Written by Paul Robinson, voice and presentation coach www.paulrobinsonvoicecoaching.co.uk
What would you say is the most import tool for a celebrant – their looks, their voice, or their communication skills? Try putting those things in order. I’d say it’s their communication first, voice second – and what was the other one? Oh yes!
I’m not saying that looks don’t matter, and most people certainly pay a lot of attention to them: their own and other people’s; but consider this (and it’s completely hypothetical as it’s most unlikely to happen): could a ceremony go ahead if for some reason the participants couldn’t be seen? The answer is probably yes. Could a ceremony proceed if the people in it couldn’t be heard? Almost certainly not. So straight away it looks like being heard trumps (if you’ll pardon the expression) being seen.
Of course, there’s being heard… and being heard. It’s clear that the celebrant’s voice is a large part of that; and then there’s how that voice is used – the communication. Another factor is the celebrant’s personality. You might think that someone who’s larger than life could have an advantage over someone with a quieter disposition, but that’s not necessarily so.
For a start, there are as many different personality types attending a ceremony as there are amongst the celebrants who could be presenting it; and what suits one person may not be to the taste of another. Ideally, the celebrant would be flexible enough in their communication to put across a ceremony in whatever style was most appropriate, and with a degree of subtlety.
But back to the voice. Most of us would prefer to listen to one that’s easy on the ear. But even the most beautiful voice would send us to sleep if it’s not used with thought, skill and artistry: also known as good communication. And as I’ve hinted, I’d rather listen to someone with an unattractive voice who has excellent communication skills than a person with a gorgeous voice who doesn’t know how to make their words interesting.
Staggeringly to me, those voice skills – the sound of the voice, and how to use it – are barely paid attention to in most celebrant training (the exception being Heart-led Celebrant Training). How can this be? The ceremony is the sharp end of the whole process. It doesn’t matter how well that it’s been written, if it’s not presented in a skilful way, it’s not going to have the effect, the impact, it might have had – and the clients deserve and have paid for. It’s not unlike a surgeon, who in their studies, had been trained in anatomy, but hadn’t been shown how to properly use a scalpel, a blade, and to sew things up afterwards.
The result of this lack of training tends to be a dull rendering of a ceremony, which sounds like it’s being read out loud, rather than spoken in an engaging manner. When a celebrant does have the necessary communication skills, they’re able to sound natural, and be able to subtly reflect the feelings that arise in their scripts in a way that hits the spot with the people present. The celebrant sounds as if they’re not reading, even though they are. And they won’t fall at the final hurdle.