Use Your Voice

During the speaker training for TEDxMunich last week, I spent a lot of time with the “stage presence” coach. She was a wonderful, warm lady who pushed me and interrupted me to make sure that I was pushing myself as I practiced my talk.

The current challenge: being loud and owning my voice.

I thought this was a little ironic, since I can definitely be loud and very intense. Especially when I was community organizing or participating in marches and rallies in college.

This felt different though. It felt like my classrooms in college and high school, when there was some doubt in what I was saying and the fact that I was talking, when I was nervous, was an apology. Sometimes when I believe something very deeply and ardently defend it, I feel like I am being judged and people stop listening. Perhaps this has been a result of spending too much time in places that were not good fits for me, but I am also cautiously aware of whether or not someone is listening to what I am saying. Body language often gives people away when they are disinterested or have been turned off by something I am saying.

But here I was, on the TEDx stage. I should not have been apologizing for my words and eating them instead of projecting. The coach reminded and me pushed me when she saw me inhaling words.

I realized a big factor in all of this is that you as a performer are striving to connect and be liked… in the back of my head was the voice that always nags me about being more feminine. Quieter, polite, accommodating, likable. It matters to me only when… I need a group of new people to like me or support my work. This time, it was about the work. I wanted them to listen and think about informal economies. If I was too militant, they would turn away. If I wasn’t interesting, they would stop listening and I was doing a disservice to my cause.

It was an interesting period of reflection for me once I got through the material from my talk. Once I was forced to think about the presence I wanted to have on a stage, what I thought it meant to be me, sharing these stories and this material to a wider audience.

I think most young women who grew up in the same communities I did in the Northeast learned to be quiet. Ask more questions about others than you share about yourself. Make people comfortable and feel better in the space. A lot of it is focused on the external, sometimes at a disservice to our own needs and goals.

I think a goal for myself this year will be to no longer put up with the same talking down to that I get sometimes. While it is amusing when someone doesn’t realize what I do or how I spend my time and then they talk down to me about Mexico or economics or research, whatever it may be, and then someone else clues them in… the reaction is often fascinating. But it’s also not the best use of my time to pretend to be wholly absorbed in these conversations. I think I will practice being more upfront and defending my work and experience, rather than waiting for someone else to appreciate it. Thank you, TEDx speaker coach for pushing me to see the value in projecting my voice.

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Tea, Tequila, and informal economy enthusiast.

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