at all. However, I've found that after using it with a female voice, it seems to recalibrate, and then does better when sensing a male voice! It definitely does better when used with a mic, such as the one found on Apple "Earpods," as that helps to filter out any background noise.

When it works, you can quickly and easily play with different vowel qualities, though it appears to do better with short vowels, such as one might encounter in words like "beat, bit, bait, bet, bat". I had hoped to be able to sustain a vowel and slide through a number of vowel qualities IPA symbols, but the software doesn't seem to handle that well, with very inconsistent results. The ball just dances around on the chart, and then jumps to from one vowel to another, in spite of the fact that I'm fairly smoothly moving through many vowel qualities. When compared to something like the KayPentax SonaMatch software, the clinical gold standard for this kind of product, there really is no comparison. However, that system costs thousands of dollars; VowelViz cost only $19.99 USD (it cost me $27.99 CAD). While that is "expensive" for an iOS app, it does help to remember that this is a product targeted at a niche market—primarily SLPs—who could purchase this as a tool for work.

I was very excited about this product, but ultimately I was quite disappointed with it because of how poorly it works. Due to its inconsistent functionality, I feel I have to warn people against purchasing it. In fact, I went to the Apple App Store and requested a refund, which I got, because it doesn't work for me.

 

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Diversity Column

Cynthia DeCure

Cynthia Santos DeCure

Greetings,

I’m excited to report that we received a large amount of applicants for the 2016 VASTA Diversity/International Scholarships. The selection committee is currently reviewing the applications and the two recipients will be notified in early May. We look forward to welcoming them to the conference this summer. 

Diversity Committee's 3rd annual Identity Cabaret:

The Identity Cabaret is an initiative of the Diversity Committee and has been one of the highlights of the conference for the past two years, and is dependent on the talents of VASTA members!

Do you have a song, poem or piece of text to share? The Identity Cabaret is the forum for you to share this work. 

The Identity Cabaret will be held on Tuesday, August 9 from 5:45pm -7:30pm in the Fullerton Theater at DePaul.  Members are encouraged to go to dinner after the performances. This year Judith Shahn will once again serve as emcee of the cabaret, and will organize the performers. She is thrilled to MC the Identity Cabaret and witness her fellow VASTANS daring greatly up on the stage. Performance slots are limited as is the time allotted for each performance (3-5 minutes each). If you are interested in performing in the cabaret, please contact Judith Shahn at jshahn@comcast.net.

I look forward to seeing as many members as possible in Chicago!

Abrazos y adelante!

 

Cynthia DeCure

Diversity Committee Chair

 

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Freelance Coaching Column

Marina Tyndall and Lucinda Worlock

Marina TyndallLucinda Warlock

Lauren Ferraro is the founder and owner of Lauren Ferraro: Public Speaking for the Digital Age. Lauren is a former Professor of Speech and Dialects at George Brown College and recruited Instructor of Advanced Speaking and Presentation Technology at Ryerson University. Business leaders, entrepreneurs and top professionals across a variety of industries, have called upon Lauren's expertise to empower them to connect with others through their words and use of language. Lauren is a TEDx Speaker Coach, a Huffington Post contributor and guest on Newstalk 1010’s The Roundtable. She has been featured for expertise in Public Speaking on CP24, Global Morning, CH Morning Live, Global BC1, The Nightside with Barb DiGiulio, Sirius Radio’s What She Said and the Comedy Network. 

 

The Clash of Content

How to ensure your visual aids support, not kill your presentation

Lauren Ferraro

Lauren FerraroIt’s a classic scenario, all too often repeated: a keynote speaker steps up to the podium, and begins his address. Within moments, his fingers squeeze the clicker, and a barrage of bar graphs, pie charts and bullet points fill the screens. Fifteen minutes into his presentation, he feels a palpable shift in the energy of the room. It’s only mid-morning, yet he sees delegates’ eyes glazing over, and chins beginning to droop. Already, he’s lost them. What went wrong?

One of the most common errors committed by the executive speakers in my coaching practice is they present decks that are over-saturated with content, and disconnected from the core messages. They lack the understanding of what I call Visual Storytelling. In this article, I examine some of the top Dos and Donts when putting together your presentation.
 

