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An Interview with Susan Berkley

In this interview, Susan talks about her business model and narrations in PowerPoint.


Susan Berkley Susan Berkley is a former radio personality and a well-known voice on TV and radio commercials and phone lines. Recently featured in The New York Times, The LA Times, Business Week and on CNBC, she is one of the voices that says "Thank you for using AT&T," and is the voice of Citiphone Banking.

You can learn more about Susan and her work at her site, Great Voice.

Geetesh: How did you evolve your business model?

Speak to Influence Susan: I founded The Great Voice Company in New York City in 1987. Before that I was a radio personality for many years, including a stint as a cast member on The Howard Stern Show. Stern is a well known "shock-jock" in the United States. But I wanted to do more voice-overs, so I left radio and started my own business as a freelance voice talent. At the same time I also started giving voice workshops. Fortunately both my freelance voiceover career and my workshops took off. I got booked for many commercials and narrations and developed a speciality as a voice for phone systems, becoming one of the signature voices for AT&T and Citibank. I then developed my VoiceShaping® method, based on broadcast speaking techniques, whereby anyone can achieve greater confidence and credibility and improve the sound of their voice. In 1999 I wrote Speak To Influence: How To Unlock The Hidden Power of Your Voice, which became a presentation skills bestseller. Today, The Great Voice Company records voice prompts for phone systems in all languages for companies worldwide. We also provide training for people who want to become professional voice-over artists and of course, training for anyone who wants to improve the sound of their voice and speak with confidence.

Geetesh: How does the Internet help your business?

Susan: Almost all of our customers and most of our sales leads come to us via the Internet. Our Great Voice site focuses on our training and related products. I also publish two free ezines, The VoiceCoach, where I share monthly speaking tips, and Inside Voiceover, for voice talent. These newsletters are distributed by email, of course, and can be subscribed to at Great Voice. We have over 10,000 combined subscribers worldwide. I just recently taught a very successful series of "Speak To Influence" webinars (web based seminars) in partnership with The Call Center School.

Geetesh: Do narrations in Powerpoint presentations work?

Susan: I'm not sure what you mean by this. My Speak To Influence web seminar uses the PlaceWare (now Microsoft-Office Live Meeting) platform where a PowerPoint presentation is loaded into the platform and the audio portion is taught live by via teleconference. This works extremely well. It is interactive and allows me to conduct live training from my desktop for companies across the US and even as far away as the Phillipines.

I can't imagine why someone doing a stand up presentation in front of an audience would use a narration in a PowerPoint. But for tradeshows and other presentations, such as electronic brochures, it can be extremely effective. A narration recorded by a professional voiceover artist (such as the voice talent we provide through the Great Voice Company (wink, wink)) and embedded in a PowerPoint, ensures that the presentation will be clear, consistent and powerful. And it can be recorded in different languages as well. When I speak, I will often embed sound files in my PowerPoint presentations to demonstrate our work at The Great Voice Company.

Geetesh: Why is public speaking so frightening for many people?

Susan: Several reasons:

  1. Public speaking is an act of affection-giving, sharing, motivating, teaching -- and, as crazy as it seems, we are terrified of affection. We unconsciously think it is somehow prejudicial.
  2. We are terribly critical of ourselves and we project our own self criticism onto the audience, imagining that they will judge us, when this judgement really comes from within.
  3. We are overly focused on ourselves, how we look, how we come across, rather than on giving something of value to the audience.

All of these things create stress and a sudden adrenaline rush. If you're not used to it, all that adrenaline can create some pretty scary but basically harmless and short lived symptoms that we typically associate with speech fright. I help people understand the reasons why they become so stressed when they have to speak in public and then give them some practical things they can do to help burn off that excess adrenaline so they can feel more comfortable.

Geetesh: What do you mean by the hidden power of your voice?

Susan: There is tremendous beauty and power in the human voice and most people haven't even begun to explore this potential, let alone other explore the other talents and qualities they possess. In my work, I give people not only solid, practical techniques, but also the courage to explore the hidden, inner part of themselves which is the source of confidence and inspiration, of true speaking mastery.

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