I’m the voice and communication coach for Heart-led Celebrants, and I work with celebrants who’ve trained elsewhere but haven’t had the vocal training they really needed.
Celebrancy is a form of public speaking. There are several ways of approaching public speaking in general – some more useful than others.
Using ‘bullet points’ or reminder headings can work very well, as long as the speaker is very familiar with the subject matter. (There’s a risk that the speaker won’t be completely accurate.) The bullet points can be written down, or memorised.
Speaking ‘off the cuff’ is a little bit like using bullet points, but it’s less ordered, and you run a bigger risk of completely missing out important information.
Another alternative is to write down the presentation, and learn it by heart. (Good luck with that!)
Short of using some sort of autocue – which would normally only be used in on-camera situations, the other method that comes to mind is to write down the presentation, and read it out loud.
There are advantages and disadvantages to all of these. I’ll touch on these briefly now in relation to celebrancy. It’s essential as a celebrant that you’re a hundred-percent accurate with your information, such as names – both getting them right, and not missing anyone out – and events. This means that bullet points and speaking off the cuff are really too risky for a ceremony
In order to be rock solid on the content of a ceremony, you’d have to use the last option – reading it out. You could learn it, but that’s a heck of a challenge for almost everybody – especially if there’s a quick turnaround, which is often the case for funerals and cremations – and most people, speaking from memory, sound like they’re reading, anyway. The skill is to be able to read while sounding like you’re not reading. I can teach you how to do this. The method is very easy to understand. It’s almost too simple to believe. Putting it into practice isn’t easy, but once you have that skill under your belt, it will lift your presentation out of the ordinary.
Here’s my take on these styles:
I divide into five, the styles of how I hear celebrants present.
- Flat and boring, with repetitive falling inflections.
- A false, almost pious veneer of concern, especially in funerals. Again, repetitive!
- The short-story style. This can work quite well, even very well, but it still sounds like the celebrant is reading.
- The recalling/considering style, where the celebrant honours each change of thought as they move through the ceremony, which results in a natural, lifelike presentation.
- This is the same as the previous style, except that the celebrant is open to reflecting (subtly) any feelings which may arise as they consider what they’re about to say. This can lead to a rich, multi-layered presentation, full of natural variety.
As I mention in a video clip elsewhere on this website, I have two aims: for you to have a flexible, pleasant-sounding voice – and for you be able to speak in front of a gathering of people, large or small, in an interesting, natural and dynamic way.
It’s always up to the client as to how far we go with any aspect of the training – voice, and communication. Up to a point, as far as the voice is concerned, it’s possible to work to maximise the capabilities of your voice as it currently is: making the most of what you’ve got – this requires the least amount of time and work.
The next stage is to use a couch-to-5km approach to your voice, where you listen forensically to how you sound, and decide what aspect of it could do with some adjustment. Then you work on it for, say, 20-30 minutes for several days, and by that time, you’ll probably be well on your way with what you’re doing, and you may then move on to another aspect.
The third approach is similar to the second, but more intensive – couch to 10km, if you like – and needs more time and dedication.
The communication side of things is incredibly easy to understand. It’s based on a simple exercise which involves you recording yourself – on a phone, or whatever. Almost without fail, you’ll be astonished as to how natural and interesting you sound. The challenge is to be able to sound as natural and interesting when reading a ceremony – to come across when you’re reading, as if you’re not reading. This is even more important than how you sound! I have a selection of exercises and tips, some of which can be quite fun, which can enable you to take off the shackles, and help you sound spontaneous.
It’s beneficial to think of a ceremony, or just about any form of public speaking as a journey made up of a sequence of thoughts – each thought being a stepping stone along the way. The speaker’s goal is to get from stone to stone (thought to thought) as naturally and realistically as possible. If you cut any corners, it won’t sound natural. I’d love to help you reach that goal.
If you’re interested in training to become a celebrant, go to Heart-led Celebrants.