1) Decks are Support Material, not Additional Material

Storytelling resides at the heart of any impactful presentation. You act as storyteller when giving a presentation, regardless of the content. Just like the teacher in the classroom, you expose the audience to characters and their actions, and provide context for understanding them. 

You even frame our feelings about the information you’ve provided. Just as it is in storybooks, pictures support the narrative, without dominating. Powerful presentations require the same approach. 

Whether you're using PowerPoint, Prezi, Sway or Keynote, the winning formula contains visuals that support your spoken content. Well-produced visuals add impact,  guide the story along, and deliver that story in a concise and captivating way. 
 

2) Don’t overload your audience!

There’s often a subconscious driving notion that the more we 'tell' the audience, the more impact our presentation will have. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is our own ego. Putting out a litany of information makes us feel smarter. We vainly cling to the false equation that more data equals greater presentation punch. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Filling the screen with graphs, charts, bullet points and cartoon characters does not aid your key content. Why? Because the audience has to digest everything you are delivering, simultaneously. The eye can read only so fast. The brain can focus on only one idea at a time. And, crucially, the audience must harmonize information coming in through two senses at once (oral and visual).

For every slide in your deck, be disciplined in asking these three questions:

  • What do I want to give the audience?
  • On what do I want the audience to focus?
  • What is the take-away message? 
     

3) A picture is still worth a thousand words

Besides the usual assortment of graphs and charts, you will often feel inclined to use photographs to enhance your message. Unless your presentation covers specific events for which custom images exist, you may gravitate towards stock photographs. It’s here, once again, that you risk stepping on a presentation landmine. 

When using stock photographs, aim to include strong, high-resolution images that really underscore your message. This often means leaving yourself extra time to scour and search online libraries, as the Internet presents a dizzying array of choices. The extra time spent will pay dividends come presentation day. 

Wherever possible, avoid photos that have only cursory or minimal connection to your message. Also, be sparing in your image choices - having too many images crowds the eye and diminishes the impact. One powerful image outperforms ten mediocre ones. 
 

4) Colour Selection matters

Earlier I used the analogy of the pictures in a storybook. The illustrator’s choice of colours deeply affects our experience of the story. The same applies to your deck. When designing your presentation, pay particular attention to the colours you choose. While there are variations between one culture and another, we all have associations with colour that date right back to childhood. Amp up your visual storytelling by matching your colour choices to your messages. Take time to do a little research on what different colours ‘mean’, and use them accordingly. 

Once you’ve done all that work, take preparatory steps to ensure it isn’t sabotaged by the equipment at your venue. Remember that the colours you see on your laptop may not translate perfectly to the big screen in the presentation hall. Whenever possible, arrive early to set up, so you can work with the technicians on hand to ensure the colours match. Do a mock run-through – not only will this give you an opportunity to check your visuals, it offers you one more chance to sharpen your oral presentation as well.
 

5) Font Selection matters too!

Once you’ve taken the time to ensure you’ve chosen optimal colours, apply the same detailed approach to font selection. Again, select fonts that compliment your message. While it might seem that choosing ‘fancy’ fonts makes your visual storytelling more artistic, in reality it slows down the uptake of information, since the audience has to first make sense of the font, then figure out what information you’re conveying. The KISS principle applies here – simple is best. Limit yourself to two fonts, maximum. If you must use more ornate fonts, limit them to titles or headings. 

Point size requires good judgment, too. Ensure that you use a point size that reads well right to the back of the room. Your text might look fabulous to you on the laptop screen two feet from your nose, but that says nothing of how it will look to the people sitting seventy feet away from the big screen. 
 

6) Ditch the laser pointer

It may seem counterintuitive, but laser pointers distract and confuse more than they help. In addition to the effort required to make sense of the slide itself, you now ask the audience to find and follow a tiny red dot, dancing through the middle of the data. Best to keep the slides concise, so that your spoken words alone can guide the attendees through the visual story.
 

7) Lead them on

I want to keep driving back to the main point: your goal is to tell a story. Lead the audience through a succinct storyline that is easy to follow. Again, resist the temptation to prove that you are the expert – this is the rabbit hole that will cause you to overload your slides with information. Less is always more with visual storytelling. Leave the audience with ‘golden nuggets’ along the way – key ideas and concepts that maintain engagement, while providing new insights.
 

