Archive for June, 2011

The Miracle of Career Coaching

Why would *I* need coaching?

I’m busy (sometimes busier than I can handle); I’m working in a fun and unusual career — voicing telephone prompts — and completely fulfilled doing so. I’m well-known and respected in my industry, and well paid. Some might question why anyone who appears to have everything aligned needs…well…realignment.

But let’s look closer: yes, I am recording from sun-up to sun-down. Every voice talent’s dream! But as constant as the work is, I’m always aspiring to add bigger, long-term, and more high-profile contracts to my list of credentials. While I have amassed a great roster of fabulous clients, (and am hugely grateful for them all..)  I was undercutting myself by offering a “per-prompt” rate for anyone who had one or two prompts to record at a time — that discounted rate was creating and inviting time-consuming “piecemeal” work — and it went even deeper: the kind of customer who only needs a couple of prompts and then is never seen again, runs counter to my ultimate goal of high-volume, ongoing client relationship-building which I already have in place with many clients — but needed more of. Or rather, I could clearly see the day where I *only* work for my current long-term clients — and only attract others who are similarly interested in on-going service. I want to be the voice of AT & T. I want to be the voice of Cisco. What’s standing in my way? A photographer colleague of mine made the analogy of the “grunt work” he needed to do to make a living (passport photos, and yes — even wedding photos) as being the “wiener meat” of his diet. He wanted more filet mignon.

Enter a pert, blonde dynamo from Nova Scotia named Jacqui McNeil.

Jacqui was recommended by a friend who used her services as a “tune-up” as she transitioned from a less-than-fulfilling career to following her dream — and Jac was the catalyst to give her the courage to make such a move and to facilitate her along the way. I expressed to my friend a feeling of “blockage” (I called it “career constipation” in a less-than-eloquent moment) and wondered if this highly-recommended career coach could help in “un-sticking” me and assist at me grabbing that higher-hanging fruit — or the filet mignon (OK — too many mixed metaphors, and most of them dealing with food — I must be hungry…)

Jac and I had an initial consultation via Skype — primarily to assess how good of a “fit” we’d be, and for me to be frank with her: I have voiced IVR and conference platforms for career & life coaches who blatantly struck me as gigantic flakes. Diabolically airy, even unapologetically witchy, and perhaps most vexing: never *ever* capable of proving — tangibly — just what it is they profess to do.

Jacqui met my skepticism with  complete understanding; totally getting that someone new to the process would be leery — even doubtful — of jumping right into a coaching relationship, and she completely understood my low tolerance for what we both got into the habit of referring to as: “Woo-woo” (any type of ethereal smokescreen or even a hint of cliche incense-infused wim-wam.) I’m a down-to-earth, pragmatic person, who likes seeing measurable, empirical results. She welcomed that candor, and I knew instantly that she was going to be similarly “real” with me.

Throughout our Skype sessions — which spanned six months — we connected on a very visceral level. I took all homework and assignments seriously (even asked for extra); I wanted to optimize our sessions together, and it was important for me to bring out of the sessions a very strong, tangible take-away: retain what I already have, but improve on it. Keep the incredible “regulars” I have; be better at screening out those whose need for my services are minimal. Get closer to my goal of filet mignon, and more clearly see the roadblocks which I had been unaware of — or unwilling to acknowledge — which were impeding my way to the buffet (seriously: I have to find something to eat..)

I interviewed Jac for this blog largely out of curiosity: I wanted to see if other people’s experiences were similar to mine; I also wanted to dig into where this skepticism about life/career coaching comes from.

1. I made it clear — from the get-go — that I thought “life coaches” and “career coaches” were synonymous with “charlatans”. I slowly came around to the idea — largely influenced by our mutual friend who we both hold in very high esteem — but it was after a bit of hesitation. Do you encounter that kind of resistance often? Where does it come from? Do you think there are charlatans and imposters in your business?

JM: Typically, by the time a client decides to contact me they’re pretty convinced that they’re ready to work with me.  They’ve read my website and maybe heard about me from a friend {like you did!} but that doesn’t mean they don’t have questions.  It’s critical that both my clients and I are 100% clear that we’d be a great fit for each other.  Having that initial chat to share their concerns and to get an even better sense of my style is a very important part of the decision-making process {for them and for me.}  I never say yes to working with someone unless I believe that we’d be a great fit.

In regards to whether I believe there are a lot of charlatans and imposters in the coaching biz–now that’s a juicy question!  I believe that within any profession there are a few folks who lack integrity.  But there are definitely a couple of trends that I see that feed into the whole charlatan—or hokey vibe that some people feel when they hear the term life or business coach.  The first trend is that some very well trained coaches have not found a way to talk about what they do in a  relatable way to everyday people.  They use a whole bunch of self-actualization words and language like:  ignite your passion, be more authentic, follow your dream, work with me and you’ll be more fulfilled etc etc.  That kind of language doesn’t translate to most people.  It sounds airy-fairy, woowoo—even cheesy.  The problem is, the work that these well trained coaches are doing is really fantastic—the way they talk about what they’re doing isn’t.  Nobody I know would put money down for hokey or cheesy.  However, if these talented coaches changed the way they communicated what they do into more tangible, results oriented outcomes—more people would sit up and take notice.

