76. Susan Murphy: Communicating with your authentic voice

Sue Stockdale talks to Susan Murphy, a broadcast voice coach who helps young broadcasters find and use authentic voice and pitch. In this conversation Susan describes how to access your best vocal pitch, why audio and voice has become more important recently, and what causes some of her clients have tears in their eyes when they find their authentic voice.

Susan Murphy spent 40 years on-air and in production, learning what makes an effective voice, and it has propelled her career.  Her voiceover work has appeared on television commercials and programs, websites, and even e-learning (she is known as Vanessa in some Artificial Intelligence environments). More recently she found her true passion in teaching others and now works with clients as a broadcast voice coach, polishing the on-air sound of anchors and reporters.  Find about more about Susan Murphy on LinkedIn : Website 

Connect with Access to Inspiration on Twitter : Facebook : Instagram : LinkedIn : Read our Impact Report

Key Quotes

‘Audio and voice has become more important, because context is now even way more important because of disinformation and misinformation.’

‘An audio only podcast requires that you pay more attention and your brain to engage a little bit more in painting the picture.’

‘When we work on uncovering her authentic voice, tears come into her eyes. And she tells me it’s healing.’

‘I am very conscious of modulating the speed and allowing pauses to work in conversation.’

‘You and I are having a conversation, but those who are listening to us, I’d like to think I’m in conversation with them as well.’

‘So many people are afraid of just not talking for a second.’

‘Voices are very individual.’ 

‘I help you access a voice that can be the basis of inspiration.’

‘ I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to love what I do and have loved it since day one.’

‘Go with your gut. Listen with it, act with it. Trust it more often.’

Susan Murphy transcription

[00:00:00] Sue Stockdale : Hello, I’m Sue Stockdale and welcome to the access to inspiration podcast. The show where you can be inspired by people who may be unlike. We hope their experiences and insights cause you to reflect on your own perspectives about the world and make you think. Now today’s guest had me on the edge of my seat. Literally it’s quite daunting to be speaking with a voice coach because I knew she was likely to be assessing how I sound when I speak. Susan Murphy has been in the broadcast industry for over 40 years and her roles have included radio news, director, TV news, reporter, talk show host, producer for radio, voiceover artist, and now a broadcast voice coach.

Keep listening if you want to find out how to access your best vocal pitch and why Susan has seen tears come into the eyes of some of her clients, when they find their authentic voice. Welcome to the podcast, Susan, it’s lovely to speak to you today.

[00:01:16] Susan Murphy: It’s so nice to be here, Sue. Thanks for having me.

[00:01:19] Sue Stockdale : I must tell the listener that I am slightly nervous today because of course speaking to a voice coach, I’m kind of feeling I’m being critiqued as I go along. I’m sure that’s not the case though. Is it Susan?

[00:01:30] Susan Murphy: No, it is not the case. This is a no judgment zone.

[00:01:35] Sue Stockdale : well, I’m glad to hear that. That that’s fantastic. Now, as I said, you’ve had a career in voice and I wonder if you were just taking a bird’s eye perspective to kick us off and reflecting on how audio, if at all has changed during the time that you’ve been engaged in the broadcast industry, what would be one thing that sort of stands out for you?

[00:01:57] Susan Murphy: That is a wonderful question. And it’s a question that could take me all half an hour to answer, but I’ll try not to do. I started my career in radio and moved into television. And then I’ve always been a voice actor. So I’ve done commercials and narration, and now I’m a voice coach. And one of the things that sticks with me is coming almost full circle in four decades is that audio, I think is actually more important maybe than it used to be. Everybody thinks that life is about the picture. Life is about the moving image and to some degree that’s true, but the moving image often needs context. The image needs explanation, the image needs commentary. And so audio and voice and everything surrounding I think has become more important, especially as the world has changed, [00:03:00] say in the last five, eight years, because context is now even way more important because of disinformation and misinformation, that sometimes you can’t always rely on the pictures you see, and admittedly, you can’t always rely on the voices you hear. Got that. But I think audio is a simpler medium. For one thing, and I think there’s a whole lot more importance to it now than there was say, 35 years.

[00:03:29] Sue Stockdale : Well, it’s really interesting that you say that Susan, I could completely go off on a tangent here and talk about how podcasting is really changing as well. Yeah, because podcasting is moving into podcasting and video, and I certainly far the simpler audio only version myself. I dunno if you have a view on that.

