Our guest today: Denise Woods
Denise Woods has been the ‘voice behind the voice’ of a stellar array of actors for the last twenty years. She is currently coaching the Netflix feature film, The Harder They Fall, starring Idris Elba. As the creative consultant for Halle Berry’s directorial debut of the film Bruised, she contributed to the authenticity of Berry’s performance in the starring role. Denise was also the vocal coach for Mahershala Ali’s Academy Award and Golden Globe winning performances in Green Book and the 3rd Season of HBO’s True Detective. She coached Don Cheadle in the critically acclaimed Showtime series, Black Monday, Academy Award winning actor Common, Golden Globe winner David Oyelewo, Golden Globe nominated actor Idris Elba, Academy Award nominated actor Will Smith for the title role in the film Ali and Ken Watanabe for his work in the film The Last Samurai. Denise worked with Audra McDonald on her fourth Tony Award winning performance for Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess on Broadway, and was Zoe Saldana’s Dialect Coach in the feature film based on the life of Nina Simone. Her dialect coaching talents can also be heard in the 20th Century Fox film, Hidden Figures, starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, and the Focus Feature’s film, Harriet, starring Cynthia Erivo in the title role. Denise had the honor of coaching Tyler Perry for his role as Colin Powell in the 2018 Annapurna Pictures film, Vice; and she is featured in Perry’s 2018 film, Acrimony, starring Taraji P. Henson, as the ‘only-heard’ Therapist. Denise has trained executives for public speaking at corporations such as US Borax, UPS, and Bear Stearns. She has coached broadcast news anchors at NBC Nightly News, CNBC, Bloomberg News, The Today Show, CNN, Inside Edition, KTLA News, and the TV Guide Channel; and she has prepared NBA and NFL athletes for on-camera commentary. For over two decades, Denise’s clients have included Jessica Chastain, Amber Heard, Anthony Mackie, Phylicia Rashad, Ellen Burstyn, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Soledad O’Brien, Morris Chestnut, Queen Latifah, Taye Diggs, Paul Rodriguez, David Alan Grier, Victoria Rowell, Kellan Lutz, Ray Liotta, Portia De Rossi, Rachel Weisz, Mekhi Phifer, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeffrey Wright and Mike Myers. She is a graduate and former faculty member of The Juilliard School, and a long time faculty member of California Institute of the Arts. Denise is committed to giving disenfranchised voices the courage and tools to use their words, their thoughts and their stories in ways they never thought possible by dismantling fear, shame and insecurity. Her first book, The Power of Voice, published by HarperCollins Publishers, was released in January 2021.
Watch our interview
Feisworld podcast helps independent creators live their creative and financial freedom. I’m your host, Fei Wu, and I’ll be taking you through a series of interviews with creators from around the world who are living life on their own terms. Each episode is packed with tactics, nuggets you can implement origin stories to make listening productive and enjoyable. We’re not only focused on the more aspirational stories, but relatable ones as well. We also have none interview based miniseries releasing throughout the year to help Deep dove into topics such as freelancing, marketing, even indie filmmaking that will benefit creators like you.
Show notes, links and ways to connect with the guests are available on Feisworld.com.
Now onto the show. Hi, this is Fei Wu from Feisworld Media today, I’m here with Denise Woods, I so look forward to this live stream and thank you so much for taking the next hour. Forty five minutes with us. And please know that you can ask questions across all the channels we’re going live on right now, including my YouTube channel, Twitter, my Facebook page and what else? And LinkedIn out of all places. And I’m just really thrilled.
And I want to just quickly thank today’s sponsor, Restream. It’s a tool that we’re currently using. And you can go live on more than 30 plus channels outside of the US as well, literally live worldwide. So definitely check them out. So with that said, Denise, welcome to Feisworld.
Thank you. Thank you for having me. It’s such a pleasure.
Denise, we connected because of your new book, which I’m going to pop up in a second, but I just want to do this crazy. I mean, I feel like Denise’s back story is just incredible, so. Oh, my goodness, you are the voice behind the voice of a stellar array of actors from the last 20 years, guys. And she’s currently coaching the Netflix feature film The Harder They Fall, starring Idris Elba and as a creative consultant for Halle Berry’s directorial debut of the film Bruce.
And you also contributed to the authenticity of Berry’s performance in her leading role. And I mean, literally, the list goes on and on. And I am intrigued by your origin story. Growing up in the East Village. I believe you grew up in the project. You became a Miss Black Teenage America. Nineteen seventy two. Under a whole new world, you’re constantly in this kind of you colliding and all these worlds together. So your story to me is not just a book, not just the fame and what you’re currently known for, but also kind of what brought you here, what made made you the woman you are today.
So, so much to break down right now. Let’s first talk about the book.
Let’s get it right. I’m ready.