2. I’m your first voice talent, but I soon realised that this fact was inconsequential — you deal with women solopreneurs in a wide array of professions and the actual “parameters” of what they do is almost irrelevant — we all face the same challenges, fears, and blockages. How do you go about breaking down what a client needs from you?

JM: I have an initial discussion via email or phone with all new clients to understand what they’re looking for in a coach and from the coaching partnership—after that they complete a  comprehensive foundation package which is an opportunity for them to dig deep into where they are and where they want to be.  These provocative questions help get their creative juices flowing and ground them in what they want most from the coaching  experience.  Then we schedule a 90-minute Foundation Session over Skype, phone or face-to-face to design our partnership alliance, lay the groundwork, peel back the layers of where they’re at and where they’re headed.  We focus on their strengths and begin to “out” those sneaky, slippery areas of self-doubt.  My clients consistently tell me that this power-packed session has left them feeling inspired, clear and energized—with the inner-confidence to dig into what’s next.  After that, we schedule 60-minute sessions every two weeks.  Because I listen really deeply I’m able to move from full-fledged business mentoring into deep process coaching– and back again, meeting my clients exactly where they are in each moment.  I believe this unique approach brings depth to my client’s experience.

3. What’s the most common roadblock you uncover with clients which stands in the way of their success?

JM: It’s always the voice of their saboteur—that inner voice of doubt, the “what-ifer”, the “who do you think you are to…”, the seemingly rational “you can do that but just not yet, you have to have more training, or more experience, or more money” etc.–you know the voice right??!!  So, right off the bat we’re talking about the saboteur—understanding how it shows up in their life, shining a big ol’ light on it so it can’t hide.  I offer my clients lots of tangible tools and strategies to deal with that voice and minimize its hold on them.

 4. We got along famously — in fact, our mutual friend predicted we’d take over the world — that’s still currently in the planning stages. Describe why our sessions were so productive, and so amazingly paradigm-shifting right off the bat. (I believe the credit lies primarily on your shoulders, BTW…)

JM: You are too kind, woman!  I love our connection.  I know that we both showed up being ourselves at every single session.  We were honest, real, open.  We decided right off the bat to trust the process.  I believe that the power is in the relationship—that third entity if you will {sounding too woo woo?!!}  When it comes to my approach, I’m a natural-born truth-seeker.  I approach the questions I ask from a genuine interest in helping you get clear on your own truth—who you really are and who you’re becoming.  I’m always listening to what you say and what’s underneath that.  Plus I blurt my intuition which is a fabulous tool for deeper exploration.  Even though you’re not a woo-woo kinda girl you allowed me to take you into some powerful visualizations—we used cool metaphors and found new ways to talk about what you were feeling and what was important to you.  I think at the heart of it, you had the time and space to have a new experience of yourself.  That in and of itself is paradigm-shifting, non?  And let’s not forget about accountability—such a cornerstone for coaching.  Holding you accountable for the things you said were important to you {that helped with the productivity too!!}

The tangibles which came out of my sessions with Jacqui? I identified my “saboteur” — an uptight, librarian-esque character in a tight bun and cheap shoes who appeared somewhat regularly over my shoulder, telling me what a fraud I was, disguising her predictions of how badly things were going to go whenever I attempted a new endeavor under the guise of “protecting” me. Jacqui did a visualization exercise with me in which I clearly saw the “future Allison” : it was actually a very short-lived exercise which I did with committment, but didn’t fully realise how prevalent or recurring that image was going to be — the “future Allison” guides almost all of my decisions now, and became the “barometer” of what decisions I currently make, and influences what I will or will not tolerate now.

I’m still not the voice of AT & T or Cisco. But the paradigm shift which happened with regards to my clientele and the rates they pay me occurred — literally — after our first session. Current clients accept my hourly rate without question or hesitation. There’s only been a couple who have fallen by the wayside. But without any fanfare or explanation, I announce my rates unflinchingly to prospective clients, who are a much more serious — and yes, upscale — clientele, and I am much better at weeding out the no pays/slow pays earlier.

Career Coaching is not for the broken. It’s actually for those who are doing well; they just need to take it to the next level, or are feeling a blockage or resistance from getting to that next level. I told Jac in my wrap-up evaluation that she’s not really in the business of tending little saplings (although she does and can coach people who are just starting out); where she excels is in tending Bonsais. Trimming and gently re-directing those of us who are established and well on our way. Jacqui specializes in Women Soloprenuers — women forging their own way and managing their own careers, and I urge anyone feeling in need of a tune up to contact Jacqui — it’s been an invaluable tool for me, and I count it as one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Jacqui’s website is

No Woo Woo, charlatanism, or wim wam. I promise.

