The Voice Clinic: Monique Rissen-Harrisberg



“Whenever we open our mouths, people assess us, judge us, formulate opinions about us.” Think about that for a minute.Monique Rissen-Harrisberg, founder and CEO of The Voice Clinic, understands precisely how poor communication skills, an inability to present yourself or your business properly, or even something as simple as having a squeaky and irritating or monotonous and boring voice, can impede the success of a company.“You need to make sure that your voice is pleasing to the ear, confident and commanding so that when you pick up the phone to call a potential client, you don't lose them the minute you open your mouth.”

Rissen-Harrisberg started The Voice Clinic in 1988 at the age of 23. With a BA in English and drama and an honours degreein speech and drama, she is also an associate of the Trinity College of Speech and Drama in London, and was admitted as a licentiate of the same institution. While lecturing soon-to-be-teachers on how to use drama as an educational tool at the Bellville Teachers Training College, she realised the enormous business need for voice training. “These were future teachers and I could never understand what they were saying,” she says. “One day when I was driving into the college, the idea of The Voice Clinic came to me. When I arrived at work I quickly outlined on paper the concept of a clinic with individual voice and public speaking programmes.”

At the time, there was nowhere in South Africa offering voice training and when Rissen-Harrisberg took the idea first to the Small Business Development Corporation and then to her bank, she was told it was “ridiculous”. Undeterred, she used the R400 budget plan on her credit card to fund the business, writing and printing 50 brochures at 20c a copy and sending them off to various corporates. “From that, I got about ten calls and that's how it started. Every time a client paid me, I would go and buy a couch or a typewriter or whatever the business needed. I had a three-month lease on-premises and thought I’d give it a chance.” Business was initially slow and Rissen-Harrisberg lists finding the right people as the biggest challenge; staff at The Voice Clinic undergo a rigorous training programme and have to hold a degree in voice, speech and drama, communication or psychology.Initially, Rissen-Harrisberg, as a young woman trying to convince 45-year-old male execs that she could improve their communication skills, had only her voice to sell her idea. But it’s a voice that’s rich and modulated and incredibly pleasing to the ear – and one that turned out to be extremely convincing as well.

So in spite of the challenges and whether she realised it initially or not, Rissen-Harrisberg was onto something big.Today The Voice Clinic employs around 56 people, has five branches throughout South Africa and one in Sydney, Australia, and is the leading authority on voice training, presentation and communication skills for corporates and individuals alike.In 1999, Rissen-Harrisberg’s husband, ophthalmic surgeon Cyril Harrisberg, opened up the Stress Clinic, a medically-aligned holistic lifestyle division of The Voice Clinic. The obvious cross-pollination potential between the two entities has paved the way for even greater success, with over-stressed businesspeople deriving benefit from interaction with both.

The corporate landscape has changed and people are far more aware now of how presentation and communication can make or break a business than they were when The Voice Clinic started. The organisation sees everyone from CEOs to receptionists, teaching them breathing and relaxation techniques first before developing the voice in layers, paying attention to vocal resonance, pitch, variety and pauses. Some might argue that the voice you are born with is the one you’re stuck with, but Rissen-Harrisberg would disagree –and she has 18 years’ worth of case studies to back up her position. “The voice is a flexible instrument. It can be developed and changed and if people learn how to use it properly they will be able to establish a rapport with whomever they speak to in whatever situation – whether they are launching a product, addressing the board, managing a sales team or speaking at a PTA meeting,” she explains. Rissen-Harrisberg has identified the powerful contributions the voice has to make as a tool. “Some say that the pen is mightier than the sword,” she says, “but I think the voice is even mightier than the pen.”

The Power of Your Voice

In today’s society we need to communicate in a way that inspires confidence, credibility and conviction. The way in which you deliver your message rather than its actual content determines how people receive you and your spoken ideas. Delivering a point that is fully heard depends to a large extent on your vocal clarity, tone of voice, pace of speech, and how you organise your thoughts – these factors account for 38% of your communication message. The rest of your message is made up of image and body language (55%), and content (only 7%).
Voice, image and body language all combine to create credibility in the form of trustworthiness and expertise. Other people’s perception of your credibility is all-important to your success: without credibility, it is very difficult to make yourself heard. Your voice affects how seriously you are taken, how respected you are, and the results you achieve with clients, co-workers and people in business. Of course, it also affects the relationships in your personal life. It is a powerful tool that you can use deliberately to influence and persuade people.”

Excerpt From: Monique Rissen-Harrisberg. “Make Yourself Heard.” iBooks.

Winter Warmer Voice Tips

How to look after your voice in winter

As winter is almost upon us it is vital that we keep voices healthy.

