The Challenges of Finding Your Professional Voice
The Challenges of Finding Your Professional Voice
*A class on this topic was on Wednesday December 21st, 2022 at 6 pm EST. It will be offered again in the future.
Finding your professional voice is a big part of your job responsibilities, and one you cannot afford to neglect. It can be thrilling, scary, exciting and uncomfortable all at the same time. After all, you're stepping into a role that you most likely have not played before and then are expected to play it expertly and "authentically" (a word many of us wish we had another for to express the same idea!)
To play your professional role, you might ask yourself, "How have I seen others play this role?" This is a good start, but it can also lead to pitfalls, like the tendency to mimic another person's individual style. Or, perhaps you have no role models for this particular job, or it is a newly created role, or you are the first person of your background filling this position, and this factor unsettles you.
Another scenario is that you need to adapt your communication style to suit a culture different from your own, or speak in a language that is not native to you. This can bring up a whole other layer of questioning one's identity and the challenges of feeling "authentic." Is adapting your style a rejection of your background or culture? How much and what do I need to change and adapt in order to be understood, make a powerful impact and feel like myself?!
A question that would benefit you is "What would I want and need in a person I'd go to for this reason or purpose? How would I want them to sound? How would I want them to make me feel?" And then ask yourself if you possess those qualities or are able to cultivate and convey these essential qualities in your demeanor and voice.
Why your unique professional brand is so important
The way you communicate your unique professional brand with your employees, clients and co-workers impacts the organization and the culture, and can change the arc of your career and your paycheck. After all, as studies show, your voice and the way you sound is often as important or MORE important than even the words you speak. It often IS the message.
Finding the right voice for the job
Most jobs call for the ability to access a variety of tones and sounds, balanced to suit particular goals and the contexts within which you work. It's safe to say that credibility and authority are essential qualities you'll need to convey in many aspects of your job. A voice that lacks gravitas or sounds young or immature will cause a potential client to think twice before entrusting you with their wealth, health, or well-being.
A financial advisor should sound confident, but also trustworthy and be an excellent listener. Your wealth is at stake.
A physician needs to sound knowledgeable and confident, but also compassionate and empathetic. After all, your health is at stake. A voice that is calm, in control, and reassuring is the voice you want and need to hear in an emergency room physician, doula or delivery nurse, or an EMT worker. After all, your life may be at stake!
A real estate broker should be knowledgeable, affable, trustworthy... and in a competitive market, a little charm never hurts, either.
A supervisor or manager who delivers tough news in a voice that lacks compassion can leave employees embittered and resentful, leading to decreased motivation and weaker performance, and ultimately, a less robust team, overall.
Stumbling blocks in the journey
As a corporate communications trainer, I help people deal with the challenges they encounter in finding their professional voice. Balancing the voice(s) they need with their unique personality can be a struggle. They often find themselves feeling more like a character that is somehow outside themselves.
The truth is, you are playing a character, but you're also playing it as YOU, and ideally, the best parts of you. When you think about it, you're already many characters--whether it's as a father, sister, friend, mentor; you use different voices for each of these roles you've come to know. You're also adapting to the circumstance and audience, so that what you say and how you say it is clearly received, and makes the impact you desire.
Stepping into a new role often entails becoming a character in yourself you haven't quite gotten to know yet. It means taking some risks with your identity--your voice, predominantly, and seeking to find the one, or ones, that are appropriate, even exceptional; ones that convey your professional credibility and your unique personality, so that it feels genuine, organic and comfortable; like it's truly coming from inside of you.
During the journey of finding your voice, a lack of confidence or imposter syndrome will most likely rear their heads--and you should understand to expect this and learn to accept that it's a part of the growth process; that this period may be uncomfortable, but it is integral to reaching the goals you've set for yourself.
You may be confronted with parts of yourself that make you slightly uncomfortable. That's one of the reasons many people don't like to hear themselves on recordings. They hear sounds that reveal qualities that may make them uncomfortable.
Growing pains may be inevitable as you become aware of, or acknowledge, certain vocal habits or qualities that no longer jibe with the newly forming self you're seeking to develop. Change is hard, especially when you don't quite know how to sound, if not like the self you're most familiar with. However, you realize that a valley girl probably won't get offered the big deals, or that a tight-jawed, monotone voice is not one that will inspire others. And what about your habit of fading at the ends of sentences, talking super-fast, or saying, "like," or "you know" in every other sentence? What are these behaviors subconsciously telling your listeners? And yourself?
You will most likely come to understand that the old "self" and vocal habits you're dealing with only represent one part of you, usually during a certain period of your life; that there are many more parts of who you are to explore, cultivate, and put to good, meaningful use.
While each client is unique, there is most always dialogue, introspection, role play and experimentation that needs to take place. Often, through character exploration and even singing, my clients meet or become re-acquainted with aspects of themselves, communicated through their voice, they didn't fully know about, or recognize, or had forgotten about, that could not only be put to good use, but also add more dimension, depth, empowerment and enjoyment to their communication.
It's worth the growing pains!
Finding your professional voice can truly be a grand adventure. Aside from the deeper implications of finding your professional voice...
The research doesn't lie. "People who have a strong vocal presence maintain a distinct competitive advantage in winning new business and securing the best jobs, particularly in a weak economy. They have higher incomes and also are more popular and have more admirers." And who wouldn't mind more admirers? ;)
In our digital, diverse and competitive world, there is no room for troublesome communication behaviors or lackluster voices. The key to achieving success at work, in thought leadership and in competitive leadership lies in the ability to project a vocal presence that is grounded in competence and the ability to read and connect with an audience. A flexible, skilled communicator who can use their words, physical presence and unique voice effectively is able to connect, persuade and negotiate to achieve results that matter deeply.
Henry David Thoreau had a belief that "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them."
The ability to access your voice means that your unique gifts do not lay dormant, but are shared with the rest of the world to benefit from. The journey of finding your voice can be some of the most meaningful work you do in your life.
Need help finding your professional brand voice? Reach out for a free consultation.