Find Your Voice

Have you given much thought to your voice? Or perhaps I should say your voices, because there are three types of voices that I think are worth paying attention to. Your spoken voice, your written voice, and the voice of who you are in the world.

First, and most important, is the voice of who you are in the world, your personal expression, the voice of the total of you. With this essential voice, you’re speaking up for your individuality through allowing yourself to be real and authentic when you talk about the things that you feel are important in life. This is the voice of your spirit sharing who you are and what you want to create, without pretense or shyness.

Have you given much thought to what that voice is there to say? What is important to you? What influence you want it to have in the world? What do you want to communicate to people through your words, actions and beliefs?

Next is your written voice, the one they talk about as “finding your voice” in creative writing classes. This voice lets you show your personality through the words you choose, as you create a persona in the written materials that represent who you are… most importantly in a job-search context, with your resume and cover letter.

This is a challenge for a lot of folks who’ve convinced themselves that they can’t write, though they have no problem speaking out loud to say what they need to. But they don’t know that it’s OK to be real in corporate communication, and so they think that formal language and corporate-speak is safer or more appropriate when making a resume. The result? A dry document with no personality at all. The truth is that the more your written presentation sounds like the real you, then the more likely you are to get noticed by people who will like who you are when you walk in the door, too.

Third, and in the literal sense, is your speaking voice. Your voice is a huge part of how people perceive you, how it sounds, how you pronounce words and enunciate, the tone and musicality, the sound of it.

This is a sensitive, almost taboo, topic when giving job-search and interviewing advice, but the truth is that there are some speaking voices hold people back from getting the job they want. I’ve seen it happen. But I’ve never told anyone that, which is surprising, since I am someone who, in the course of coaching jobseekers over the years has broached some very sensitive and personal topics with people. If I felt like there was something changeable that was holding someone back from getting job offers, and I felt they would wish they had known what it was, then I could do them a service by letting them know.

I’ve told people that they need to choose whether their blue hair was more important to them than the job they wanted so badly at the company that prohibited blue hair, and told a few folks that perhaps a shower and new toothbrush would be helpful as they prepared for their next interview. It’s tough to tell say these things, and a bit of a risk, but it’s tougher still to see someone continue to not get jobs they’re qualified for, when it’s something they could change, if they only knew.

But I’ve never told anyone that their voice is a problem. Until now, so here goes. Some of you? Your voice is a problem. Or at least it’s a bit of an obstacle in getting the credibility that you want to have in most jobs.

I was on a plane recently, and the flight attendant who did the safety announcements sounded like Minnie Mouse’s little sister, for real. It was as if she’d been sucking on a helium balloon. Her speaking voice was almost impossible to understand, and it certainly did nothing to promote a feeling of security for the passengers. I wondered if anyone had ever told her that her voice made her sound like a child, rather than a person of authority.

A woman I once worked with had a high-pitched nasal voice and it whined all the time. I mean all the time. I’m getting shivers just recalling it, because every time she started to talk, my body would tense up because the sound of her voice was that unpleasant. And there was the guy I interviewed who spoke in the lilt of a valley girl, ending every sentence with a upward tone as if it were a question. The impression his voice gave didn’t fit at all with the profession he was in, and it no doubt was the reason he had problems finding jobs in spite of his qualifications.

Many of us also have speech patterns that aren’t helping much, either. I tend to speak too quickly, and work on slowing down and paying attention to the pace and emphasis of what I’m saying. Some people speak with little modulation at all, resulting in a flat-sounding voice that sounds boring, and doesn’t hold anyone’s attention for long.

What is your voice like? Have you listened it lately? One very helpful way to learn what your voice is like is to record yourself, and then listen to it. If you have it, a regular recorder is better than using your phone voice recorder, since you can listen to it on better speakers. You can just tell yourself a story, or maybe answer some mock interview questions. Don’t be surprised that it doesn’t sound like you thought it would, since without the echo of your voice in your head, it will likely sound higher-pitched than you thought.

Does it sound strong and confident? Does it sound like the kind of person you are? Does it sound calm and rich? Or is it shrill and nervous? Is it a voice you would like to listen to, a voice that inspires trust?

Listen for the timber, tone and quality of your voice, as well as the timing of your words and your pronunciation. You could even ask someone to listen with you, and to tell you what they hear that sounds good to them, or that could sound a little better. They can also give you input on how loud you speak, and whether it would be better to turn it up or down a notch.

And that’s the good news: we can change our speaking voices, with practice and awareness. A quick google of “better speaking voice” and “voice exercises” came up with lots of free resources and tips. Breathing, learning to relax your vocal muscles, learning to lower the pitch of your voice, choosing to speak more slowly, adding energy and musicality into your voice, these are all things that make a difference in creating a physical voice that represents the essential you.

So those are three voices to tune in to… the voice of who you are in the world, your written voice so that the real you shines out from your resume and correspondence, and the sound of your voice. Let them all sing out, will you?

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