One only has to expose one's throat neck & chest to external cold to experience a tightening and stinging of the vocal chords as well as a dry mouth and strained throat.

Remember a good speaking voice is one that is easily heard and pleasant to the ear.
See our Winter Specials Online

Seven tips to help you during the winter months

  1. Keep your throat covered, By wearing a scarf, high collar or poloneck.
  2. Drink warm liquids such as hot water or tea with honey or warm soups.
  3. Try not to abuse your voice when outdoors by shouting and straining to project across sports fields for example.
  4. Throat lozenges or sucking sweets or mints are good.
  5. Drinking lots of water and fluids to keep your mouth moist.

6. If all else fails a hot toddy like granny used to make will help.

Alcoholic recipe

  • Brandy
  • Hot water
  • Honey
  • Ginger
  • Turmeric
  • Apple juice

Non-alcoholic recipe

  • Raw egg
  • Hot milk
  • Honey
  • Ginger
  • Cinnamon

7. Remember smoking also dries out your mouth and throat.

Sent with the warm heart.
Yours in good voice!

Valentine's Shmooze Tips

Your voice can carry or swallow the message


THE US presidential election is a year away, but the race is already drawing huge media attention across the world. For The Voice Clinic’s CEO Monique Rissen-Harrisberg, it provides the perfect opportunity to reflect on the power of effective communication.

"The best speaker by far is Hillary Clinton," she says. "Her speech is clear, confident, and commanding. Her pitch is comfortably low, complemented by a brisk and efficient pace.

"Her thoughts are quick, her vocabulary excellent, and her use of gesture and facial expression is carefully constructed to appear natural and spontaneous."

Rissen-Harrisberg considers Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane as the most eloquent speaker among local politicians. With his excellent pronunciation and articulation, he reminds her of Barack Obama in his prime.

"He is on the right track to become a great speaker," she says. "He would benefit from some intervention, though, in terms of lowering his pitch and having a more trained approach to his voice.

"He could also improve his eye contact and use even bigger gestures. But as he grows and becomes more powerful, it will probably come quite naturally."

Rissen-Harrisberg says the least inspiring US candidate is Jeb Bush, whom she describes as "fairly lame in his approach" and "boring and flat, like a tired schoolteacher".

She expresses similar reservations about Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande, who she says "lacks conviction and definition when he speaks". "He has a blank facial expression. He is verbose and long-winded. And he speaks with a flat and mumbled tone. Perhaps if he was a more eloquent speaker, some of the mass protests could have been minimised."

Another politician Rissen-Harrisberg wishes would stand up and speak clearly is President Jacob Zuma. She says his voice is fairly clear and that he doesn’t mumble, but believes that his speech is too slow and that his eye contact with an audience is "shocking".

"Sometimes there is an upward inflection with his statements, which makes them sound like questions. He has a bizarre, demeaning, and unflattering chuckle that erupts from time to time. And he sometimes smiles in inappropriate places, like the middle of a serious discussion. You cannot deliver an assertive message while you are smiling. Cohesion of the message is key."

Rissen-Harrisberg believes that when we communicate, voice and body language must create one message. That’s why she believes the Economic Freedom Fighter’s MPs should dress the part in Parliament. Still, she describes leader Julius Malema as a "magnetic speaker" who consciously uses the communication tools available to him. "He has an open face," she says. "His excellent eye contact gives him power. He has a naughty glint in his eye, which makes you think he’s on your side."

There’s a similar sense of power in Donald Trump. Rissen-Harrisberg describes him as "puffed up", but can’t deny that he’s a "powerful speaker who projects himself as a macho-American capitalist". "He is inspirational, dogmatic and has powerful leadership qualities. A strong, deep and commanding vocal quality and presence make him a huge force to be reckoned with. He has strong views that are matched and in sync with his powerful presence."

So, who will become leader of the US? Rissen-Harrisberg has her money on Clinton, who she describes as a "great leader, inspiring confidence and credibility. One can see that she has a great team behind her, as her performance and dress are so well-constructed," she says. "The brand and platform of Clinton is one that oozes capability, with the right balance between assertiveness, humour and approachability."

Of course, a successful campaign does not a successful president make. While Obama is clearly a "good speaker", Rissen-Harrisberg believes he was at his best during the campaign when "he had youth on his side".

Now, after one of the most trying times in American history, she says "he’s looking a little worn-out and tired".

Out of the past South African presidents, the best speaker was Nelson Mandela, she says. "He had a unique and characteristic voice, mesmerising presence and projection of total integrity, conviction and honour when speaking. He was a true statesman with well-composed body language and the stature of a president."

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