Friday, May 6, 2022

Are You Using Your Leadership Voice? An #InflectraCON Live Blog

Amy Jo Esser is starting out her talk by sharing about how she wanted to try out for cheerleading when she was younger and how she did not make the team the first time and why she didn't make it. While she wanted to be a cheerleader, she didn't really realize what it would take to be effective in that role. After she was told the reasons she was not chosen, she took the feedback and applied it to the next year's try out and she practiced many things, the most important being the fact that as a cheerleader, you need to use your voice and it needs to carry.

I have a similar story in that I spent years developing my voice over many years to perform on stage as a singer. I developed a rhino-thick hide (metaphorically speaking) and I focused on getting out there and communicating with people, especially to promote and sell tickets. I jokingly told people that I trained myself to be an extrovert. If that is accurate or not, I do know that learning to project and learning to promote helped me considerably but just as the quietest voice I the room will not be effective, just because I am confident, can project, and can interact with people doesn't necessarily mean I am using my voice effectively, especially as a leader. So what might I learn/consider/apply today and going forward? 

As a lyricist, I tend to place an emphasis on the words that I use but if I'm being frank, strip away the music and just read my words and they more times than not just read like bad poetry. To be fair, most lyrics read like bad poetry when stripped from the music and vocal delivery. It's the emotion of the voice that sells it. More to the point, it's the swelling and falling away, the dynamics and the delivery, that make the difference. IF I sing monotone or quietly for the entire song, much of the impact is lost. Going completely overboard also loses the plot and then no one can take you seriously. It's the ability to measure and gauge when to be quiet and when to be bombastic that makes the song work.

Too often, we suffer from two big issues with our voice. The first is not being assertive and struggling to make ourselves be heard. As a leader, we can't be timid and we can't be shy about speaking out. Our internal voice (what Seth Godin likes to call our "Lizard Brain") tries to keep us quiet and reserved. It also tends to encourage us to couch our words with a lot of filler speech (true story: this resonates, as my most viewed TikTok is me talking about how I mostly avoid filler words in my speech ;) ). To have a more confident voice, eliminating or limiting fill words and also making a point to limit the "semantic bleaching" that we do. What's semantic bleaching? It's when we "overstate" or when we really, completely want to be sure that people really understand the totally valuable thing that we want to share... or I could just say "I want to ensure people understand". The latter is direct. The former is semantic bleaching. 

Something that any speaker can learn from singers is standing and breathing from their diaphragm. This is what singers often call "back breathing, where you feel your lower obliques and spinal erectors expand, and then you expel air by squeezing from the obliques and the spinal erectors. We have a phrase in singing to "sing from your groin". It may sound a little crude but if you do, you will be surprised how well your breathing and breath support is focused.  

One of the things that editing a podcast has helped me do is to stop, pause, and allow my brain and my mouth to synchronize. That pause may feel as though it is forever. Record yourself speaking and review. You may find that the long pause was much shorter in real-time as you listen back. Think about where you would see a period or a comma in your speech. Try to do your best to pause at these points and be deliberate as you speak. I also use hand gestures to help me do this. I often joke that I am part Italian so hand gestures are genetic (LOL!) but they do help considerably.

We have five building blocks we can use to change our speech patterns; pitch, pace, tone, melody, and volume. These are areas there is a lot of play and variation but knowing when and where to make these changes can make a dramatic difference in your received message.

There are a lot of benefits to practicing speaking, especially if you want to be a leader. The key part of leading is encouraging people to follow you and the best way to do that is to have a voice that persuades and encourages people to want to follow you in the first place. The key here is we have to practice it and make it a part of our everyday communication. By doing so, our voices will come across as more confident and that confidence will radiate out and help position us to have people ready and interested in listening to us and what we say.

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