To free the voice is to free the person ~ Kristin Linklater

Heeding the call to advocate for ourselves, to act on behalf of another person, or to speak out for a cause much larger than ourselves, we are often required to give speeches.  Whether fund raising, educating, or accepting an humanitarian award, we activists use our voices, a lot.

Rather serendipitously, I attended an event because I was intrigued by the process by which this workshop would be convened.  Graciously hosted by Craig and Patricia Neal, authors of The Art of Convening, I came learn about the act of hosting authentic meetings but left knowing a whole new truth about voice, my voice.

As an award recipient from Century College, Women and Gender Studies Department, for my work on pay equity, I was asked to give a ten minute speech at the ceremony.  No problem as I’ve given dozens of speeches so I was planning to do this extemporaneously.  But after watching the TEDxWomen conference I was inspired to make this speech great!  I left the location from where the TEDxWomen conference was being streamed early in order to work on my speech.

Putting the words to paper, creating notes that I could easily read from a podium, and timing myself took about two hours!  For a 10 minute speech! I arrived at the event somewhat early so I had an opportunity to meet a few people and put my mind and heart at ease.  I made some last minute changes to the speech making sure everyone I wished to thank would be included.  And, I continued to talk to myself, positively……”It is not me, but spirit working through me”.  Whew!

Being the second award recipient took some of the pressure off but the first speaker really hit home.  She spoke without notes and completely from her heart.  Wow! How do I follow that?  I knew I had to use my notes but I would try my best to speak from my heart.  Looking at the audience and seeing my family and the women who came before me, who paved the way for the work I do in the field of gender justice, was all I needed.  This award was not mine but a gift to them. The words flowed from my heart with ease.  When I addressed the rest of the audience I looked at them as vehicles for change and that my words were a gift to them as well. I really felt connected.  The whole experience was unprecedented in my career.

At the workshop the following morning, still on a massive high from the night before, I listened to Barbara McAfee perform her wisdom around ‘Full Voice: the Art and Practice of Vocal Presence“.  We were given the opportunity to explore our voices both the audio and the inner (addressing the Brain Rats).  I walked away from the workshop with an understanding that voice is more than just a tool for making speeches.  Although I use my voice to educate elected officials, business leaders, and civic groups about the gender wage gap, pay equity laws and humanistic workplace principles, I am not often aware of how I am delivering the message.  Barbara McAfee notes in her book:

If what you are saying is at odds with how you are saying it, your listeners may miss your message altogether.  And without a connection with other human beings, your work can’t come alive in the world.

So voice is not just about how we use our vocal chords.  For advocates and activists, voice is about bringing our work alive by showing up fully, by staying committed to something larger than ourselves, and finding our common humanity through some sort of connection. And, our work is worth the effort it takes to give a good speech now and then.

Thank you to all the 2011 “Women of Distinction” award recipients from Century College:

Mary Bussman, Conductor and Founder, Twin City Women’s Choir

Jennifer Plum, Founder, Minnesota Roller Girls

Joanna Woolman, Director, ReEntry Clinic




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