Oh, my goodness. Let’s let’s show the book real quick. I mean, it just writing this book right here. I’m glad it’s not covering our our faces, but my goodness, I mean, writing a book in the pandemic, not to mention you’re also and just working all these films. My goodness. How why write a book like this? Why take so much time away from your freedom.
Excellent question. Excellent question. To begin the interview because I felt that I had to bring what my gifts are to Hollywood. I had to bring it to the masses. And I really felt that it especially come to fruition. When I saw Trayvon Martin’s parents in an interview when that young man was murdered, it hit me. I was watching the evening news like everybody else. And as a mother of an African-American son, my heart just went out to those people and to all of the people, the parents, the families that have lost loved ones, from gun violence, from police brutality, from from being marginalized.
My heart just simply went out and I thought, these people are sitting there at the most crucial time in their lives, the most emotionally distraught, possibly time of their life. And they have a microphone thrust in front of their faces. And so what do you say? How do you say it? How do you use the platform now that you were thrust into being a spokesperson for social justice? How do you use that platform efficiently and and allow your pain and your your authenticity to show through?
That’s when I said I got to take the work from Hollywood and bring it to the masses, because I really want to help educate and inform just everyday people how to effectively use their voices.
So Lovely said and I feel like as an immigrant, my background as an immigrant person, for me to find my voice, my native language, I got to admit it was a bit of a struggle. That’s something for us to break through as especially women growing up. You’re trying to follow the trends, trying to fit in, trying not to stand out where to be for the first nearly twenty years of no longer of our life and have to break through that and to want to be seen and knowing that we need to be seen.
What was it like perhaps for you, Denise? For you to kind of. Through that barrier, where did you have a challenge like that for you growing up?
You know, we all do to some degree it could be traumatic. They don’t have to be traumatic, but they could be equally as oppressive. Where are you from originally? Where’s your family from?
So I was born and raised in Beijing, China. I came here when I was 17, so it was such a tremendous change for me.
Yes, yes. And see, the thing I like to empower people with is the knowledge that you don’t have to give up those first 17 years of your life. A lot of times you feel that that’s then this is now. I was there. I’m here now. I’m an American now. And I have to subscribe to American culture, American way of being. But I say I think the choice should be up to you. You should choose how much how little you incorporate into your daily life, how much, how little you keep from your past and incorporate into your daily life.
That choice should be yours and not stipulated by society. And that that is the platform that I stand on. That is my my my way of of of bringing this sense of confidence to people. I stand on it. I stand by it because we are so busy trying to say what we don’t have, what we need, what we should be. And I’m here to say embrace who we are, carry who we are into the new narrative, into the new paradigm, carry that.
And if anything is distracting to the narrative, of course, you’re going to want to put it aside or find a way to correct it if it if it takes away from the narrative. But if it doesn’t, you’re a wonderful Chinese American woman and the Chinese is just as important as the American. And so that’s what I’m saying. We’re multi hyphenated people. I’m an African-American woman. I’m an artist. I’m a mother. I grew up in the in the Black Baptist Church, which had a huge influence in my life.
That’s where I started in the arts, was in the church and singing in the choir, performing plays for four Sunday school. These kinds of things are are instrumental. And it’s so important to the whole holistic of a being of who we are. And we should never deny that. We should never deny it and we should incorporate it to embrace our origin. Our heritage is something that I feel like I started doing more and more towards my late twenties and definitely after I turned 30, the liberation of finding myself and and prior to us going live, the needs that you talked about that a lot of your audience currently are women, women of color, not exclusively to just African-Americans, but you notice there immigrant women.
So tell us about that, because as we’re talking, I’m just seeing a flood of comments, which I’m going to overlay real quick. Oh, great. Yeah. So. Oh, well, I can I can only display comments that are that have happened, but I am showing some of the comments here. Thank you so much. Just to let the knees know that people are listening, people are watching.
And this is why it’s so important, because our voices are our are everything. We live in a society that promotes how we look, how we present ourselves, the visual. And we really don’t talk about the audio, what people are getting from from you, what we’re putting out into the world. Voice is vibration, guys. That’s all voices is vibration. It’s breath that has passed through the vocal cords, the vocal folds causing them to vibrate. And that vibration causes sound.
And it’s it’s no coincidence that people when people say, I get a good vibe from her, I get a good vibe from him, it’s vibration. And so the vibe, that vibration, that vocal vibration is so important so that people see you not just not just see you physically, but they hear you so that they can then see you in your totality, that goal. And so it’s it’s imperative that we bring our narrative. How much of it or how little of it is up to you.
But it’s imperative that we bring our our narrative in a very authentic way to the conversation. We have a responsibility to redirect the conversation which is steeped in. Tropes and and preconceived notions of what certain people look like and sound like it’s a it’s our responsibility to redirect re navigate that conversation and that’s what I want to be on the forefront of. I want to re re navigate how people sound as being good or bad. What is good? What is bad.