8) Spoken word, physical gesture, and visual storytelling work together

All of what I’ve said assumes you’ve put in the time to ensure your oral presentation hits all of the marks. The rising and falling of vocal pitch, pacing and use of pauses, increasing and decreasing vocal intensity – all of these indicate to the audience what information most needs to be absorbed. Hand gestures do much of the same.

Reinforce your messages by repeating key information, having the audience guess what information the next slide may contain, and markedly changing the pitch of your voice between bullet points. Strive to combine the oral, gestural, and visual aspects of your presentation into a seamless whole.
 

Conclusion

Good presentation is an art, and any art takes time to master. Implement these strategies as you devise your presentation, and you will dramatically up your game as an engaging and effective visual storyteller. 

Stay with the tried-and-true principles we learned sitting on the carpet during kindergarten story-time. This will guard against your audience succumbing to involuntary naps or tantrums, and propel you on to give presentations that are truly worth talking about afterwards.

 

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Member News

Lisa Nathans

Lisa Nathans

Dear VASTA Community,

This edition of the VASTA Voice contains member news from the Western Region Members. In the next issue, we will be including news from members living in the Northeast and New York regions (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland). 

Happy reading! We look forward to seeing you in Chicago!!

Warm best,

Lisa Nathans                                                                                  

Associate Editor, The VASTA Voice


 

LAUREN LOVETT (Los Angeles, CA USA) New Podcast: First Breath Speech. Lauren is a graduate of the Juilliard School and has studied voice and speech with Deborah Hecht, Robert Neff Williams, Shane Ann Younts and Patsy Rodenburg. Recently, she launched a podcast centering around the voice called First Breath Speech, containing interviews with casting directors, actors, producers, yoga instructors and psychologists, as well as some instructional tips and practices. Lauren is the head of the voice department at the Art of Acting Studios in LA. Lauren is also working in collaboration with some voice coaches and celebrity names from around the world on a new project in Europe -- more soon!
 

Joan Schirle

 

JOAN SCHIRLE (Blue Lake, CA) recently visited the Alexander teacher-training course in Los Angles (ATI-LA), where she shared work she teaches at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre, combining voice, AT, movement and improvisation. Joan is a senior teacher of the AT, certified in 1969. She is writing a play about water issues, commissioned by the Mad River Festival for summer 2016. Also this summer she’ll teach a workshop in Denmark on "Character Devising through Voice & Alexander Technique," as well as collaborate on a theatre project involving mobile sailing sculptures in Aalborg, DK. She authored two chapters in the recent Routledge Companion to Commedia dell’Arte.

 


 

Andrea CabanANDREA CABAN, MFA (Long Beach, CA) is completing her third year as Head of Voice and Speech at Cal State Long Beach and Associate Director of Knight-Thompson Speechwork.  This year she developed a new solo play, The Voice Bank, based on the voice and accent modifications she created for a woman suffering from ALS. The play is the arts-based research component to the clinical research case study she presented at the VASTA conference in Montreal. In November, Andrea was invited to perform the play at Penn State’s Art and Design Research Incubator, a space where art and science learn from each other. Andrea was selected to perform at Chicago’s Greenhouse Theatre as part of their 7 month curated celebration of solo performance. The performances will run concurrent with the VASTA and ATHE conferences this August. 
 


NATSUKO OHAMA (Los Angeles/NYC) is Professor of Practice and head of Voice, MFA Acting at the University of Southern California.  Trained with Kristin Linklater and Peter Kass and is a founding member of Shakespeare and Company. She teaches as well in private practice and coaching in many parts of the country (Canada, Italy, Turkey and upcoming China).  In June of 2016, she is leading a workshop at the Celebration Barn in Maine on the Performer and the Voice.  www.natsukoohama.com

 

 

 

LISA NATHANS (Los Angeles, CA). In addition to VASTA conference planning and newsletter editing, Lisa has been teaching Linklater Voice for the BFA and MFA Acting conservatoire students at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Velencia, CA this semester. She has also been teaching with the Stella Adler Academy in Hollywood, and for Adele Cabot at her voice studio in Culver City, LA VoiceJoy. After a lengthy job search Lisa is thrilled to announce she will be joining Leigh Wilson Smiley and the incredible faculty at The University of Maryland; School of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies, as their new Tenure Track Assistant Professor of Voice and Acting this fall.
 

