Here’s the problem with our voices in society: individuals feel like they don’t have a voice, and meanwhile collectively we’re perpetuating stories that are recycled from others and aren’t our truth. In many ways, we’re a society that is chronically lying. And this has a profound impact on us; on our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. We are out of alignment. Change is possible, but in order for it to happen it needs to happen at all levels. Our leaders need to be models for us, investing in their own personal self care, education, and growth, and encouraging us to do the same
Aspart of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elissa Weinzimmer.
Elissa Weinzimmer is an award-winning vocal health educator, presence coach, and the founder of Voice Body Connection. After suddenly losing her own voice at age 21, Elissa began studying the mechanics of voice. Over time she developed a unique, concrete approach that empowers performers, leaders, and speakers to optimize their voices and share them more authentically.
Elissa’s clients include Broadway stars, television personalities, politicians, and CEOs. She has led workshops for WeWork, Equinox, Microsoft, eBay, Instacart, and more, and has been featured in Thrive Global, Healthline, SheKnows, Adweek, and Kajabi.
Elissa earned her MFA in Theatre Voice Pedagogy from the University of Alberta. Her teaching also draws upon her extensive training in Fitzmaurice Voicework®, Hatha yoga, and Body-Mind Centering®.
Elissa is based in New York City, and is currently working on her first book.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
Igrew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, in a suburban, mostly white town called Moraga. Growing up, I was always drawn to the performance arts: I took many dance classes, singing lessons, and participated in musical theater. I was a pretty studious kid as well. It was a sheltered yet magical childhood, and I’m both grateful for it and recognize my privilege.
You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
Sure! I lead a social impact organization called Voice Body Connection. The change I focus on in the world is Voice. My deepest belief is that when we hear (and respect) a greater diversity of voices in the world, we will experience liberation. Liberation can come both on a personal and collective level. For me, I relied on my voice very much growing up. I was put on a pedestal and glorified for having what was considered a “good voice”, but then I had a major traumatic episode. When I was 21 years old, I lost my voice after an unexpected vocal hemorrhage. My identity, which was so reliant on my vocal ability, was completely shattered. So now I help people reclaim their voices physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, so that we can all raise our voices to build a better world.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
To go more in depth about the story of losing my voice, picture this: I was performing a lot in college — in my theatre and music classes, in musicals, and singing in my a cappella group at the University of California. I was using my voice constantly, all day, every day. One day I woke up after a particularly heavy weekend of vocal use, and it felt like there were shards of glass in my throat and it hurt to swallow. When I tried to speak, no sounds came out. I had had a vocal hemorrhage. After years of taking my voice for granted, I suddenly realized that I had to understand the instrument that is my voice. I needed to know how it worked and how to care for it. In my journey of coming to understand how the human voice works, I have become deeply passionate about helping people develop strong, powerful, healthy, and confident voices.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
The “Aha!” moment that made me step up and decide to become a voice teacher was definitely losing my voice. But there was also a concurrent realization: I had never gotten the education I needed to truly understand my voice and take care of it. Over the next year following my voice loss, as I discovered more and more about healthy vocal care, I became resolute that this knowledge should be more mainstream. I became committed to developing a practice where I would teach what I wish I had known.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
For a long time in my business, I used the approach of throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. For instance, I started nearly a decade ago by simply sharing that I was teaching a voice class in my immediate circles. And I attracted maybe 4 people. Now I have hundreds of students attending my classes. So, for me, it really has been a process of three main things:
1) Consistently continuing to show up for my community.
2) Testing small to figure out what works as I go along.
