Subject to vocal biases? Embrace your voice as it is and speak up

by | Sep 23, 2023 | Blog | 0 comments

“How we talk affects how we’re treated and how we treat others,” according to Samara Bay, author of the stimulating new book, Permission to Speak: How to Change What Power Sounds Like, Starting with You.

We decide who to take seriously based on how these individuals sound to us, and others decide based on how we sound to them, Bay explained in her provocative interview with the NeuroLeadership Institute’s Evynn McFalls in The Sound of Power at Work: Does it Matter? as part of its Your Brain at Work webinar series.

Bay, who worked as a dialect coach for Hollywood actors and now serves as a public speaking coach and consultant, maintains that we still hold onto many “vocal biases.” Namely, we assume there’s one preferred way to sound and communicate – yes, referred to as the elusive executive presence, as in “you know it when you see it.” This exists even as we think we’ve become more accepting of more diverse people in positions of power.

As a result, we often ignore, discount and mistrust voices that don’t fit what power has historically sounded like in the workplace, government, and other official places. Typically, those are the voices of white males. Yes, the white males who remain power brokers and holders today.

Bay, who also describes herself as a leader in the vocal justice movement, wants to disrupt this power dynamic and entrenched system. She addresses head on why so many people, especially women, have challenging relationships with our voice. It’s not us. It’s the system that makes us feel or even tells us that we’re not good enough or powerful enough to talk. And we also may not be listening enough to nontraditional voices either.

Permission to Speak is a highly unconventional book about public speaking and extremely empowering, practical and enlightening. Bay invites us to enter a different reality – one more suitable for this decade. What if we stopped trying to conform and instead embraced our voices the way they are? We’d start to make new and different sounds that could create a strong, resonating choir of power.

By abandoning old habits that are almost serving someone else rather than ourselves and then giving ourselves permission to speak in a way that’s authentic for us, we’ll reclaim our voice and be heard.

To support this new reality, Bay provides very eye-opening and practical advice for speaking in high-stakes situations, whether to a small group, large forum, or something in between. For example:

  • Don’t get hung up on wanting to open your mouth and have perfectly formed sentences come out. Instead, reframe your objective. The imperfection is the action; you’re offering up words arranged in a new way to present ideas for others to consider. When you express your ideas, it’s like “giving birth to these words,” from her perspective. The words and phrases you’re stating are hitting the air for the first time and you’re making new meaning. Your labor can be short, long or in-between, and it can be messy, yet most of us love babies. (If you’re concerned you won’t remember your key concepts, write down a few key words. But don’t get hung up on the in-between words because people don’t talk perfectly. And if you still have doubts, note that Bay believes that perfect Ivy League speech “is the vocal arm of white supremacy.”)


  • Use Bay’s “Four S’s” process to help you “make a speech live in you and then live outside of you after you deliver it,” as she describes it. Her “Four S’s” are 1) sense; 2) sounds; 3) stress and 4) sentiment. Here’s what this means. 1) She believes you need to fully understand what you’re saying: sense. 2) You need to make a strong connection to the words you’re saying: sounds. 3) You’ve got to decide which words need to stand out and emphasize them: stress. 4) And last but not least, you’ve got to express with feeling what you most care about in your talk: sentiment.

When we embrace our permission to speak, we are able to connect more with others – especially if we also strive to listen to more nontraditional voices. And by showing our humanness in the process, we’re able to build stronger relationships with each other.


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