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Finding My Voice

There are times in life when we need to rehearse a deed, action or conversation. It helps us to get into the appropriate frame of mind or become physically enabled.

In the world of sport, acting and public speaking for example there is a process, a clearly defined action plan often with a support network of coaches, directors and colleagues.

But sometimes we have to work this stuff out on our own and say the words out loud or go over them in our heads until it starts to make sense.

Last Sunday evening when walking my wee dog a man passed me by obviously deeply in thought and preparing for some life event: an interview or a proposal, business or personal, I had no way of knowing but he was gesticulating and his whole body was engaged in a what was evidently a well rehearsed scenario and I hope it worked out well for him.

On Friday I was asked to read a poem about Hope by Vaclav Havel – Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out (an extract).

I silently went over it a few times so that the words could sound genuine and give credit to the powerful and insightful message. I hope I did it justice. I like public speaking – I’m comfortable in front of my colleagues, school stakeholders and pupils especially when I am relating something of value, something I believe in. Having a mother as an actress and voice coach has helped over the years and so has being in an audience listening to someone inspirational. Conversely I can become motivated to improve any future performance when I witness a speaker who has not fully rehearsed or at least practiced and so stumbles whilst pointing to a wordy power point or mumbles into a piece of paper with barely a glimpse at the intended audience.

Maybe as many as 15 years ago, I remember Mum being given an award at a medical conference when she was employed by the University of Glasgow because she spoke from the heart. While she was obviously able to draw from her training as an actor, she was the only speaker that day not to use a powerpoint.

At the recent Leadership Collaboration I consciously silenced my voice to allow others to speak up: there’s nothing worse than the sage on the stage dominating with opinions not necessarily in tune with the assembled group. However there’s nothing worse that a lengthy silence and so I spoke briefly in answer to the question we had been asked to consider: What challenges are you facing?

I was thanked at the end of the session for being one of the first in the group to talk which then allowed others to find their voices.

These days I try to think before I speak, and particularly in professional company, having been set-up by college peers once. Over several weeks we had discussed at length the particulars of a seminar we were obliged to attend remarking that there could be a better way to approach this element of the course. I was nominated to raise the issue and having finally plucked up the courage to speak with the tutor in front of my peers they all shuffled back in their seats, eyes firmly fixed on the table in front of them and refused to back me up. What I learned from that was to ensure that unless I had hard evidence or unequivocally believed that what I was about to say was entirely appropriate, it was better to remain silent. I haven’t always been successful but 9 times out of 10 it is because I am passionate about speaking on behalf of those who can’t.

Bizarrely I often get tongue tied in front of friends and peers. I worry that my words will come out wrong and they often do leaving me more anxious and unable to express myself effectively. I don’t know if this has anything to do with being a middle child, always striving to find my voice, from being shamed in front of a primary 3 class by a teacher who was sarcastic and dismissive of my attempts to locate a book she had mislaid or just lacking in confidence and self esteem with those I should be relaxed with, but it causes me anxiety even now.

Last Friday I joined some friends who meet at the same time in the same place in our local wine bar Herringbone and heard myself speak with confidence clarity humour and honesty. Of course I am very at ease with these friends whom I’ve known for almost as long as I’ve been in North Berwick and a small glass of red wine loosens inhibitions but even with that I recalled how much I appreciated being told that I mattered at the collaborative workshop.

On a soggy dank Wednesday morning I entered through the gate into Lodge Grounds grateful for having dressed for the weather in waterproof trousers and long coat, when I saw my neighbour similarly attired. This was at 6.30am and much as I know A likes to walk I was a little surprised that she had ventured out on such a miserable day and so we exchanged pleasantries and I commented on her commitment. Ah well she said It’s all about mindfulness isn’t it?

I instinctively smiled because I fully understood where she was coming from and admitted quietly to myself that it was extremely unlikely that I could have shown such diligence without my four legged friend beside me, daily accompanying me on my creative journey while I make observations, seek out photographic opportunities and find my voice, often rehearsing as I go.

By chance I found this quote:

It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent

Madeleine K. Albright

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