Amy Mihyang Ginther

AMY MIHYANG GINTHER (Santa Cruz, CA) just got back from South Korea where she gave a lecture at Sungkyunkwan University about Shakespeare in relation to universalism and access. She taught a workshop through Seoul Shakespeare Company that focused on playful investigation of text. Amy coached the recent production of Master Class with the Jewel Theatre in Santa Cruz and is about to teach her third quarter at UCSC. She will travel to NYC and LA next month to conduct research workshops with co-collaborator Oh Myo Kim to investigate the intersection of Armstrong and Rodger's Archetype work and processing embodied adoptee trauma.




 

Lauri SmithLAURI SMITH, MFA, CPCC, PCC (San Mateo, CA) is thriving as CEO and Owner of Voice Matters, LLC.  In October of 2015 she published her first book, Your Voice Matters: A Guide To Speaking Soulfully When It Counts, which is currently available online in both Kindle and paperback formats.  She’s currently busy recording the Audible version, which will be released later this year.  At Voice Matters, Lauri’s passionate mission is elevating leaders’ voices and consciousness, which then transforms and amplifies their impact in the world. She's worked with thousands of individuals and corporate teams to connect to their deeper purpose and empower innovation – enabling them to speak from their authentically compelling selves when it matters most.  She helps Leaders do more than communicate – she helps them move people.
 

Crystal Robbins


CRYSTAL ROBBINS (Los Angeles, CA) just directed the Lessac West Coast Weekender Workshop, a two-day immersion experience of the Lessac work. As the Resident Teaching Artist at Burbank High School, she is coaching Much Ado About Nothing this spring and will be directing The Tempest this summer with the Burbank Youth Summer Theatre Institute, her eighth year as a founding director.  She will be teaching along with the master teachers at the Lessac Four-Week Intensive at Depauw University in Greencastle, IN this July.

 

 

 

 

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VASTA Board of Directors & Officers

Board of Directors

Lynn Watson
President 
2014 - 2016

Mandy Rees
Past President
2014 - 2016

Betty Moulton
President Elect
2014 - 2016

 

 

 

Directors

Michelle Lopez-Rios
2015-2018

Ursula Meyer
2015-2018

John Graham
2015-2018

Erika Bailey
2015-2018

Hilary Blair
2013-2016

Adrianne Moore
2013-2016

Kim Bey
2014-2017

D'Arcy Smith
2014-2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Officers

Natasha Staley  
Secretary
2015-2017

Artemis Preeshl
Treasurer
2015-

Jeff Morrison
Editor, The Voice & Speech Review
2011-

Tara McAllister Viel
Associate Editor, The Voice & Speech Review
2011-

Josh Moser
Editor, The VASTA Voice
2015-2016

Lisa Nathans
Associate Editor, The VASTA Voice
2015-2016

Thrasso Petras
Director of Membership
2013-

Claudia Anderson
Director of Annual Conferences
2015-2016

Kristi Dana
ATHE Conference Planner

Megan Chang
Associate ATHE Conference Planner

Rene Pulliam
ATHE Focus Group Representative

Cynthia Bassham
Human Resources Director
2014-2017

Michael J. Barnes
Senior Technical Director
2014-

Adriano Cabral
Director of Technology/Internet Service 
2012-

Yolanda Heman-Ackah
VASTA MD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Associate Officers

Amy Stoller
Editor, VASTA Links Page

Flloyd Kennedy
Editor, Workshop & Events Page
2015-2017

Janet B. Rodgers
VASTA Archive Catalogist 

Brad Gibson
Bibliographer

Judd Johnson
Social Media Manager

Keely Wolter
Social Media Content Manager

 

 

Committee Chairs

Barry Kur
Chair, Awards and Grants Committee

Cynthia DeCure
Chair, Diversity Committee

Joanna Battles & Tamara Meneghini
Chair, Engagement Committee

TBA
Chair, Teaching and Learning Committee

Amy Mihyang Ginther
Chair, International Committee

 

 

 

Contact Information Available at VASTA.ORG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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©2010, Voice and Speech Trainers Association