[00:03:48] Susan Murphy: I enjoy both. I’ve done both, but there’s something about kind of like the early days of radio, more than a hundred years ago when people started listening to voices that came out of the air and it was so immaculately new and there was this mystery to it, that where it activated your brain to paint the pictures. I think the same is true in an audio only podcast. It requires that you pay more attention. And it requires that your brain engage a little bit more in painting the pictures.

[00:04:21] Sue Stockdale : Well, that segues us fantastically well into thinking about what we’re actually listening for. You said the brain has to listen a little bit harder when you are listening to a voice, Susan, what is it that you are listening for?

[00:04:37] Susan Murphy: These days, it’s all about authenticity to the point of that word. Authentic. Authenticity. I think in the media in general is being a little overused, but let’s go with that. I’m always listening for an authentic voice and that’s what I teach. An authentic voice. And a lot of us don’t know where our authentic voice is, particularly women because we think of authentic as equating to low or deep.

Mm. Not always completely true. Men are born with the larger adams apple and testosterone that automatically makes a voice lower. Not to say they don’t have problems with authenticity. They do, but women have problems with authentic voices. And I have found in my coaching, the reasons why were very surprising to me and a little bit heartbreaking women often resort to a very high pitched or breathy or little girl sounding voice that they carry with them well into their, you know, twenties and thirties and forties. And I’m learning it’s because that breathy little girl, Barbie doll voice served them very well [00:06:00] as children in dealing with the authority figures in their lives, mostly men.

But I think sometimes. And those voices got those girls, what they needed, what they wanted, and you can take that to the nth degree. And I think that there can be some very sad stories in there. So when I work with young reporters and anchors, and it’s kind of amazing that a reporter anchor would even consider going on air with that little girl voice.

But she doesn’t know that’s what she has sometimes. So when we work on uncovering or not changing anything, I’m literally uncovering her authentic voice tears come into her eyes and she tells me it’s healing. I did not see that coming when I started the vocal coaching business, but I find it a blessing.

I find it an honor that these young women can share that with me. Sometimes we unpack I’m not a psychologist, but we’ll unpack just a little bit. About what it was like as a child, whether she was the peacemaker or whether she was the last child and had to be a little louder than all the others, or there are multiple reasons that they can share that with me and that we can move beyond that. Talk about inspiration. A for them, but B for me to continue what I’m doing. Boom. Done inspiration right there.

[00:07:33] Sue Stockdale : Wow. How satisfying that must be for you, Susan? Yes. So I’d like to almost turn the tables on you in relation to finding your authentic voice and when and how do you think you developed your authentic voice?

[00:07:47] Susan Murphy: Again, another very good question because of my age. I am soon to be 66. I knew very young that I wanted to well. They often say that broadcasters are really just high school actors who can’t sing, but , I can sing. So I wanted to be an actor and my parents said, no, no, we’re not paying for that. So I picked the next best thing and that was communications.

So I graduated from college in the late 1970s. I’m standing on the shoulders of the Jane Pauley of the Barbara Walters of those very early women broadcasters. So in the late seventies into the early eighties, it was super easy for women to get jobs because everybody was hiring, they had to diversify their workforce.

So it was super easy. And I got my first job in television in 19. 78 77, actually. So when you realize you’re now going to be on television, you do think about your voice and you do think about the men you’re going to work with. And yes, for me, it was sort of a, a decision like, okay, I need to make my voice sound important or not authentic.

I wasn’t thinking that, but I was thinking it had to be a weighty voice. It had to be a [00:09:00] voice with gravitas. So I kind of had it in my head. Well, I’m just going. lower my voice, I guess that’s what I thought. Fortunately, I was born with most of this voice managed to avoid picking up accents, Philadelphia, which where I was born in New York, which is where I moved to.

So there was this sort of conscious effort on my part to at least sound serious. I think I’m kind of lucky. I didn’t hurt my voice or ruin my voice. So in the last 40 years, what I have learned with regard to singing lessons and yogic breathing and just voice acting lessons and my own experience, I’ve kind of put together my own little. Here’s a really good way to uncover your authentic voice without hurting yourself.

