I’ve always wanted to be taken seriously. I’ve fought to speak in a way that is commanding, clear, and powerful. I’ve sought for whoever was in front of me—a parent, a boss, an audience, a partner—to take in my words with respect. I’ve wanted to be heard.
I remember standing in my ‘Public Speaking 101’ class in college, clutching my speech as I obsessed over how to perfectly deliver my message. Shoulders back! No ums! No likes! When it was go-time, my professor interrupted me after 20 seconds. ‘Don’t cross your legs,’ he said. ‘Stand taller. Think of Winston Churchill.’ Oof.
I’m not alone in this fight. Countless people, mostly women, have struggled to captivate minds in our (still) white hetero-male-dominant culture. I’m guessing if you’re reading this, you have, too. Maybe you’ve thought: What will make me sound powerful? How do I speak without any ‘ums’ or ‘likes’? And why is it so damn hard to feel heard when I have something to say?
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How to Be Heard: Tips From Author Samara Bay
Here’s the flip: It doesn’t have to be so hard, believes Samara Bay. We need to change what power sounds like. Bay, an author and a speech and communication expert revered in Hollywood, believes that when we think of what power looks and sounds like, we conjure images of privileged, abled white men like JFK and Steve Jobs. As amazing as they are, these figures have been the basis of what we think is the “right” way to sound powerful. As Bay writes in her riveting book, Permission to Speak, there’s “the certain kind of voice we’ve all grown up hearing that sounds like command and conviction.” This has created a brick wall against which we’ve broken ourselves and lost our voices.
There’s “the certain kind of voice we’ve all grown up hearing that sounds like command and conviction.” This has created a brick wall against which we’ve broken ourselves and lost our voices.
Bay is working to break this wall and open the room for everyone to see their power. Rather than perpetuating masculine-coded ideals of what we’ve been taught power should sound like, she’s encouraging us to look within. She’s fighting for us to honor what we have to say and how we uniquely say it—ums and likes and all.
I chatted with Bay about her mission to help all of us honor our voices. These are my biggest takeaways from our conversation and her book.
By helping us all see that power is within all of us, Bay is changing the world.
We Must Unpack Our Voice Stories
I’d never heard of a ‘voice story’ until reading Permission to Speak. Bay posits that much like a money story or a body story, the way we speak also has a history. “This suggests a story, not like a narrative, but a story like a collection of myths that may or may not be serving us,” Bay tells me. Perhaps we’ve been in too many rooms where we had to quiet our voices or shift our intonation. Maybe we’ve felt intimidated because the way we sound differs from a powerful male in the room. Therefore, we’ve picked up habits and ideas, some to our detriment. We’ve made these “micro-adjustments our whole life for people to lean in, not lean out,” Bay continues.
“We all have a voice story because we live in a culture that has many thousands of years old opinions about what powerful people should sound like.” — Samara Bay
The key, I learned from Bay, is to know there’s nothing wrong with the way I speak. And there is nothing wrong with the way you speak. We’ve picked up every speaking habit for a reason, believes Bay. “When someone pulls you over in a room and tells you ‘you say like too much,’ and then you feel a wave of shame follow, I’m here to wave this flag of compassion and say: ‘You picked up that habit for a reason. It served you in some room to keep you safe and keep you unintimidating.’”
Informal Language “Makes the World Go Round”
When I first read Bay’s words, I yelped. Audibly. “Casual, conversational, simple language helps people connect,” writes Bay. “Unless you’re engaged in legal proceedings […], you’ve probably got more leeway to speak informally than you think.”
Let’s take that all in. Long gone are the school days of extracting the precise “perfect” words from the thesaurus. Bay says to speak with our hearts, souls, and unique minds. This is how to be heard.
Think about a speech that’s captivated you. Was the person using stodgy big words and complex sentences? No. Instead, those epic talks, from impassioned Oscar acceptance speeches to moving graduation talks, are from someone’s deep heart. As Bay tells me, those people are “approaching it from a love-based perspective: How do I talk about what matters to me in a way that makes me trustworthy and makes the thing I care about contagious? How do I spread care out loud?”
Informal and conversational speech does not mean careless, however. “Your words count, not because they’re impressive in and of themselves,” writes Bay, “but because they’re your chance to be as accurate as possible in capturing what you mean for the specific ears you hope will hear them.”
We Must Connect With Our Emotions
Do you know when you can almost feel the pain, the joy, the fight in someone when they speak? That’s their emotions on full, raw display. Leaning into how we feel is critical for winning hearts and minds. So where do we start? By tapping into our humanness. “We must move ourselves before moving others, and we must move others to get what we want—to get what we all want,” writes Bay.
When we get a deep emotional hit, that’s telling us that “something here is bigger than me,” says Bay. Too often when we feel like we might cry, our voice might crack, or we might speak too loud, we instantly shame ourselves because we don’t want to come off as “unhinged.” Winston Churchill’s voice didn’t sound emotional, so therefore mine can’t. Just the opposite. Leaning into our emotions is what drives our message forward. As Bay writes, “without an emotional component, no one will remember what you said.”
So how do we tap into our emotions? By connecting with our bodies. “Your body is part of you,” Bay tells me. “It has some deep wisdom that you can’t access unless you do something that feels good. So dance, run, walk, jump around, and do yoga. Get physical to get your emotions flowing. Think of doing so as a way to evolve the world. Because everyone of us deserves to feel powerful and heard.