Normally reserved for the world’s grand stages, opera singing is making its formidable presence felt in the workplace, thanks to the activities of an innovative training company.
Make Yourself, formed at the end of 2004, uses opera and other styles of singing as an integral part of its presentation and teambuilding courses.
The idea arose after co-founder Kathryn Hide, a professional opera soprano and vocal coach, discovered a pupil had used singing techniques to improve her presentation skills at work.
A business plan was soon hatched with husband Graham Singleton and together with actor and trainer Jonathan Lewis and several other opera singers, a training company was formed. Eighteen months later, Hide has used the method with various groups including business consultancy Deloitte, Great Ormond Street Hospital and financial services company ING.
“We use opera singing at the beginning of the training to demonstrate the power of the voice and raise the emotional commitment and excitement around the course,” says Hide, who has performed at Glyndebourne and with the English Touring Opera in her 18-year career as a singer.
She says her favourite ice-breaker is the Lakme Duet from Bizet’s opera the Pearl Fishers, known to philistines as the theme tune from the British Airways TV ads. An operatic version of Gershwin’s Summertime also works well as an attention grabber.
“We find using opera singing in a training scenario has a real ‘wow factor’. It inspires the group and creates a hunger to learn about voice control and how they can use it to their advantage in the working environment,” says Hide.
But delegates on a Make Yourself course, which costs around £3,000-4,000 for a day’s session, don’t have to trill operatic solos. Instead, they are set the task of perfecting a song using two- and three-part harmonies within 30 minutes.
Tell me a story
“We find this is an excellent way of energising and preparing delegates for learning presentation, personal impact and leadership skills,” says Hide.
Songs also demonstrate a good way of telling a story, according to Alan Mars, a presentation and communication skills trainer. He has used singing in corporate training for the past five years.
“Learn what makes a well-constructed song and it will help you write an effective presentation. Just like a song chorus, you should always repeat the important message within a presentation,” he says.
Mars grew up singing in various choirs in his native Glasgow, but it was only after he studied the Alexander Technique at college and took a module in singing techniques did he realise the power singing has in developing vocal range and personnel presentation.
“So many people rely on a dull PowerPoint slide to see them through a presentation. They would be more successful if they developed their one great personal asset – their voice,” he says.
Case study: deloitte
A chance meeting with opera singer Kathryn Hide at a social event last summer led Chris Harvey, a partner in the global banking consultancy at business advisory firm Deloitte, to use singing as part of a presentation skills and teambuilding workshop.
“She mentioned she used singing as a way of building confidence and team spirit and I thought it sounded interesting, so I invited her to try it with my guys,” he says.
Harvey admits there was some initial scepticism among his team, but within an hour a group of 30 people were belting out four-part harmonies,
“It was a great session, very enjoyable and with genuine teambuilding benefits.”
From this original experiment, Harvey now regularly uses singing as an ice-breaking technique before meetingswith clients.
“Among some of our international client teams it has gone down well as a way of breaking down cultural barriers. We also want individuals to think outside the box in these meetings, and singing really brings people out of themselves,” he says.
While Harvey admits the singing sessions must be used as part of a wider programme of teambuilding activities, he is convinced the method has helped members of his team to better express themselves.
“It has created a buzz in the company and got people enthusing because they work for an innovative organisation.”