[00:09:49] Sue Stockdale : So you were working on yourself if you like. Working on how you presented yourself, how you communicated to be most effective over the years, as I’m listening to Susan, just in the commentary you just gave there. I was listening to the modulation in your voice, and I was listening to the pacing of how you were communicating. So I’m wondering if you could get behind the scenes and help the listener to almost understand what is it that you’re doing when I ask your question and you’re answering, how much are you thinking about what you’re saying and how much are you thinking about how you’re saying it?

[00:10:28] Susan Murphy: Also a very good question. It’s a little bit of both, but I think because of what I do, I probably think a little bit more of how I’m answering the question. One of the things I’m very conscious of. Is speed in which I speak. And I try to keep that at a very easy to listen to pace because what I’ve learned and what I teach is that for reporters, for example, or anybody in conversation, if you’re an expert talking to somebody about what you do, you’ve got all that knowledge up in your head and you’ve know how to explain it.

And you can go a mile a minute, but the person you’re talking to doesn’t have all of that. So I am very conscious of modulating the speed. And allowing pauses to work into conversation for two reasons. One, it allows me to maybe come up with my next sentence, but it allows my listener to sort of absorb what I’ve talked about or what I’ve said.

and that has to be a back and forth. You and I are having a conversation, but those who are listening to us, I’d like to think I’m in conversation with them as well. And for us to have a conversation, we need to be able to understand each other and absorb what’s being said. So I’m very conscious of that.

One of the other things that the pause does. Is that it prevents you to some degree from [00:12:00]using like, so that’s just a little trick that if you take the pause, so many people are afraid of just not talking for a second. Nobody died. I wasn’t speaking and nobody died. Because we’re in a crazy world where we’re going at breakneck speed and we think everything has to be filled with sound and light and touch and taste and smell. No, it doesn’t. Wait a minute, slow it down. So pausing, I’m a big fan of a pause. It just allows everybody to catch up with everything.

[00:12:37] Sue Stockdale : And you’re illustrating it wonderfully for our listeners, Susan, and how you in how you’re communicating with us.

[00:12:43] Susan Murphy: I do overdo it. I probably go a step too far, but you get the idea.

[00:12:47] Sue Stockdale : No, I think role modeling is a really great way for people to learn. So to hear you role model, the pause for us is very helpful.

If you’re enjoying this episode, we have over 70 more that you can access on our website. For example, in episode 32, I spoke to podcast manager, Joni Deutsch about why silence is just as important as sound. And in episode 37, Sameer Dua describes how listening to your own inner voice can be helpful. Hop one over to access, to inspiration.org and find them all.

I want to turn the focus of our conversation onto you, reflecting on your career and can’t help. But wondering when you’ve been narrating a commercial or seeing yourself on the television, how does it feel if you’re walking through a store or turning the radio on the car? And all of a sudden there is that voice.

[00:13:45] Susan Murphy: It never gets old and you never stop being surprised. And. It just warms your heart for about six years. I was the TV voice for Fixadent the denture cream. It was a British actress actually, who did the commercial, but they needed an American voice. So the commercial could air in Canada and the us. So I dubbed in the voice. The actress’s name was Tracy. In the commercials, they had a whole series of them where she’s standing in this big, super big mouth and she’s standing on dentures and the dentures are moving and she’s falling off and, and I would have to fall off dentures.

It was crazy, but it was a hoot. So every time I would see it in the US and it was mostly on cable, but occasionally on network television. I would just laugh and giggle and it was, it was so much fun. And I do enjoy listening back to the things I’ve narrated. Of course. We’re our worst enemies when it comes to listening to ourselves and critiquing ourselves and, oh, I could have done that line better. Or why didn’t I pause there? Or I [00:15:00] could have ended the sentence this way. We’re very harsh on ourselves. That’s why you need a coach. So you’re not so harsh on yourself, you know? And so that as a coach, I do like to think I inspire. I mean, I just don’t show you or teach you or critique you. I try to ignite something in your brain that allows you to take the voice to where only you can take it.

Voices are very individual and I have learned why women sometimes don’t use their best vocal pitch. I have also found it an honor to watch the blossom. The petals unfold in people who go a step further or do a read that I think is brilliant. And I wouldn’t have done it that way, but look what you just did to watch that light. Just, it’s never a light bulb. It never goes on real quick, but the light just comes up. And that to me is passing on inspiration that I just love to do. If I can give you the access to this kind of inspiration, I’ve done my job.

[00:16:07] Sue Stockdale : And of course, that’s the name of the podcast. so good that you’re here, Susan.