Join me back here in about two week’s time, where I’ll dig into the age-old question: “Why Does My Voice Sound So Different When It’s Recorded..?”

Thank for reading! Comments make me happy, so feel free to leave a comment!

Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, who can be heard voicing systems for telephone systems and private companies throughout the world, including platforms for Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Sprint, Bell Canada, Hawai’ian Telcom, and Asterisk.  Her website is

Adventures in GPS

I wrote a blog not that long ago about my first experience with a GPS voice while trying to make it to Astricon one year, which was held in idyllic — but remote — Carefree, Arizona. My mind was too focused on the memo I was writing in my head (“must get voice-over demo to Garmin ASAP!”) to really pay much heed to turns, off ramps, or other recommendations the voice was giving me, until the cacti started disappearing along with any hope of ever making it to the resort by dinnertime. Part of my problem — being new to GPS systems — was being unfamiliar with the directional arrows or how literal (or figurative) the voice was being when suggesting routes and various turns. (“She says: Turn right on Saguaro, but…is *this* Saguaro? It’s not marked…”) Also, I had been given general directions by a client who knew the Sonoran Desert well, and his directions seemed…well…at odds with what “Trixie Garmin” was telling me. (Strangely enough, the establishment I finally turned into to get “re-coordinated” was a PetSmart store, for whom I voice the store finder system.)  I had gotten completely off course but I — and the GPS — were “recalibrated” and Trixie kept largely silent while I drove in an almost straight (but lengthy) line to my destination.

The issue of what *kind* of voice in a GPS system elicits a more compliant and “obedient” (for lack of a better word) response has been debated ad nauseum. Dr. Clifford I. Nass, a communications professor at Stamford University (and a consultant to many car companies), explains: “When the key dimension is competence, the male voice is better; when the key dimension is likability, the female voice is better.” 

(I’m not too sure why competence and likability need to fly free of each other, but I’ll retract my hackles and respect what he’s saying).

Female voices were originally used in auditory warnings  in military aircraft because they stood out among male aviator’s verbalizations — men were most likely to pay heed to the female voices in combat situations because there was minimal chance of them being mistaken from ambient male voices.

Dr. Nass continues: “The main reason you have female voices in cars in not the technical qualifications like hearability. It’s that finding a female voice that is pleasing to almost everyone is infinitely easier than finding a male voice.”

There you go. That’s more like it.

There’s been much written about which is more functional in a car’s on-board GPS system: sexy might be too distracting; too strident and authoritarian can be an alienating “naxigatrix” (word I cannot take credit for: coined this time last year in a New York Times article by Bruce Feiler.) Do men, in particular, appreciate getting direction — however sattelite-guided or well-founded — from someone who sometimes urges them to pull into the next gas station and recommend anathema to their ears: Ask For Directions?

Personally — and I am anything but an Apple evangelist (witnessed by my cadre of people on Facebook who responded with dozens of suggestions/admonitions/cheerings on when I threatened to run over the device repeatedly with my car if I got *one more* message saying there’s wasn’t a SIM card installed) — I have to say that the GPS utility in the iPhone pretty much makes me feel like Magellan. Taking into consideration that I make my living voicing automated platforms, and never denying that I am forever encouraging people to hire professional voices for their automation — I quite prefer me (or my auto) being represented by a pulsating, blinking blue dot, edging ever closer  to (or in some instances, away from) my destination. I have no natural sense of direction (I always presume that North is straight ahead of me; South is where I’ve just been… get the idea) — so to be able to look up an address on the iPhone and have me and my destination clearly situated on a map, me blinking all bright and blue (and heavy traffic areas strobing angrily in red) — pure simplistic and reliable heaven. I don’t even mind that I don’t have a human voice guiding me around (sounding profoundly irritated and exasperated as she says: “REcalculating!” or particularly getting my goat when she says “Turn left on Memorial Doctor.” Really? Doctor?…You do mean….Drive…right, lamby?)

Your GPS voice is a highly personalized issue — it’s completely your call as to who sounds more “convincing” in your GPS be it Snoop Dogg or your own child’s voice doing the prompts. Personally — for me — nothing makes me happier than to enjoy the quiet while I safely sneak peeks at the blue dot perfectly intersecting with the magical red destination dot.

Join me here in about two weeks time, when I’ll blog about a service which I recently engaged in — actually one of the last services you’d think I’d participate in — which turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done for me or my career: the sometimes dark science and occasionally nebulous world of career coaching!

Thanks for reading…

Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, who can be heard voicing systems for telephone systems and private companies throughout the world, including platforms for Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Sprint, Bell Canada, Hawai’ian Telcom, and Asterisk.  Her website is