Let’s talk about that good speech. What is bad speech? I have taken standard American speech out of my vocabulary completely because I asked when I was a student at Juilliard years ago. Decades ago, actually, I asked what standard are we judging by? It’s a standard two standard because we’re Americans. And the whole point of America is it’s a melting pot. We don’t all look alike. So why should we all sound alike?
And and I love how you talk about finding your voice, finding your narrative. And also, it is kind of a process driven. There is you have to internalize. And there’s but there’s there’s a process which I really love. And you give us these tools where any one of us can pick up the book. And I love the fact that you don’t have to be an actor or actress to do this, but. Absolutely. How do you how do you tell a woman twenty five, thirty five to say you need to find your narrative like what is the process like how can somebody exercise something today while watching those shortly after in the interview.
What, what can they do to embrace that.
Well the basis of this work stands on one goal of mine and that is to give people confidence. I see the power of voice to be empowered, but in order to be empowered, you have to be confident. And the first step to becoming confident is to become proficient at something. I’m confident at this because I have years and years and years of working at it, tried, tested, proven true clients who are very famous and clients who are everyday people.
So I have really gotten a wonderful set of tools under my belt because I have become proficient, because I put in the work. And that’s what I implore you to do, to put in the work to start, first of all, by saying I need to educate myself in this regard. The simple fact that you’re not using your voice to its fullest is because you don’t know how no one has ever, ever put that demand on you. The only thing you probably have heard in a negative way is probably someone saying your voice isn’t quite what we thought it should be or your accent may be too thick or you hear the negative connotations, but nobody ever says what you can do to to really broaden your vocabulary.
And mind you guys, I am very, very judicious with the language I use around this subject. I try not to say bad, good, right or wrong. I try not to, because what I want you to understand is that it’s a broadening of of the context. It’s a broadening of what you already have. I say you have an a box of crayons. You’ve got a box of eight. When I’m giving you is a box of sixty four, I’m giving you five shades of green, four shades of blue, seven shades of red so that you have more to add to your palette.
And so, so where you start first is becoming educated saying I just want more information, I just need to know I’ve got this instrument which our voices are instruments, I’ve got this instrument and I don’t quite know how to effectively use it to its best. I’m using it because I have to. But I’m just using I’m just getting by. I’m using this much this much of my vocal range where I can use so much more if I’m shown how to do it.
And so I have a five pronged principle upon which I, I allow all of this work to come to fruition. And the first is relaxation. You must start with the relaxed instrument before you even start breathing. Before you start speaking, you need to send attention to your head, to the neck and shoulders. And as I’m doing this. Thank you. Thank you, sweetheart. With me. Do it with me. We start with just making sure that the that the instrument is relaxed, the chest is wide, that you’re lengthening through the spine, that you’re creating this wonderful, massive space in your.
For the sound, once we produce the sound to resonate to to to really, really feel this wonderful sense of power, because I want you to think of a cello. I want you to think of the sound that resonates in the body of the cello, because that’s where the power is going to be amplified. So we want to relax that. We want to relax the chest. We want to relax the chest cavity. We want to relax the head.
We want to open the door, feel something, doesn’t it feel good? And then we want to massage the face. I know a lot of people don’t want to do this with their faces, but make sure that that the facial muscles are relaxed, the jaws relaxed, the tongue, the articulators about what I never come out. And in doing so, the beginning, this is step one. Step one again is relaxation. Step two, once you’re relaxed, breathing, I say breath is to the voice what gasoline is to car.
If you have no gas in your car, your car goes nowhere. Folks remember that the same thing holds true for breath and voice. If you have no breath, you have no voice. And we must breathe in a deep diaphragmatic way, deep red diaphragmatic way. And every time we speak, believe it or not, we breathe in through the mouth. Clearly, we don’t breathe in through the mouth when we’re just sitting neutrally and not speaking. We’re breathing in and out through the nose.
But when we speak like I just did, you must take an inaudible breath in through the mouth. That’s what opens up the orifice. It opens up this wonderful space in the back of the throat. It sort of sets you up for the voice to be released out if you breathe in through these small holes. Now I have to open up my mouth to speak if I breathe in through the mouth. I’m already in the ready position, ready to speak, and so I want you to think of the deep breath in and voice out.
The wonderful thing about Breath, my friends, is that it is the source to your wellspring of emotions. It really allows you to go deep, not just deep in the breathing, but deeply into your emotional life. There’s a reason why we don’t breathe. There are several reasons why we don’t breathe, actually, and the first being that we’ve been conditioned from the time we were children not to breathe. Have you ever heard suck it up, suck it up, put your pants on and go in that meeting.
