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"I'm not a shark but I swim well - tips on being heard (without being scary and loud!)

Speaking up and speaking out, why is it often so difficult to use our voice?

I wanted to tackle this topic on my podcast, Empowered Thinking at Play, following an article I read that speaking out has become even more challenging, especially for women. The obstacles, which have always been there are even more amplified by remote working. Zoom meetings are apparently crystalising how much harder it is for women to be heard in group settings what with manterrupting, mansplaining and hepeating (the latter was a new one for me when a man repeats what you said and takes the idea as his own).

Embracing the uncomfortable zone

I have had my own struggles in using my voice, particularly at the beginning of my career. I would be that person in a meeting shying away from asking a question because I couldn’t work up the nerve, or not feeling bold enough to strike up a conversation at networking events. Or even if I did muster the courage to speak, I would usually have to repeat myself because I was too softly spoken. It was certainly not helping my confidence. But what I realised was that I had to break out of this rut and put myself in uncomfortable positions. I did that by joining an improvisation class as well as teaching creative meditation (at one point I had a class of 40 people which really tested me). But these acts of courage have helped me to be confident in my voice, although it is an ongoing journey and I still have wobbles and anxiety about speaking out. This is why I invited four women from the communication industry, with no problem in speaking out, to share their insight on speaking out and offer advice on how women can empower themselves more in a working environment. Plus, whether anyone would dare mansplain them (the answer to that is they wouldn’t dare!). Here they share how they have found their authentic voice and their top tips in getting there;

How to discover that voice

Agnieszka Lukaszczyk is the European Commission Expert on international space affairs. She works in an industry that is predominately men and has had to learn how to have a strong voice among her peers, she says; “I’m not a shark but I swim well.” But she adds; I’m still developing my voice because life changes, circumstances change, I change and there are always going to be times when you experience self-doubt and feel insecure. There are some days where I feel super sharp and other days when I’m like, what am I doing here, I can’t handle this anymore? We’re not robots, we’re humans.”

Top tip: “We all need to find what our passion and strengths are and stick to that. We don’t all need to be extroverts. Find your true voice, your journey and your destiny. Also, it’s ok to self-doubt we don’t all need to know everything and be in control of everything and be always ready for everything. It’s ok not to know and it’s ok to be insecure sometimes and let others take the lead. Also, don’t speak just to make noise, speak when you have a message to give.”

If in doubt, fake it!

Kelli Nelson — Advertising Director (also my sister and the extrovert in the family!), says; “When I was younger, I pushed boundaries in environments that would make me look more confident than I was. A fake it till you make it approach. So, I would speak out more than I should to look like a very competent person when I didn’t always feel it.”

Top tip:Sometimes you have to take baby steps and little journeys towards being the person you want to be. The more you do that the more it becomes part of what you do and who you are.”

Define success for yourself

Elizabeth Van Den Bergh, Speaker Coach says; “You decide who you want to be and take steps to become that person because that’s the only way to get there. It’s like putting on a coat that is too big, but you will grow into it.”

Top tip: “Find your own style, know what you stand for, define success for yourself. Often, we are pressurised by other people’s expectations but think about your own expectations for yourself and for your work. Define success for yourself and come from strong intentions. Think about who you want to be? What impact do you want to make? What is the kind of legacy you want to build? Because if you do it for something that is bigger than you then you can overcome yourself and you have more realistic expectations. Because in my experience, people are in their own way and they have limiting beliefs and strange ideas about public speaking. So, if you can clear the mind from all of that then there is room to grow.”

Face the fear JoBee Project is a singer and voice coach. She says; “It’s a very long journey to find that voice and discovering who you are and who you want to be. It requires really looking at yourself and that can be a painful journey, but it is worth it.” Top tip: “Know exactly how you want to express yourself. Often it means just jumping in and trying.”

Jumping in is something that improvisation has taught me to do, to face the fear and do it anyway approach. It beats staying blocked by the overthinking mind which blocks us from moving forward and finding that authentic voice. So often we get in our way and so we need to actively remove the barriers which are often only imagined in the mind. Perhaps with a touch of light humour as we notice those same barriers start to emerge and greet it mindfully and, in our heads, say, “it’s ok I’ve got this.” I like to refer to a quote by the 19th-century judge, George Jessel who once said; The human brain starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public. It’s certainly time we collectively took action over that mind and work on the courage to speak out.

Uncensored Conversations is a series on the podcast Empowered Thinking at Play. The latest episode is on Speaking Out.

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