“When you find the courage to use your voice, it has the power to positively inspire and change the lives of others. It’s one of the special gifts you have to offer the world and is something to be cherished and championed, never hidden.”Nicole O’Neill
Your true voice is unique. It is the instrument that you play that allows the rest of the world to hear your true song. And yet, for women, it is an instrument that is often disregarded, diminished or devalued. What can you do to rediscover your true voice?
The history of women’s voices
Women’s voices have been a troublesome issue throughout the ages. Elizabeth Lesser’s thought-provoking book, “Cassandra Speaks: When Women are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes”, is a fascinating exploration of how stories through history have effectively silenced women. To take but one example, in her introduction she quotes Ecclesiasticus, an early biblical book of morals:
“A gift from the Lord is a silent wife,
And nothing is so precious as her self-discipline.
Charm upon charm is a wife with a sense of shame,
And nothing is more valuable than her bound-up mouth”
As women have sought to project their voice, they have been persistently criticised. As an example , take Anne Karpf’s exploration of the history of women’s voices in broadcasting. Women were blamed for their voices not suiting the “electrical characteristics” of the radio equipment, for their pitch being too high, too low and too monotonous, for their voices conveying too much or too little personality and emotion. In short, women’s voices were (are?) considered deficient.
Even today, as we make strides towards gender parity, women’s voices are not being heard. Women’s voices are considered less authoritative and less influential. Women get interrupted or spoken over in meetings. And when they do speak, they are considered less competent than their equally voluble male colleagues.
How can you make your true voice heard?
In a world of “leader-splaining” some people think the answer lies only in “what” women say. We apologise too often (if you haven’t seen it yet, then watch this Pantene advert for the perfect illustration), invite criticism and belittle our own contributions before others can (“can I ask a stupid question?”, “I could be wrong but…”). There’s definitely progress to be made here. And if you are one of those women who uses “just” or “only” or “sorry” in every other sentence, then stop.
There’s also strides to be made in the world of the listener and conversational partners. This article lists seven ways in which men (and women) can elevate women’s voices.
But at Becoming, we’re also interested in another dimension. We believe that development isn’t just about what we do, its also about who we are. Fundamentally we are physical beings, we are bodies, with muscles, bones, nerves and more. Our voice is a product of the whole physical system of our body. And that physicality of our voice is too often overlooked.
The way you hold your body, the way you hold your shoulders, your knees, and the way you hold your jaw…all of them impact how you are able to vocally express yourself.Thila Raja
This quote comes from the world of singing, but we believe that it is important in the world of work too. Reflect on a work-based conversation that you have had recently:
- When you spoke, did you lean in or away from the conversation? What did the other people do?
- Were your shoulders and neck relaxed, your jaw loose and your tongue active? Or were you clenching your muscles and your teeth?
- Was your breath sufficient to complete your sentences? Or did you find yourself breathing faster, or trailing off sentences because you were out of air?
- Did you modulate your voice for interest? Or did you drone in a monotone?
- And perhaps most importantly, was your voice heard?
Physically connect to your voice
Next time you are preparing to use your voice, perhaps for an important meeting or presentation, don’t just prepare what you will say, spend a few moments thinking about:
- Your posture. Firstly, warm up your body with a few stretches. Then sit or stand in a way that connects you firmly to the earth, lift and align your spine, your neck and your head.
- Your breath. Next practice breathing low and wide into your ribcage. Practice sending your breath to a point across the room.
- Your mouth. Now, warm up your mouth by massaging your jaw, smiling and opening your mouth wide and even yawning if you need. Use good old-fashioned tongue-twisters to wake up your tongue.
- Your voice. And finally, do some vocal exercises. Sustain “ooh” and “aah” sounds until you can do it without faltering or dropping off. Sing a song and vary the volume.
Even a few moments of this kind of preparation will make a difference to your voice. It will help to free up your true voice, the instrument that will help you to make your unique ripples in the world.