Suck it up. When we suck it up, that means we’re not breathing. Or how about boys don’t cry, boys look up, don’t you? Are those tears I’m seeing? Because that sheer act of emotion and releasing the emotion when someone says don’t release it, hold it. It’s not like you’re not having it. You’re stopping it. And when we say don’t breathe and the more we breathe, the more we release it, we release the emotion, we release our authenticity, we release ourselves.
So breath is so important. That’s the second thing. And then voice. As I said before, voice travels through, I mean, I’m sorry, breadth travels through the the the larynx, the voice box, and then causes the vocal folds to vibrate. And once they do, that breath turns to voice, that breath turns to vibration. If we don’t have any breath to start, we have no voice. And so once we’re relaxed and we take a really, really good deep supporting breath, we then allow the voice to release out and to release out and fill the space between you and your listeners.
A lot of times our voices attract back here for whatever reason, he said, because we’re just people. We don’t want to be heard. We don’t want to seem like I’m just I’m just trying to be cool. What you want is breath in, voice out so that it covers the space. It’s gracious. It’s a gift that you’re giving between you and your listener. And then we have articulation and articulation is then how we shape that sound once we release the voice and it’s sounding beautifully.
How do we shape that to to create a thought, to create words, to create sounds of speech that then make words and then we put those words together to create a thought. And so we want the articulators to be agile, to be limber so that you’re able to to to really just articulate not just a thought, but an emotion. And so how we do that. If I do exercises, I do articulation exercises, I do nursery rhymes.
Peter Piper, the pickled pepper picker, picked a peck of pickled peppers just to make sure that it’s what scales are to a musician, actually, just to make sure that the articulators are limber. So after articulation, number five is communication. How do I communicate a thought so that people will know what I’m saying? How do I communicate a thought so that people will know what I’m saying? The reason why I’m choosing and picking those wonderful words up out are because they are verbs and nouns.
The nouns tell you the story. OK, people, how do people know what I’m saying? Verbs telling the action in the story. So verbs and nouns are your friends. Be aware of the usage verb of a noun, ok, because you don’t want your voice to be to flatline and become monotonous. When you pick the verb up, when you pick the noun up out of the out of the rest of the words, you really start having more, more depth, more variety, more, more expression in your voice on the operative important words.
I absolutely love it, I had to kind of spotlight you as.
Thank you. Well, I want people to be able to take something away. I have a client who I started working with. She booked months ago, but her job became really very, very hectic. And she couldn’t start for a while. And I said to her, read the book and then when you’re ready, we’ll start. She read the book. And those of you who’ve read it know that there’s an exercise at the beginning of the book that I repeat, at the end, I give you a piece of copy and I request that you record yourself at the beginning of the read.
At the end of the read, you must record the same piece. And this woman emailed me two days before she started work. She finished the book. She recorded herself at the beginning. She recorded herself at the end. And she said, and Denise, I did not do one exercise. I’m going to confess. I didn’t do a single exercise. I just read the book. I listened to the first the first recording, and then I listened to the second recording and I started crying.
I couldn’t believe it. She couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. And she said I didn’t do a single exercise. This is just what knowledge. That’s what I’m telling you when no one tells you these things. My graduate students used to say, how come I wasn’t taught this in elementary school? How come no one taught me phonetically? They taught me grammar, but they didn’t teach me phonetics the sounds and the power of the sounds of speech.
So once you become educated and what do you have a knowledge of it, you can use as much or as little as you’d like. It’s liberating. It really is.
Wow. Credible stories. And even though the interview itself, it’s only forty five fifty minutes. But the book I have read, I’m not finished yet. I can wait to, I mean and it’s just wonderful. I’m going to record myself as simple as on my iPhone and finish the book and see how I sound towards the end.
You absolutely must do yourself a favor. You must start because you have a start. It’s it’s come on. Let’s face it, folks. You know, when we start on or on a weight loss journey, we we get on that scale just so that we can chronicle the progress. Well, it’s the same here. And I, I think I, I think I do have you check in Midway and record again. I have three times of recording, but based on what this woman did and she did the beginning and end, I would say wait so that you can really see the difference between the beginning and the end.
It was fantastic. It was fascinating. Yeah. And she’s actress. She’s a social worker.
Wow. Isn’t that incredible? And some comments here from Sheryl. Love your book. Cannot put it down. Thank you so much.
Yeah. And then. Yeah. Is it a Venus Venus. Thank you for reading. The Power of voice, using it to speak it clearly. And this is huge of women kind of just coming in, sharing the feedback via livestream. And I think, Denise, honestly, we’re all kind of find your career really fascinating because you also have access to the world of Hollywood and for me, for the for us audience. We watch these people to go through their kind of their patter and then try to put themselves in a character that can be so sophisticated with different accents.
And that as I’m reading the book, I’m thinking, wait a minute, I just read someone trying to learn the Southern accent from Denise. Yet Denise grew up in New York City. So how are you able to not only pick up different accents, know the differences, and then teach someone else how to do the same? How does that work? Excellent question. Excellent question. I’ve been blessed to work with some of the most incredible artists on the planet.
