In this column we normally stick to reviewing business books but we were drawn to The Alchemy of Voice by Stewart Pearce because of the back of the book which, among other ambitions, pledges that it will help you “tune into your whole mind and body and be more appealing and persuasive to others”.
So is this the book to turn you into amateur Derren Browns? That might be going a bit too far.
Pearce is a voice coach and what he describes as a sound healer, working with the likes of the Shakespeare Globe and the BBC. He also has experienced synesthesia – the confusing of sound and colour – all his life and it is a key part of his technique.
Pearce’s true aim is to look at the role of sound of the voice and what he describes as our true voice.
Such ambitions may be a turn-off to many, especially in subsequent chapters that go into your signature note, chakras and the aura and the anatomy of breathing.
But the bits that are of most interest from a business perspective are the sections on public speaking.
He runs through a page-long list of problems that people commonly have when speaking in public, from feeling frozen and breathing difficulties to sweaty palms and using repetitive space fillers such as ’um’ and ’er’.
Many people, he says, are more afraid of public speaking than dying or breaking up with their partner, such is the terror it holds over them.
The first thing to break this, he says, is the attitude that you yourself bring to public speaking and that includes any psychological baggage.
To illustrate this point he includes the case study of a businessman called Frank whom Pearce was hired to help. Frank found that he shook uncontrollably whenever he had to give a talk at work. He had an attractive wife and was a success at work but for some reason public speaking terrified him.
Frank initially refused to apply any of the techniques that Pearce uses, which includes colours relating to moods, and relaxation techniques.
But eventually he elicited from Frank a childhood memory, specifically of his move from primary school to grammar school and of then being asked by an English teacher to read aloud.
All the boys sniggered and ridiculed him and the teacher also joined in mocking him. Frank’s response as a child was to hold the book so tightly he shook.
It was this repressed childhood memory that was ultimately keeping Frank from performing in front of all-male gatherings. Once he and Pearce had made this breakthrough, and after massages to work on his tension, he was soon able to deal with his fears.
Although it’s unlikely we could all trace back the root cause of problems we have with public speaking, Pearce drills into the most common problems that people have it and how they can work to counter these issues.
The language used by Pearce throughout the book, with its talk of chakras and inner kingdoms, would no doubt, as with Frank, cause many to be reluctant to listen to what Pearce is trying to say.
But the examples he uses of past clients clearly show he can get results, so if you’re having problems making speeches, the sections on this topic could definitely be worth reading.
Book review by Robert Thickett