3) Asking for help from those who have achieved success before me. Mentorship has been crucial to my growth. As you are building an organization, you don’t always have to have it all figured out. Sometimes, you only need to know your next step. And if you’re stuck there — reach out and ask for help.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
One of the more interesting moments in my journey as an entrepreneur would have to be a recent exchange where I received an extremely disparaging email from a voice teacher colleague when I first started my podcast. Since that project is about finding your voice and speaking your truth — and he had so viciously spoken my truth for me (as in, he told me what I should and shouldn’t be doing) — I engaged in an exchange with him where I stood up for myself and spoke my truth. It all resulted in not only resolution, but his agreement that I could publish our exchange on my facebook page as an example for how to navigate difficult situations.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
The funniest mistake I have made in my business is spending more money than I make preparing certain offerings. More than once in the early days, I got excited about releasing a new class or service, and invested heavily in resources to produce those new products. Afterwards I looked at the numbers and realized that I was in the red! This is often part and parcel of starting a business, but it’s important to remember that our social impact services are valuable and we have to be sustainable with our business models so we can continue to serve.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
I have had so many mentors along the journey of educating myself about voice work and building my businesss. Each of them has been powerful in a different way. Some have impacted me most with the knowledge they’ve shared. Some have impacted me most in the way they model teaching or running a business. Some have impacted me most because they’ve challenged me or even shown me ways I don’t want to behave. All of these deep-in-the-trenches experiences with my mentors and collaborators have fundamentally shaped both my approach to teaching and my approach to business.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Here’s an astounding story from a member of my community: One day she came to a group coaching session and volunteered to share a situation in her life where she was having trouble speaking her truth. She shared that she had spent years at an impasse with her father. She simply could not figure out how to navigate the inevitable arguments that arose between them — most recently based on how she parented her son. I led her through my Voice Body Connection process to help ground her in her truth: first, identifying her bodily sensations when she feels defensive, then moving onto identifying her thoughts, emotions, and desires. After the session, she went back to her father and expressed her truth more clearly than she ever had in her life. They completely transformed their 30+ year relationship dynamic in that one conversation. I keep a special folder in my inbox marked “Best News Ever” for good news like this, and when she sent me her story I immediately marked it with that tag. It is one of the best client transformation stories I have received.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Here’s the problem with our voices in society: individuals feel like they don’t have a voice, and meanwhile collectively we’re perpetuating stories that are recycled from others and aren’t our truth. In many ways, we’re a society that is chronically lying. And this has a profound impact on us; on our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. We are out of alignment. Change is possible, but in order for it to happen it needs to happen at all levels. Our leaders need to be models for us, investing in their own personal self care, education, and growth, and encouraging us to do the same. For instance, we are in the middle of a massively important conversation about racism here in the U.S. The truth that has been denied for centuries — that our society is indeed still racist — has risen to the surface. It cannot be ignored any longer. Every single one of us carries the trauma of racialization in our bodies. To heal, we need to hear the voices and stories of those who have been oppressed. We need to call to question the systems that were built upon hate and lies. Instead of continuing to favor our accomplishment-based culture that would have us maintain the status quo, ignore peoples’ pain, and push beyond our resources, we need to slow down and feel our feelings, ask the hard questions, and create a different approach. We need leaders at all levels to encourage and teach us to take space for real care of ourselves and those around us. Real solutions can be found when we access our truth and share our voice — and those solutions are likely to be outside the box of what’s been “normal” to us thus far.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Here were the top 5 pieces of advice I wish I had when I started my business:
- Get to know and love your finances. For the first three years of my business I ran a deficit, mostly because I spent more money on education and trainings than I was bringing in. I believed that everything would work itself out, but I didn’t do the work to figure out what it took to actually run a financially solvent business. Money may not be your forte — you might be more interested in the social impact side of what you do — but as the founder of your business it’s crucial you get to understand and love your finances so you can keep making a difference.
- Learn from, but don’t attempt to copy anyone else’s approach to success. I had so many different coaches and mentors who gave me a “cookie-cutter” approach to follow, but these approaches never fully worked for me. What did work was tweaking these learnings, applying my own insights and intuition, and not expecting the same results. We are all unique.
- It’s extremely important to be in conversation with your audience. As much as I was employing the “throw things at the wall and see what sticks” model, and eventually started to figure out what worked, I would have failed fewer times if I had had more conversations with my clients. Back then, I felt like I needed to have a large audience before I would receive good enough insights to grow my business. But I now know that isn’t the case. You can get fantastic insights from even one customer. Take the time to listen to the people you are serving.
- You don’t have to do everything at once. It’s best to build one thing at a time and take your time with it. I have sometimes been juggling 2–3 projects at a time, so that just when my energy is most needed, I feel burnt out. Now, I build and test my offerings at a smaller scale, which is far more sustainable in terms of my time and energy.
- You will need to take breaks. Real breaks. You can’t just go-go-go serving people full time. By breaks, I don’t just mean 30 minute screen-free meals (though those are important too) — I mean actual vacations. Taking time away from your computer, creating boundaries, and honoring your need to rest and recover energetically and physically. The most useful break I took was a 1-month sabbatical where I went to Bali.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Here’s my advice to young people: Whatever your deepest desire is, whatever fascinates you, captivates you, and feels important to you is your window into understanding how you can make a difference. And your contribution doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s contribution. You may love comic books, or music, or planting trees — whatever fascinates you, there is something in the direction of your fascination and desire that will serve the world. Growing up, I heard my theatre teachers discouraging us by saying, “This career is hard. Do something else if you possibly can.” Please don’t listen to these people. This rhetoric is harmful and damaging. If your heart and your passion are telling you to go do something — if the universe is sending you in that direction — then pursue it.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would want to have lunch with Michelle Obama, because she epitomizes what it means to find your voice and speak your truth. She has told her story so radically, and so many people have listened to her astonishing audiobook. I think one of the primary reasons we are so captivated by her is her ability to express her genuine self and connect with others. So, Michelle, if you’re free… I’m buying you lunch.
How can our readers follow you online?
Your readers can connect with me at www.voicebodyconnection.com, where they can learn from a free mini course called “Find Your Voice, Speak Your Truth”, listen to my podcast, and get information about how to join our community. Thank you so much for this opportunity!
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!