Jenny Matthews – Certified Speech Pathologist
Trusting Her Voice – And Making It Heard!
‘A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman but the search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult.’ – Melinda Gates
Have you felt literally choked up before speaking at a meeting, in front of a crowd or your boss? Do you want to sound more confident even if you feel unsure and shy on the inside? Do you struggle to connect with your audience? The power of voice allows us to share our own Feminessence and connect with others.
At Bayside Voice Centre in the Cleveland suburb of Brisbane we optimise women’s voices allowing them to speak their truth and enhance their relationships. We collaborate with clients for whom voice is a critical part of their job, including teachers, gym instructors, call centre operators, public speakers, tour guides, counsellors and performers to develop a strong, reliable voice.
Why is my work so important to me?
I am privileged to be living my dream of working with women to have their voices heard and appreciated because I have been there myself. I have experienced the impact on my own voice that fear, self-doubt, tension and illness can cause.
When I began primary school, I was a happy confident child with a circle of friends. I was the youngest in the grade, but this didn’t bother me. When I was in grade four, I moved schools and I found it to be a difficult transition. I wasn’t quite sure how to navigate the social scene of finding new friends and around that time I also started to struggle with learning.
At the end of grade five, it was decided that I would repeat a year in the hope that my learning would catch up, and I would not seem ‘so young’ or socially naive once I was with my peers. As I started with a new cohort of kids, again I struggled to make new friendships and retreated into my shy shell for protection. I stopped speaking up to ask teachers for help with my learning. I even lied about my work stating ‘someone stole the other pages from my desk’ instead of admitting the shame and embarrassment I felt about not knowing how to tackle an assignment.
Around this time, I began speech and drama lessons, and it ignited my passion for performing as it gave me the opportunity to speak out. And while starting high school was another change, it was a fresh start. I wondered if high school was going to be like primary school. Would I ever find my tribe? One day I noticed a girl who looked friendly, but I still didn’t have the self-confidence to introduce myself. Instead, I awkwardly hung around her locker each morning tea and lunchtime, then followed her to where she sat. This girl looked past the socially clumsy, shy girl ‘stalking’ her and to this day remains my best girlfriend.
I continued to follow my passion for drama through high school by performing in school musicals, drama theory and performance exams. The confidence I built while excelling in drama had a positive impact on other areas of my academic learning. I had built my self-confidence to believe that I ‘could do anything’ and it gave me the persistence to work for my dreams.
One day I was helping my young cousin with her speech therapy homework. Because of my theoretical knowledge from drama studies, I had a rudimentary understanding of what was involved to help her. I decided that I would combine my strengths in drama and biology with my desire to help other girls find their own voice.
Leaving school was another opportunity to embrace my true voice, finding independence and confidence. After a life-changing overseas trip with my bestie, I no longer felt like the shy girl afraid to speak out or share her opinions. Instead, I returned home as the exuberant, fun, passionate person that I am. I have become the person who asks questions, who gives her opinion and the person to advocate for others who literally do not have a voice themselves.
I got married, got a house, a secure job and had two kids. I worked in a role for 20 years which allowed me to grow as a speech pathologist, teaching children to thrive through the power of communication and through developing their speech, literacy, language and social skills. Yet I could not shake the feeling something was missing. I was still not connected to my true purpose and ‘felt like a fraud’. Over a five-year period, I experienced burnout, depression and compassion fatigue. I questioned ‘what am I doing with my life?’, ‘is this what I want to be doing for the next 20 years?’, ‘what happened to my dreams?’, ‘what makes me happy?’ and ‘what is my Feminessence?’
I reflected and acknowledged that I have always had a passion for the arts and recalled my dreams as a 20-year-old of combining speech therapy with performance by doing voice coaching at NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art). While I made choices that took me down a different path, I realised that I had always kept my passion for voice slowly burning. I had continued to attend training programs such as Estill, Resonant Voice and Accent Method for the last ten years, even though it was unrelated to my current job.
In the year I turned 40, I took the plunge and started my own private business, Bayside Voice Centre, for those who wanted support with their own voice. At the end of each ‘voice’ day I would tell my family ‘Gosh I had a great day today’ and they replied laughing ‘you say that after every voice day!’ I finally understood that if you do what you love you will never work a day in your life.
Once I started to realign my priorities in line with my inner voice, opportunities of abundance have arisen. I have embraced opportunities to keep growing and moved ‘out of home’ into a formal office space. Such decisions have felt right and easy because they allow me to connect with my true voice and sense of purpose.
I have spent years helping children to develop their communication, while continuing to throw myself deep into motherhood. Now, at this time in my life, I am ready to embrace my passion for collaborating with women to connect with their own voice and Feminessence.
I believe that by helping women (my predominant client group) to enhance their own voice they, in turn, enhance their connections with others.
For those frozen by fear and self-doubt, I discuss how we can turn off the ‘caveman’ protective response causing our throat to literally feel choked.
For those wanting to connect with their audience using genuine emotions I introduce positions for the voice box (larynx) that do not cause injury.
For those yearning to be heard, I demonstrate how to project their voice for various situations.
Some people do not feel connected to their own voice because of the quality or pitch. Helping to work with the natural range their physical structures allow, in combination with language and social communication, is a positive way to find the voice that matches their identity.
Sometimes there are emotional, physical and organic causes of voice injury. While I provide the tools, I also guide the women I collaborate with to problem solve and find their own voice rather than being a ‘saviour’.
For those women with important messages to share (that’s all of us!), I provide coaching to optimise their voices and take their ‘performance’ to the next level.
I build trust through honesty and demonstrating the conscious control a woman can have over her own voice so she can speak for herself.
Thinking about my feminine and masculine sides and considering one or the other as a strength is not something I consciously do. My work embraces all for their diversity be it gender, race, religion, age or ability, so I really needed to think about what parts of me I consider as uniquely feminine. I consider both passivity and aggression as a sign of poor communication skills rather than a gender-based trait, as well as a sign of the automatic ‘caveman’ brain response to staying safe through fight, flight or freeze. The voice can also display signs of these reactions through tension, pitch, rate, breathiness and volume.
I feel that, as a woman, I tend to use the words I feel more than I think. I have an abundance of compassion and empathy that translates into my passion to support and help others. I use both my deep understanding of communication as well as following my instincts to provide a service that is both evidence-based and responsive to my clients’ personal goals. I also have a stubbornness which I like to think of as tenacity and resilience. Women are so much stronger than we give ourselves credit for.
I worked in a female-dominated profession, within a female-dominated workplace and it frustrated me that more males were in leadership roles than females. Now as I move into a business environment there is certainly more of a balance of males and females. However, in the medical space more males still dominate the specialist medical roles. I actively ‘seek out’ females in those positions so my female clients have the choice – not a male default.
To be a woman in business means to use all parts of yourself. Your brain, heart, soul and your voice.
As a woman, I bring softness and ferocity, strength and vulnerability, innovation and rational thinking, organisational skills with adaptability, negotiation and collaboration, a nurturing nature with high expectations and calmness with bouncing energy. Be true to your strengths and listen to your inner voice. Showing vulnerability and compassion takes more courage than bravado.
Optimise your voice. Share your true Feminessence. Connect with others.
Make yourself heard.