[00:16:10] Susan Murphy: That’s why I wanted to do this podcast because what I do, isn’t just voice. I help you access a voice that can be the basis of inspiration or a part of inspiration or the end of inspir. I don’t know.

[00:16:29] Sue Stockdale : And just as I have done with my earlier questions, Susan, I’d like to throw the question back to you in terms of who or what inspires you. You mentioned you’re in your mid sixties, you’ve had an illustrious career in broadcast. How do you get inspiration when maybe there’s a morning where you just don’t feel like getting up and rushing around and getting on with your day? Right?

[00:16:52] Susan Murphy: The inspiration always comes from knowing I can make a difference that even for the shyest person or the person with the highest voice or the person who hates the way they sound, I can make a difference or I can show you how you make the difference.

You know, I like to say, I don’t show you my superpowers. I help you uncover yours. So that’s what the inspiration is to me. And I think that’s probably been true for all the years I was in radio and television. I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to love what I do and have loved it since day one. So many people don’t get to do what they love.

And I was one of those people who knew in college and knew before college. And when I taught at a university and you would see the kids who just seemed to be floundering, they just didn’t know where they were going or what interested them or you almost couldn’t find their passion because they hadn’t found it yet. And [00:18:00] I was so very lucky that I had already done that. And don’t think that escapes me. It does not. So the inspiration for me is just the love of what I do.

[00:18:10] Sue Stockdale : Well, I certainly can get that as well. Susan, I always think that waking up every morning and doing what you love and happen to get paid for it is a joy.

[00:18:18] Susan Murphy: How were you inspired to start this podcast?

[00:18:22] Sue Stockdale : Great question, Susan. My co-founder Clive steeper and myself were having a conversation. Both of us are coaches. And we saw that in the conversations we were having with our clients a little bit like how you just described at the start of this conversation, where you see somebody’s eyes light up and the best of them comes out through conversation.

We both were having that experience with our own clients and seeing that that doesn’t happen in many other walks of life or parts of society. Added to that, the way that technology drives us to become more focused on people like us and creating echo chambers. And we have seen that inspiration comes from all places.

Everybody can be inspiring to somebody else just as we had experienced in those coaching conversations. So we thought, well, why not create a platform, a medium using podcasting to enable people to share their stories from all walks of life, from all countries, from all backgrounds and through doing that, if they bring out the best of themselves, then that will light up somebody else’s eyes and inspire them.

[00:19:34] Susan Murphy: Brilliant. Of course. Yes. Yeah, it does. It is so helpful to hear what lights up other people’s because we you’re right. We do. We only see what we see. We only see what we are around. And so to listen to something from a completely other sphere or country. Yeah, exactly. Love it. One of the things I would really like to share with our listeners is the very simplest of ways to help you access what is probably your best vocal pitch. And it’s really so easy to do, and it’s something that you can practice and find. And as I said, it’s a combination of what I learned through yoga and singing lessons and, and it’s really quite simple. It’s a matter of, for one thing. I like people to imagine their backbones from the tip of their tailbone up through their neck.

And if their backbone went up through their head. It doesn’t. I want you to picture that backbone like a string of pearls. And as though somebody’s gently pulling on the pearls and what that does is that it elongates your spine a little bit and creates this beautiful, clear unobstructed pathway for air and energy.

And then the next thing which I had only learned maybe 20, 25 years ago, that just blew me away was. [00:21:00] Relax and lower your shoulders. Why does your shoulders have so much to do with your voice? Couple of reasons. One, where do we all carry anxiety and stress? We carry it in our shoulders. Tension, right? So if you can lower your shoulders, really let the muscles go all across the top of your chest and across the top of your back and heavy and loose shoulders.

And then when you go to breathe, we’re broadcasters. So I always teach in through your mouth, but most of us aren’t so you can do it in through your nose too, but to make sure that breath gets all the way down into your belly and your belly expands like a balloon. So if you’ve imagined your backbone or is a string of pearls, if your shoulders are heavy and if you’re breathing into your, all the way down into your diaphragm, you take that breath of air and I can pretty much guarantee you if you’ve done that right. The next sentence you say will probably come out in the range of pitch that is authentically yours.

[00:22:15] Sue Stockdale : Some wise advice, Susan, I hope her listener will give it a try and see what happens. In your career I’m wondering when you were given advice along the way, perhaps wondering where did that advice help you? And did you ever find yourself in any sticky or difficult situations?