And the one thing I can say, I like to share their process with everyday people. Well, first of all, I just came to mind because Mahershala Ali told me one day when I asked him, I said, Mahershala, what’s your process when you’re crafting a character? And Mahershala said, Denise, the first thing I ask myself about every character that I play, the first question is what is their spiritual journey? I start there, he said.
Even if they don’t have one, even if they’re an atheist, then that’s a spiritual. Journey as well, they just they’re an atheist, I ask that question, and so the reason why I share that is because I get these wonderful gems and nuggets from these amazing artists who also happen to be amazing people because they are not just gifted at a particular innate talent that God has given them, but they are craftsmen. They work tirelessly at the craft of acting, and then they elicit community and people around them to help with aspects of the craft that they not they may not be proficient in.
And so they they have a wonderful group of community and they use the same people all the time. It becomes a family when when they go, when they are employed, employed with the task of of of of developing a character. But they’re not only great craftsmen and worked tirelessly and are absolutely brilliant. Any of these actors could could could have been lawyers or doctors or engineers. They Renaissance people, but they’re also humanitarians. They have the biggest hearts and a lot of them do it anonymously and so that you don’t know.
But when I know and I’m in the inner circle, I try to find that that through line that what makes these people great kind of question. And I’m sitting back taking notes for all of my friends to say, girl, did you know that he not only does this, but he does fact and they’re they’re blown away. And so that’s what I’m sharing. What I see is this humanitarian, this love of of of people and behavior and the ability to give the ability to give to society and what allows me to come in and to break it down to these wonderful people, a dialect because I didn’t grow up in the South, although although my parents did or if I’m doing a dialect from another country, I, I don’t I know nothing about this, this country or culture.
I am the queen of research. I love it. I go down a rabbit hole and stay there and then just go here and there and oh my gosh. And find things that I can’t use now. But I kept them away for when I can use the dialect. I just love the answers to why people sound the way they sound. And it’s so many there’s so many reasons you could sound. A group of people can sound a particular way simply based on the weather.
Yes. The weather, when it’s cold in a cold climate, people typically their jaws are tight because their jaws are clench, they’re cold. And in a Southern client, when the weather is warm, it’s really laid back and slow because there’s no rush. You get that. You get a rush. So wonderful. It’s it’s it’s great. It’s anthropology. It’s it’s it’s these cultural nuances that that affect a group of people simply because of of of outside external circumstances.
And it affects the way they talk. So that’s one way. But I also know the international phonetic alphabet. There is a symbol for every sound of speech, just the way there’s a musical note. They’re not letters, they’re not letters, they’re phonetic symbols. And so I have learned it. I learned it when when I was a student at Juilliard in the seventies. And I have always been proficient with with sound and music and musicality and rhythm because I sang with the New York City Opera when I was twelve.
I was an opera singer before I was an actress. And so all of my musical training lended itself to my acting training, which in Finland, all of that to my being a vocal dialect coach. Because I hear music in language, I hear the rhythm. I know I have become sort of the the go to person in Hollywood because, you know, when you’re at a weight loss process in your life and it’s hard to lose those last ten pounds, I was the go to person that Denise will get those last ten pounds off of your speech or put it.
To your speech, I was I know in the 11th hour what the speech means because of my ear, it’s really all about my ear that I’ve developed. And you can develop it, too. You can develop it. And a lot of people already have, because a lot of people imitate accents, which is what we did at my table when we came home from church on Sunday afternoon, we would imitate all of the people in church. My mother was a great mimic and that’s where I got it from.
And so developing your ear, just listening to people sound and where where could they possibly be from and then ask them, you know, in a loving way as opposed to in a in a in a kind of arrogant way of your accent is disturbing. I’m better than you are because you’re speaking English with that thick accent. No, flip it around. You ask them because it’s a beautiful it’s a beautiful way of speaking the language. I often do this when I’m on the phone with telemarketers or not telemarketers, but because I’m never on the phone with telemarketers, trust me.
But if I call customer service and I get someone who has an accent, I immediately engage with them. And at the end, I tell them that I really, really love your accent and it makes them feel so good. So I know I’m going off on tangents, but it’s all related to an ear to how I’m able to do what I do at this level, because it started out as a love for the differences in the way people spoke in the different genres of music.
I love jazz. I love gospel, I love opera. And so as we open up our minds and listen to different genres into the different ways that people speak in a loving way, you develop your ear.
Yeah, it kind of took us down to like so many different imaginations. But one thing I noticed as I was filming a documentary in twenty eighteen, I was traveling from Boston to New York to the L.A. Vegas. I noticed that we purposely, first of all, want to make sure there’s diversity in the cast in the people I was interviewing. Then we immediately realized not just myself, but also my producers and my assistants realized the beauty of different accents.
