June 24, 2003 Feature

SLPs and the World of Work: Corporate Speech-Language Pathology

When Karla gets ready for work, some days she puts on a "bubble suit," complete with helmet, to work in a "clean room." Barb sometimes wears goggles in a research lab. Some days I wear a hard hat and boots to work with a staff member in a factory, while in another factory, a hairnet and handwashing are required to teach line workers. When Pat goes to work, she might go to an impressive corporate headquarters. Deb sometimes is employed by a bank. Everett might go to a language school. Dawn may teach scientists.

All of us are ASHA-certified speech-language pathologists. No matter what our setting, we are doing the same thing: corporate speech-language pathology.

The Corporate World

Corporate speech-language pathology involves providing services to a company, or its customers, as a consultant. We use the language of business. Our job is to be "problem-solvers." Instead of "therapy" or "treatment," we provide "training." "Disorders" are replaced with "problems."

We offer assessment and training in many aspects of communication, such as articulation, fluency, voice, language, and hearing education, as well as other services uniquely needed by the business world. These include presentation skills, foreign and regional accent modification, professional diction and grammar, interviewing skills, business writing, and even business communication etiquette. Sometimes we help companies communicate more effectively with their customers, such as by training customer representatives to work with their clients with hearing loss. Some corporate SLPs specialize in providing only a few of these services.

Corporate speech-language pathology is unique in five ways: marketing, assessment, training, paperwork, and payment.

Marketing involves targeting the right person with the right message at the right time. Marketing targets the most likely corporate buyers, such as human resource managers and the managers of corporate training departments. Many other possible purchasers exist in corporations and through "centers of influence," too. These buyers are most likely to purchase services for employees out of training funds.

Getting the message to them involves creativity. Web sites, direct mail, writing columns for newspapers, public relations, advertising, sales calls, goody bags, attending networking functions, and joining community organizations are just a few of the many ways we market. We even sponsor a special day in Chase’s Calendar of Events, called Better Business Communication Day, and help members promote it. Last year, four members got great media coverage from this event alone.

Assessment might include asking questions about work-related communication responsibilities and watching a client use a telephone and read aloud, among other areas. Training is done rapidly, to get results as fast as possible. This reduces review time and increases motivation. Foreign accent training may be done in three eight-hour days, for example, with telephone follow-up. Paperwork is minimal, and payment is from training budgets or private pay instead of insurance companies.

Training involves helping clients understand the "whys and hows" of the process. Most clients are highly educated and very motivated; their expertise is simply in other areas. As we teach them the steps involved in modifying their speech, they are quite interested and often ask questions. In group training under close supervision, they help each other learn. With their class partner, they are either hearing and evaluating or speaking the entire time, learning to the maximum degree possible.

We use work-related terminology as quickly as possible to promote carry-over. Initially, this might include technical terminology in fields as diverse as engineering or finance. Later, our work emphasis involves carry-over in activities that replicate work-related communication, such as arguing court cases, presenting class lectures, simulating medical or client interviews, or giving sales presentations. Depending on the client, the skill being strengthened might include persuasive speaking, articulation, persuasion, voice, writing, or even lip-reading.

Paperwork is an SLP’s dream. Although each of us sets up our own procedures, a very simply worded final report (and, in some cases, an initial report) and file notes, plus an invoice, initial payment contract, and privacy policy are all that we may do. Reports after an initial evaluation are often omitted, because of the intensity of the training and the fact that it may begin minutes after the assessment. Paperwork is written for the intended reader. As the readers may be managers or specialists in training, our reports are written in plain English and are quite short.

Payment is relatively easy. Most corporate SLPs accept corporate or private payments only. Insurance is accepted very rarely. Corporate payments come from the training department’s budget. Therefore, we purposely use no medical language, as this implies that the condition is "medical," thus requiring the use of insurance or the approval of the medical department.

Getting Started

There are certain skills, knowledge, and experience that I believe SLPs going into corporate speech-language pathology need to possess, including at least two years of experience after receiving their CCCs and licensure in all states in which they plan to work. A strong clinical background is essential, as there will be no one to consult with when working in a company.

