For years, I’ve been on a quest to find my own voice. I have seen the concept used in books, online courses, movies, and even songs.
Voice represents a verbal or written communication style that is unique to you and connects you to those around you. For example, hopeful and a little bit awkward. Having a unique voice sounds awesome in theory, but in practice, I feel that I am yet to find mine.
I have seen the idea played out in action, where someone found “their voice” and henceforth they were able to more clearly communicate and engage with their community. We are all familiar with stories like Oprah’s where her emphatic and genuine interview-style helped her overcome the adversity she faced in her formative years. Most public personalities have a unique voice and style that we can readily identify.
That said, a unique voice is not only in the realm of famous people. I have seen unique engaging voices in many of the teachers and mentors I have had throughout my life. My favourite teacher going through high school in Colombia was Jose. He taught social sciences in a very calm but engaging way. His voice was serene and slow, but not boring. His measured pace allowed his students to digest the facts about Colombian history without missing a bit. Colombian history has several moments we are not proud of. Jose’s calm voice allowed us to understand the impact that good and bad choices from historical leaders made in our lives.
Communicating in an engaging way applies to so many of us. From teaching to writing, to facilitating meetings and workshops, to leading a team or initiative… There is something to be said for finding your unique style that connects to the community around you. That’s why finding my voice is an important quest in my life.
I want to relate my journey in case it helps me figure it out by writing about it, and also helps someone out there who is on the same quest.
So this is what I have been able to discern about the elements intrinsic in having a defined voice:
It always comes back to mission, purpose, and passion. Your genuine voice is tied to the topics you are passionate and mindful about.
For me, I love knowledge, patterns, and changing stereotypes. Throughout my life, this has been reflected in my passion for books, education, and collaborating with creative teams who want to change the way we see the world.
I kept some of the things I’m passionate about in the background because I thought they were too “geeky”. As an example, every time I saw people rolling their eyeballs when I mentioned a new book I felt guilty and ashamed. But as I got older, I kept discovering over and over that being truthful to yourself means aligning your mission to your whole self. Your mission gets stronger by bringing all of you, even the part that you think you have to hide.
What does this mean in the context of crafting a mission?
- Lean on the topics that make you feel passionate and alive. Even the ones you don’t want to talk about. This is what makes you uniquely you.
- Figure out how to use your unique strengths to the service of making the world a better place.
- Your vision will then evolve from how you are helping to make a better world through your unique strengths and passions.
And what about your unique voice?
A mission that you are contributing to, with your whole self, will strengthen your voice. When there is a mission worth accomplishing, there is a voice worth raising.
2. Voice is different from Tone
I learned from our collaboration with the Interactive Media Management Program at Centennial College that voice is your personal style and tone is the expression of that style in specific situations and with a specific audience in mind.
Tone is extremely important because it is the part that helps you connect with those around you. You can have a beautiful voice, but it’s nothing if the tone doesn’t match the situation and the audience. As an example, if your tone is overly positive and cheerful, but you are in the middle of a situation that requires you to acknowledge that we are in danger, you will be taken for someone who is tone-deaf or out of touch with the context you are in.
Some people seem to naturally know what tone is best for the situation, but the rest of us need to practice.
Before answering or presenting, I need to put myself in the shoes of the listener and practice over and over. When speaking off the cuff or answering too quickly, I fall prey to speaking to myself vs. truly connecting with the community around me.
Using the right tone for the situation at hand requires empathy. It means lowering your defences and listening to what the community around is feeling and thinking.
3. Being comfortable with who you are:
The third element is doing the hard work of being ok being you.
We tend to be our worst critics, and when it comes to communication style there are probably many things that we wish to improve. I believe that it’s ok to want to improve and grow, as long as you are still comfortable with who you are, and acknowledging that no one is perfect.
Having a personal voice requires being genuine, and being genuine requires feeling comfortable with who you are, the great and the not-so-great.
For me, I have to admit that I still feel uncomfortable with my accent when speaking in English.
I like that I have an accent, but I worry about other people not being able to understand me. In situations where I’m nervous, I tend to overthink what I say and then rush through speaking too fast. This, of course, makes my accent even more difficult to understand.
This aspect for me is still a work in progress. I have been practicing different techniques for improving my enunciation while still keeping my accent in place.
That said, I have received feedback many times to stop worrying about it. And that might be part of the ingredient as well… stop worrying about it :)
If you are a fellow leader or teacher trying to find your personal voice in this new world of online learning, I wish you the best and I hope you find solace in the fact that all of us are in this together, trying to find our way and our voice in new situations.