And we together as a together as a team, we really appreciated that so much. For example, one person comes to mind, Bucella Percoco, who also lives in New York City, and she was born and raised that she was she is of African descent. She grew up in Spain and she has Spanish accent as she was speaking. We didn’t want any of that to change. So for people who are watching this, no matter where you’re from, other parts in the US or worldwide, I know a lot of my audience is quite international.
Absolutely right. Don’t feel ashamed of our accent. I certainly did for the I didn’t have too much of an accent when I came here, but I did. I remember just like, you know, whenever I said something wrong or people corrected me in a very straightforward way. I know that they’re trying to help me, but it just like literally that feel like somebody just punched me in the gut like three words, but don’t feel that way.
I mean, even even a girl growing up in New York City with I didn’t have a thick New York accent, but I had a New York accent. I talked I talk like this. Cousins talk like this. We have New York accents. And of course, I went to Juilliard with a New York accent and I was at Juilliard in the first couple of years at Juilliard. I was made to feel less than, you know, it wasn’t overt.
It was it was it was subtle. But it was it was an elitist approach to language. And I, I really there’s no place for it. There is no place for it. We should embrace it all. And and and see, that’s the thing. You know, most Americans and it’s proven most Americans only speak one language. Two, if we’re lucky and I deal with people who speak three and four language English is their third or fourth language folks.
So how dare I come in with this elitist attitude toward the way they’re speaking English? I mean, it’s just I think we have to redirect the narrative again. We have to embrace it. We have to cultivate a society where we’re more inclusive, not just in how we look in our cultural background, but how we identify. That’s that’s what I’m I’m such a proponent of my identity. So let’s. I am this this this West African woman who speaks probably five languages, I would say, who grew up in Spain.
I know people who speak Italian, Spanish, Portuguese in Arabic and English. It’s just it’s phenomenal. And I think we need to open up our minds and embrace it all.
And this is why your message resonated, really your book and your message resonated with so many people. And and, you know, this is I want to show you another comment.
Thank you. Thank you, everyone.
It’s it’s so lovely to see these things and for me to read the book and then read the comments now. But I want to kind of just take us to a little corner here, because I feel like in our imagination we wanted to know you’re helping people, Denise. You’re a coach. You’re working right now with people who can find your website and actually to be able to engage with you as a consultant, as a coach. And that’s such a privilege.
And at the same time, you’ve helped so many very elitist actors, top billed actors. And what do you have to do as a consultant, as during the film or production process? Have to pull someone to the side to say, you know, your accent was a little off. You started to really sound like you’re from New York again. Remember, you’re supposed from the south. I mean, how do you work with these folks again?
Excellent question. Again, you can’t tell someone what they’re not doing when they’re doing it, because that’s almost that’s almost like saying folks do not think of the color red. Don’t think of right now. Don’t think of red. Guess what you’re thinking. Red. You can’t do that. And your blouse. Exactly. Red. And I said, don’t think of red. And so all you can think of now is red. So what I do and I implore you to engage your imagination.
I use the power of imagery if someone is falling back into the rhythm, that is not the rhythm of the character, I will use an image that will get back to where they want to be. For instance, I’m just going to throw this out because I do it, I do it on the spot. It’s really my gift. And I’m blessed and I’m grateful for it. I just I know what to say and how to see it on the spot that will not shut the actor down, but will will encourage the actor to go to the next to the next step.
And that is the imagination. So if, in fact, the actor is slipping back in, is slipping out of the Southern accent, let’s say, Savannah, what I will do is I will go in and say, OK, so where are you? And they would say, I’m on the bluff right near the water. I go, Do you see the trees? What are the what do the trees look like? Tell me. Show me.
Just give me some colors of the give me some colors of the landscape. I get them to see pictures. I get them to smell. It’s a sensorial sensation. It’s a sensorial exercise. I get them to hear. What are you hearing? Are you hearing birds. Yeah, I’m hearing birds. Where are you. I’m sitting by. What? Who’s on the water? Is there a boat on the water to get them into the specificity of images that really elicit and bring the technique to the four guys?
And I implore you, it’s all about the pictures that you see. You can’t say don’t think I’ve read. What I want you to do, though, is when, for instance, if I say the word bloody. Blooey, I don’t want you to see letters. I want you to see a sky. I want you to see an ocean. I want you to see that blue wonderful color behind Faye and see see it put a picture on everything that you say because it will give it life.
It will give it, but it makes it palpable. It makes it not possible. Palpable is the word. It makes it palpable. It makes it rich. Yeah. Images use your imagination. I was on the you all know this. I was on the faculty at Juilliard. I was the first African-American woman asked to join the faculty in the drama division in nineteen ninety two and they have called me back to join the audition circuit. So we take 20 students in the drama division every year out of the thousands that apply.