[00:22:34] Susan Murphy: Sue, do we have another hour? I don’t think we do. Sticky situations. Every broadcaster has them. Oh. In fact, we usually have them weekly, but you asked for a particular situation and advice that I was given. And I like to tell the story I was in college and I was taking a TV and upper level TV course, just like the one I would teach 35 years later taking a course and we had to do a commercial. And so I was gonna do a commercial with perfume and the commercial was being taped.

This was back in the day when the lights had to be so bright and the room was so dark, all you could basically see was just shining lights in your face. And you knew there was a camera out there somewhere. So I go to do the commercial and I go to spray the perfume and I spray it into my eyes and I go, oh, and I doubled down like, oh, oh, oh. And I hear from the back of the room, the instructor say. Keep going, Susan. Okay. So I guess I did, I guess I finished it, but the brilliance of that was the instructor never made me watch it back. So I always hear him in my head saying keep going, Susan,

[00:23:58] Sue Stockdale : that’s really helpful. I’m sure. [00:24:00] And have there been times where you’ve had to keep going and things haven’t worked out.

[00:24:05] Susan Murphy: Oh sure. Equipment failure or the interview was going badly with whoever you’re talking with. And I used to do a radio show and I had a fill in co-host one day, and I don’t remember who we were interviewing, but it was going badly. His name was Bob Fitz Simmons my fill in cohost. And he just decided that we were going to end the interview.

And he even said out loud on the air. You know, it appears that you’re not having a good time today with us and you know, it’s okay. We all have those days. We’re gonna end the interview right now. And he went to commercial. Holy cow. I’d never seen anything like that, but, and I never had to do it on my own, but I always knew I could. I could, so sure things go wrong all the time. All the time.

[00:24:58] Sue Stockdale : Well, you’ve given us a lot of life lessons today in what you’ve shared with us, Susan, I’m getting these amazing pictures in my mind of these situations that you’re so eloquently describing to us through your voice. Well, thank you to be able to write it. You, at this outset, you said we could create a picture in our minds from what we were listening to. If there was one piece of advice amongst the many you’ve already given to us, if there was one piece of advice you would want our listener to take away and reflect upon and think about the next time they’re listening to another episode of access to inspiration podcast. What would you like them to have in their mind as they’re listening to that conversation?

[00:25:37] Susan Murphy: The first thing that popped into my head was breathe with the host and the guest. If you kind of lean in a little bit and breathe with kind of with them as they’re going. I think that makes for a richer understanding for what you’re listening to.

We give breath short shrift breathing is more than just getting. Oxygen into your lungs. I think we actually live down in our guts down in our diaphragms and you know, the expression. Oh, my gut told me not to do that. Gotta trust my gut with that decision. Go with your gut. Listen with it. Act with it. Trust it more often.

[00:26:22] Sue Stockdale : Wonderful. It’s been absolutely wonderful to speak to with you today, Susan, if our listener wants to find out more about you and the work that you do, how might they do that?

[00:26:32] Susan Murphy: I’m certainly on LinkedIn as Susan Murphy, but as it was the most popular name to give a baby in 1956, there are many, many, many Susan Murphy’s. So just look for Susan Murphy, like voice coach or something, or I have my own website, which is Susan Murphy.vosot.com. Voat, what is Vosot you ask V O S O T. It is broadcast [00:27:00] shorthand, four voiceover sound on tape. And if a reporter is writing a Vosot she is writing the script that goes with a particular piece of video. So, oh, that’s the Vosot so my company is Susan Murphy Vosot dot com and you can reach me through there.

[00:27:19] Sue Stockdale : Fantastic. We will put links to those things on the show notes as well, Susan, to make sure our listener can find you easily. Super. I’m gonna be concentrating on my diaphragm and my breathing in future, making sure I sound at my best for our future guests as well.

And I’m also gonna be listening with a new sense of connection with other podcasts that I engage with as. Well, I hope you’re ready to take Susan’s advice and listen, and breathe along with a host and guest in the next podcast that you listen to. I really enjoyed speaking with her. Remember, you can keep connected with us on social media. We are on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Just search for access to inspiration. Next week, I’ll be speaking to Italian artist writer and activist, Elena Rossini who’s most notable project is the critically acclaimed documentary. The illusionists I hope you can join.

Sound Editor: Matias de Ezcurra (he/him)
Producer: Sue Stockdale (she/her)