A quick test to help you find your voice

voice Apr 10, 2020

John Prine has died of complications from Covid-19. He was a masterful singer-songwriter, with a remarkable ability to make you laugh one moment and rip your heart out the next. I mention him because he possessed a very distinct ‘voice’; not the actual sound he made (although that was unmistakable after his two successful fights with cancer) but the way his words and phrases captured the man himself.

Once you’d heard a couple of John Prine songs (check out Hello in There, or Angel from Montgomery, or Sam Stone) you’d recognize his work no matter who was singing it. It was unmistakably him - gentle, self-deprecating, blue-collar, champion of the underdog, perceptive.

So thinking of John Prine and the writing that so clearly identified him, let me ask you a question.

How close to YOU do you get when you are making a presentation or delivering a speech? Is it the true ‘you’ that’s turning up? Or perhaps a more formal, cleaned up, dressed up version of you?

If there’s one quality audiences consistently say they value in a speaker, it’s authenticity. They crave a connection with something real. And often they don’t get that. They get a manicured version.

There are usually two obstacles to letting audiences hear the real YOU.

  • One is actually knowing your own voice.
  • The second is having the courage to be true to that voice.

The style you adopt to write a report or proposal is almost certainly not the same style you would use in an email to a friend. And neither would be quite like the sentences structures you’d use and word choices you’d make when talking with people you care for.

This is not to say one style is right and the others are wrong; it’s simply asking you to reflect on which version of you is the one you want strangers to encounter. Once you are really aware of the differences, you can more easily prepare presentations and speeches and in a way that really helps audiences engage with you.

Try this simple test, to help define your voice.

1 - How would you describe yourself?

From the list below, pick four words that describe you as a person.

  • Abrupt
  • Academic
  • Adventurous
  • Authoritative
  • Careful
  • Chatty
  • Dull
  • Formal
  • Funny
  • Happy-go-lucky
  • Hesitant
  • Impulsive
  • Playful
  • Pompous
  • Predictable
  • Relaxed
  • Reserved
  • Serious
  • Stand-offish
  • Stiff
  • Talkative
  • Warm

2 - How do others see you?

Identify four words that describe how you think others would describe you.

Be honest. Ask your friends how they see you. Examine the two lists for similarities and differences. Build on the similarities, reflect seriously on the differences.

3 - Whose voices are you drawn to?

Pick a couple of names from this list, drawn from two of the top 50 lists of sought-after speakers.

  • Sir Richard Branson
  • Brene Brown
  • Deepak Chopra
  • Malcolm Gladwell
  • Seth Godin
  • Jon Gruden
  • Ariana Huiffington
  • ‘Magic’ Johnson
  • John Maxwell
  • Gordon Ramsey
  • Tony Robbins
  • Sheryl Sandberg
  • Robin Sharma
  • Simon Sinek
  • Gary Vaynerchuck
  • Oprah Winfrey

If you’re not sure, check out a few of the people listed above on Ted Talks or YouTube and study their styles.

How does the speaking style, the voice, of your favourites match your perception of them? What can you take from their style to modify your own?

One you’ve defined your style and you are comfortable with it, celebrate it. Make sure that when the chance returns and you get to deliver a speech or presentation (live or virtual) you are true to your voice. Audiences will love it, and you’ll distinguish yourself as someone with a voice worth listening to. Just like John Prine.