And people ask me, what is it? What’s that one thing that you see in a student in twenty students that you don’t see in the other thousands and this is what I tell them, is the ability for those kids to use their imaginations in a childlike way. And that means no rules. Children have no rules, they think outside the box, they just go for it. And so that’s what I implore you guys to do, to go for it, to see it, to see it and believe it.
Even in the boardroom, in the boardroom, in a Zoom meeting. See just see beyond those boxes. See beyond beyond the green dot where you’re speaking into the camera where you’re speaking. See it in visual. Invision all of of of the stories that you’re not that you’re not only talking about, but what you’re listening to. Because that brings me to another point. Listening is just as if not more important than speaking. I think my my next book should be not the power of voice, but the power of listening.
The power of hearing. The power of receiving. The power of being still and quiet and breathing and ingesting the information that you’re receiving. It is so important. I talk about this in my book because I believe that the political landscape that we’re currently in, everybody’s talking and no one’s listening. And just because I don’t agree with you doesn’t mean that I receive what you’re saying. No, I think you know what I’m talking about. How got to receive it.
We’ve got to pause. We have to keep that space, that energy for the pause, the rest in music. Miles Davis said that the rest in music is more important than the note are difficult to watch. Yeah, and most people feel that they can’t take the time to pause. I can’t take the time to stop because I have to really encourage people to breathe or to remind them you’re not breathing and they go do this. I just don’t have time.
Yes, you do, because just as you need that breath, your listener needs the breath to it gives them permission to breathe. So this is what I do on set. And then when I work with people several times, we get a language that we develop and and I’ll just go in and have a word. Does that one word that becomes our single word, but it all starts with the imagination.
Yeah. And it’s so helpful because I feel like the techniques that you just described in envisioning I was already trying to the moment you start doing that, I put myself in the situation and realize to look at the image and kind of to imagine where I’m not currently at. And it’s still possible. And for people who are watching, listening, you may not be able to have Denise on your side at any given moment. But if you’re preparing for a presentation, like Denise said, no matter how small, how big, you can actually put yourself in.
Just visualize, for example, before you go give a keynote speech and you’re feeling incredibly nervous. You could imagine yourself, I don’t know, in the middle of the Amazon, looking looking over the ocean. And that is really deep. And practice your voice and change your posture. Irony of the difference. Yeah, that that that is that is the ability to use your imagination for relaxation purposes. And they really work folks, those relaxation exercises that elicit you to take yourself out of the place that you’re currently in and put yourself into another place completely.
It really, really does work. But I also say, in addition to everything that I’ve shared, and I’m sure some of you are taking notes, and if you’re not, I’m sure a lot of things will stick with you. But I want us to be intentional when we start out our day, because it really gives an edge of power to the voice. You’re not just going through your day nilly willy. We are intentional. I intentionally put this blue on today because and now that I see it’s not even in the camera frame, but I can see it, it makes it pops.
So I intentionally chose this in these, these earrings. It was intention that made me put these clothes on today. I want udal you all to use the same goal, the same intention when you speak. OK, so this is what I mean. My intention when I came on, I wanted to inspire that person in this audience for whom voice has always been a source of of of disdain, insecurity. My goal when I came on. Was to say, I want to inspire, I used a verb, I could have said educate, I could have said empowered, I said inspired because I knew I only had forty five minutes to an hour.
And if you were inspired, then you will be inspired to get the tools that you need to to do this. But my my voice was based on an objective and intention, which was to inspire my audience. And I want you to go through life with intention, even if it’s down to the Whole Foods. Guys, I want you to be able to be intentional about what you do in life.
That’s such a great advice to set an intention to say and it and to love yourself to, I think self care or take the pause maybe is practicing a habit of today. I’m going to pause a little bit more and listen a little more.
Yes. And I’m sure there are people out there who say, like a lot like like me. And it all depends on the generation. My generation doesn’t do it nearly as much as my son’s generation and younger or my generation does. I call these or you know, you know, I call these placeholders. They usually start out as a placeholder because you’re looking for the next thought. You don’t quite know what you’re going to say next. And so instead of using an or a, you know, phrase.
Yeah, so so breathing never becomes distracting your nose and arms and legs do so put it put something that started off as a placeholder now has become a habit and it can be a distraction. And as I said, the basis of this work is to be able to tell a narrative, yours and others or your narrative may be fraught with with data in a meeting, but to be able to share the narrative without distractions. That’s what we want without distractions, because the story is the star, not your quirks.
The story is the star.
Right. And so lovely to chat with you. I can’t believe this is our first conversation. I feel like we’ve known each other for 20 years and no one feels so comfortable. Thank you.
Thank you, Denise. And I want to respect your time since we have a little less than 10 minutes left. I do want to ask one last question. And for people who are still watching right now, feel free to drop your questions. We can actually see them. We might not be able to get to all of them. I’ll find a way, but we’ll cherry pick a few of those and put my my final question would be you you grew up in the project.