A very basic background in business is also needed. This can be obtained from books and seminars. The Small Business Administration (SBA; www.sba.gov) offers a six-week evening course in many communities on starting your own business and also provides other valuable information online. The Senior Corps of Retired Executives, an agency of the SBA, and SBA offices offer individual consulting without charge in many locations and on the Web.

Some corporate SLPs have general private practices that include corporate work. Others may have school or medical contracts, and do corporate work one or two days a week. Occasionally clients prefer to be seen only in the evenings or on weekends. Other corporate SLPs work full-time in corporate work, but it may require some time before this happens. Some start with just compiling a database of information on potential clients. Often done on the computer, this might include names, addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and any other relevant data.

Information on potential clients can be obtained from library reference departments, lists of large local employers, and many other sources, including the newspaper. As you start your database, you also can design a Web site, business card, and brochure. You also need to consult local zoning laws to determine if having a business in your location is legal and to find out the applicable regulations. Business permits are usually required.

Basic equipment starts with a business telephone number, and may then include a computer for use both with practice administration and some client use. Other equipment may include tape recorders, headsets, various books on related business and clinical topics, workbooks, office supplies, a sound-level meter (for quantifying speech volume), and much more.

Why Go Into Corporate Work?

Corporate work is wonderful for those professionals who have an interest in owning their own business, a tolerance for some risk, and a desire to push the limits on seeing what services they can offer, what industries they can serve, and the speed at which they can help their clients learn. Marketing may require considerable persistence over a long period of time, but this is definitely not a pushy, "cold-calling" type of work. A firm "no" today from a company can turn into an eager "yes" next month, depending on that company’s needs, so don’t take "no" personally. The answer may depend on the company’s fiscal year, how important they consider training, and their immediate needs, among other factors.

Janet Skotko of central Florida (www.thevoiceinstitute.com) started in corporate work when she received calls from prospective clients in the media and in law. She has had clients from a wide range of industries, including finance, education, garment, law enforcement, technology, and the media.

"I enjoyed the challenges of my first clients and slowly changed my focus," she said. "It is a wonderful opportunity to teach and to learn simultaneously. I also found I was becoming more a part of my community." She added, "The SLP needs to really enjoy the work and desire to meet the inherent challenges with good spirit and high energy levels. Quality cannot stand alone; passion for this field is requisite."

Karen Long (www.healthyvoice.com) provides corporate services in North Carolina. Her most-requested areas are accent modification and voice ergonomics. She has worked with call centers, printing, textile, and chemical industries, among others. She agrees with Skotko that SLPs must "have a true passion for the work." She also feels SLPs need to "learn marketing skills and appreciate the communication needs of professionals in business and industry."

"I find myself being a professional pioneer," Long added. "The best part about it is that there are infinite possibilities. It’s great seeing people become successful and confident. It’s a real treat to see clients’ joy of achievement and confidence!"

In Michigan, Kathryn Harlton (www.corporatecommunicationstraining.com) said, "I went into corporate speech because I like working with motivated adults who really want to improve, the flexibility of my hours, being my own boss, and the variety of different areas I can work with."

Recently, I have had the privilege of being part of a team that propelled a new piece of health care equipment into the national spotlight. The product had been entered into a prestigious competition, but its CEO/inventor needed training in public speaking before accepting the award at a televised ceremony. It was a real pleasure to work with him on diction and presentation skills, while subtly educating him about the needs of audience members who had hearing loss. Attending the awards event and seeing him present so well was a wonderful experience.

Like SLPs in any other setting, corporate SLPs want to "make a difference." What makes our field different is the experience of doing this in a constantly growing number of industries with different communication needs that must be resolved quickly. If people talk at work, we believe SLPs can work with them, whether in their setting or in our offices. The challenge of effecting a client’s transformation into an effective communicator is a deeply satisfying experience for the corporate SLP.

Katie Schwartz, is the owner of Business Speech Improvement (www.BusinessSpeechImprovement.com) in Chattanooga, TN. She is the founder and past-president of the Corporate Speech Pathology Network, has worked as an SLP in many settings, and is the author of Talking on the Job: The World of Corporate Speech Pathology; Sound Stories for Adults; and Alternative Career Options for Speech-Language Pathologists.

cite as: Schwartz, K. (2003, June 24). SLPs and the World of Work: Corporate Speech-Language Pathology. The ASHA Leader.


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