You arrived in London with your family, in 2016. It was a great pleasure to look after your home search twice and find your home sweet home in Primrose Hill and Hampstead. As an Opera singer, you have now launched your company which helps people find their authentic voice and deliver their message and ideas with clarity, passion and confidence.
We would love to know a little more about you and your exciting journey from an Opera singer to a fantastic entrepreneur, singing and spoken voice teacher.
What did motivate you to move to London, and how was your integration into this new life, starting a new job in a different country and the new routine for your entire family?
I came to England in July 2016, just after the Brexit vote, which was a real shock, of course! Initially, the move had been motivated, first and foremost, by our love for England, and London in particular, but also by its extraordinarily vibrant Arts scene. My husband and I are Opera singers, and we’ve always been very drawn to the theatre and dramatic arts, visual arts, and music, of course. We had been spending long months over the past years in East Sussex at the Glyndebourne Opera Festival and had a real taste for the British way of life. London was very attractive to us, and we knew that we could learn a great deal from living there and enjoy its unique atmosphere in the long term.
The move was smooth and proved very rewarding overall. Beyond the inevitable concerns of having a young child settling into a new school, the rest of it has been a blessing. The first year, I opened a singing studio in Primrose Hill and welcomed singers from all walks of life. And as anticipated, I explored the Arts scene and spent as much time as I could in theatres! After this first exploratory year, I decided to go back to university and enrol in a two-year Master of Fine Arts in Voice Studies at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. The training was very full-on but rewarding in all the possible ways. It is undoubtedly one of the best decisions I’ve taken in my life as it provided opportunities I could never have anticipated before, among them teaching Shakespeare text and Political Speech at the London College of Music. And it ultimately led me to launch my own company, the Professional Voice Trainer, a company that helps people find their authentic voice, increase their effectiveness in English communication, and deliver their message and ideas with clarity, passion and confidence.
What is your current job position at the Professional Voice Trainer, and what are your responsibilities within the company?
I am the founder and director of the Professional Voice Trainer. I manage the company by myself and provide one-to-one classes in accent training, voice, public speaking and communication skills to international business professionals, actors, speakers. I also organise monthly workshops around the same topics, either online or face to face (the current health situation allowing only online training at the moment). And of course, I train singers, as it is my former profession and passion.
What makes your company so unique?
The Professional Voice Trainer’s first quality is that it provides highly personalised training to its clients and pupils. Every client has a different story, different needs and substantial learning differences. My mission is to understand their background story and challenges and provide them with creative solutions to lead them on a path of improvement. The second strong point, I think, is my expertise in voice and my extensive career as a performer. I was on stage from the age of fifteen and have a long experience of what it means to deliver a performance in front of very diverse audiences and the joys and challenges it brings with it. It gives me a deep understanding of what my clients and pupils are experiencing when they enter/perform on stage and enables me to provide them with the right set of skills to achieve self-confidence and success. I care deeply for my clients and make a point of fully supporting their journey.
Do you find any cultural specificities or noticeable differences in the English workplace?
I do. I have had the opportunity to work in various schools, academies and drama institutions over the last few years. What always struck me is the sophistication of the British communication codes and the attention people put in avoiding conflicts at any costs. I confess that, as a boisterous French native, these pretty indirect ways of interacting with others confused me at first. At times I was completely lost and frustrated, not being able to decipher what was going on around me. But I am an incorrigible Anglophile, and I decided to delve into the British culture and its codes to learn how to cope with them and use them when needed rather than cutting myself off from them, which wouldn’t have been very wise for someone who lives and works here. Even though there is still a significant sense of mystery for me around this subject, I have never regretted having made that effort. I feel that I have a much broader scope of communication tools at hand nowadays than I had five years ago. It is indeed an ongoing process and a humbling journey.
What is a typical Professional Voice Trainer client’s profile, and how has your clientele evolved?
As I teach both singing and the spoken voice, I am lucky enough to have a pretty diverse cohort of individuals. The singing department welcomes both amateurs and professionals, and I work with them on all the musical styles and genres (classical, pop, jazz, soul). I have several excellent pop singers at the moment; it’s very refreshing for me to teach technique and interpretation to various artists.
In the speech and voice department, the clients are essentially international business professionals who wish to improve their pronunciation and presentation skills in English. As they become more senior in their company, they are more exposed to speaking and presenting in front of an audience, and this is where I come in. I also do a lot of interview preparation, both for jobs and university.
Did you observe a change in the Public Speaking and Communication Skills demands from your clients since the pandemic led to a shift in working habits?
I observed a shift in my clients’ demands during the pandemic and, subsequently, Brexit. Working essentially online has created new ways of communication that require a different set of skills. Sitting behind a desk all day and being confined in a little square doesn’t have the same impact as presenting in a hall in front of an audience. The communication priorities have changed, and one has to find ways to project a thoroughly engaging presence even in a virtual environment. From curating your background to enhancing the light around you, choosing the right outfit and make-up according to the context, knowing how to look into the camera and connecting authentically with your listeners; a whole new set of skills had to be developed this year. I think business professionals have realised along the way how vital effective virtual communication has become for the success of their business.
The second significant shift I noticed with some of my clients is a substantial change in their working environment. Nowadays, they often find themselves in very British teams after spending years, sometimes decades, in far more international cohorts. It might be one of the consequences of Brexit. It has meant that business professionals have had to adjust, as they find themselves under more scrutiny when presenting their ideas and expressing themselves effectively in English.
What do you think are the keys to your company’s success in 2021, and what is your development strategy?
I think the keywords for me this year have been adaptability and diversification. Everything has been shifting and moving so fast since March 2020 that I indeed would have sunk without the ability to change with the flow and adapt quickly. I had to observe these new trends around me, adapt to my clients’ emerging needs, and offer them a whole new set of practical solutions. It has been a very informative journey, and so much of these new skills and realisations are now ingrained in the Professional Voice Trainer’s DNA.
What does the day-to-day life of a working woman in London look like at this time of the year?
Well, the current Covid situation and the endless lockdowns and quarantines we have been through this year have, of course, completely reshaped our daily habits and lifestyles! Currently, I am quarantining with my 12-year-old son, homeschooling and working at the same time. I can’t complain, I coach my clients online, and my son is very autonomous now, so we enjoy our time together. But I dearly miss the face-to-face contact with my clients and students, my home workshops and the activities I usually run, like my work at the London City Academy for Business or coaching Opera singers in France. And I sorely miss my family and friends in France and abroad. A bit of patience is still required before returning to normalcy.
And finally, what did French Touch Properties bring to you?
I owe a great deal to French Touch Properties, as we found the two apartments we’ve been living in since our move in 2016 thanks to their services. I spotted the agency by chance on the internet while looking for a place to live in London, and I’m so grateful I did. Their team is incredibly professional and kind, they take care of everything for you, and their network of real estate agencies is enormous. I remember arriving in London from Paris on a cold and rainy morning in March 2016 and being welcomed at the tube station by one of their agents, Melanie, who had selected ten flats for me to visit that day. She knew the neighbourhood inside out so she could introduce me to all its specificities. By the end of the day, I had found my dream flat! And when we moved out for a larger place two years ago, we contacted them again and had the same great experience. Finding the right place to live is such a crucial part of the relocation process. French Touch has been absolutely instrumental in our London experience.
Valérie Gabail | The Professional Voice Trainer | Creating Business Success Through Impactful Communication Skills