You I believe your mom was a single mom. You have a sister as well. You have other very important women in your life. And now look at you. You’ve to every in every aspect of things. You’ve made it. You’ve published a book, you’ve spoken worldwide. You’ve worked in Hollywood with these top billed actors. What in retrospect, what would be an advice you will be you will want to give to a younger self or what have you that many people feel like they wish they knew.
Now they’re kind of in trenches.
I have I was blessed. My my father passed away when I was five. And so my and my mom was just twenty seven years old and she had these two little girls to raise and she did an exemplary job of it. She kept us in the church and in the arts and education was was key because she’s an educator. She worked in my elementary school. And so I had these amazing women in my in my in my community, in my family.
My and my aunt owned Sylvia’s restaurant in Harlem. My aunt Sylvia is Sylvia Woods of Sylvia’s Restaurant in Harlem. And so I had. Amazing role models. I saw it, I was able to see what hard work yielded. I was able to see what love and unconditional love meant. And so I was also able to and and encourage to take risks. That’s the one thing I want to leave. There are two things, actually, and I’ll start with risk taking, I took bigger risks than the generation before me.
I think my Aunt Sylvia was a huge risk taker and she did things of her generation that that were not done. My mom was a huge risk taker, but I kind of pushed the envelope even further. And I like to say that I have the skid marks on my butt to prove it. And you don’t jump. And that will appear sometimes it does. It just what you do is you brush yourself off and you get back in the game.
And a lot of people, when they win that net doesn’t appear and they fall hard on their bums. They say, that’s it, I’m done. And I was always the person that said, I ain’t done yet because I’m sixty three years old and this is my best life right now. When people are winding down and heading toward retirement, I am just winding up. This is the best life ever because I took a risk because and this is the second thing that I want to share because I knew I had a gift.
I just knew that I had a gift that I was giving Hollywood and certain actors and I say this with all humility, because that’s what it is. It’s a gift. It’s a gift that I’ve been given. And when we don’t share our gifts, when we don’t put it out there, we are shortchanging ourselves. We are really telling the universe, God, who gifted us with these gifts that they really aren’t that important. And yes, they are.
And that’s what I say about the voice. I want you to think of your voice as a gift that you are giving your listeners, because when you’re giving a gift to someone, you’re not nervous. So how do I deal with the nerves when I have a presentation? Yes, we use our imaginations. Yes, we can do relaxation exercises. But the basis of this, I want you to think of yourself as a gift and as the expert in what you’re giving, because someone could possibly say it better.
Someone might know more about the subject matter than you do, but nobody can say it like you because there are no two voices alike. Voiceprints are like fingerprints. My my friends know two sets of fingerprints are the same. No, two voices are the same, and your unique voice is your gift. And when you give that gift to the world, you are doing what you were meant to do on this planet. And so how could you be nervous about doing that?
How could you be nervous when you’re giving a gift to someone? Are you nervous when you give a loved one a gift for Christmas that you’ve painstakingly taken time to to to to find the right place to buy the gift, to package it up perfectly and then to to insert the perfect card to see everything you mean? No, you’re doing it from a place of love and from a place of gratitude. And that’s what I want you to do when you use your voice.
I want you to give that gift from a place of love and gratitude being on a date. That’s right, I set a date in the board room. A keynote speaker at at at at at at a reunion. How about that, a class reunion, a 20th twenty fifth class reunion and you’re the keynote speaker. How about that? From a gift of love. From a place of love. A gift. Yeah. Thank you.
Thank you so much. It’s a very it’s almost like meditation, just being able to process that. And thank you so much, Denise, for sharing those lovely, lovely conversation with all of us.
It’s my pleasure. It really, really is. I feel and, you know, it’s so interesting. I can feel the energy from your viewers. I feel you. I really, really do. And I’m so grateful for you. Thank you. I see the questions in the box, but I feel your energy. And thank you for giving it to me. Sharing it with you. Thank you.
Absolutely. As a reminder for people, this is the book Power of Voice by Denise Woods. And what a privilege. So thank you so much.
Well, they can also find me and speak it clearly. Go where I might speak it clearly. Instagram, Twitter speaking clearly. Dot com is my website, Facebook. I am speaking clearly.
I thank you so much. All the links are also included for Denise. If you want to learn more about her, I’m going to take us offline now. Thank you so much for watching your world. This episode of the First World podcast is brought to you by Fey’s World LLC, our marketing service agency created for independent creators and businesses. We offer website development, video production, marketing, mentorship to people who want to tell better stories, level up and create a profitable brand phasor podcast team or chief editor and producer Herman Silvio’s associate producer Adam Lefort, social media and content manager Rosta Leon transcript editor Allena Almodóvar.
And lastly myself, the creator and host of Face World. Thank you so much for listening.
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