When I gave presentations on professional presence as an image consultant, I often referenced research conducted by sociolinguist Albert Mehrabian, who found that 55% of our first impressions are based on how a person looks, 38% is based on how they communicate and just 7% is based on what they actually say. This was my “aha’ slide, the slide that made everything else in my presentation on image and professionalism relevant. The “just 7%” was justification for focusing on the visuals over the verbal.
But even back then, I always had tremendous respect for the veracity of voice, the power of the pen, and how our words wield our truth. Way before I became interested in style and image, I was a truth seeker. I believe we all are to some extent. What I believe is true, is what I value. What I value is what I focus on. What I focus on is what I speak into existence. What I speak into existence by a tweet, talk, or post, is my voice—it is my opinion, expression, or the truth as I see it. My voice leaves an indelible print of my time here on earth.
Mahatma Gandhi advocated for unabashedly speaking ones truth when he said, “Many people, especially ignorant people, want to punish you for speaking the truth, for being correct, for being you. Never apologize for being correct, or for being years ahead of your time. If you’re right and you know it, speak your mind. Speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.” Your truth is reflected in your voice. In this era of social media communications, your voice leaves a lasting legacy of your thoughts, beliefs, priorities and perspectives. So, what type of legacy are you leaving with your voice?
This is no inconsequential matter. Our current President uses his voice in a very public platform to express his mostly personal views. Every tweet he sends, whether you agree with his opinions or not, communicate so much about his character. He may say one thing using a teleprompter, but I believe the real man can be discovered in the one place where he can express himself unfiltered, where his voice is truly his own. Like him or not, on Twitter, you get the real deal.
Our words have tremendous power, and to cast them around carelessly is foolish, especially in a medium where they can be shared, copied and attributed to you till kingdom come.
In the past three months, we have witnessed unprecedented tragedy in the world, from natural disasters and sadly, just this week in Las Vegas, from human hands. Every day we seem perched on the brink of war between North Korea and the US with tensions mounting between these two world leaders. In times like these just how do we use our voice?
When disaster strikes, like it has around the world lately, I find my voice escapes me. As a writer and truth seeker, I feel so trapped by all the many words in me fighting for air time, that none wins. And instead, just silence. Words of comfort seem insufficient. I’m sure I’m not alone in this feeling. But I have to fight to find my voice and speak up for my truth, within the context of all the events happening around me. Scripture speaks often of using our words to uplift and encourage each other. For example, First Thessalonians 5:11 says: “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” It is this belief that motivated me to write an inspirational post on cultivating resilience, two weeks ago.
Just consider the greatest leaders, orators and champions in our modern world –John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Theodore Roosevelt, Mahatma Gandhi–whose words continue to surface decades after they have passed on. Their words leave a lasting legacy unfettered by time and often context. Their voices offer hope, guidance, encouragement, purpose and motivation. But moreover, their words were in sync with their characters, deeply enmeshed with their value systems. JFK said it best when he wrote: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
It is interesting to me that after the horrific massacre in Las Vegas this week, in the President’s address to the nation, he referenced scripture and God multiple times to comfort, console and speak up for unity in the United States. He referenced Psalm 34:18 when he said, “Scripture teaches us the Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit. We seek comfort in those words, for we know that God lives in the hearts of those who grieve.” He ends his speech with these words: “May God bless the souls of the lives that are lost, may God give us the grace of healing, and may God provide the grieving families with strength to carry on.” I applaud him for taking himself out of the equation, following his script and calling on the wisdom of a higher power to try to find words to comfort us. But if I’m honest, his words did not ring true for me. I do not see this President as a religious man in word, action or deed. The words he read are not words he lives by.
Here is an important point about our voice: it has to be authentic. It has to reflect who we are and what we value. Otherwise it can seem hollow, stiff or rehearsed, as the President looked and sounded during his speech on October 2nd. As a reporter for the Atlantic said of his speech, he “would have done better to say a few things that sound real than a great many that sound false.” Time and time again we witness this President using his voice in a divisive, critical, aggrandizing and equivocating way. He vacillates so much that it is difficult to trust anything he says. How sad. How unfortunate that the voice for this great nation may be failing its people.
I admire the account of King Edward VI’s journey to finding his voice in the movie, “The King’s Speech”. Here was a leader who struggled with a debilitating stammer, who fought to find a way to communicate to his people with confidence, command and clarity, at a critical juncture in history. The heart of the movie is the unbreakable bond that develops between the aspiring King and his speech therapist, Logue. We see how much is at stake. The only way to communicate in real time with the public in those days was via live radio where voice reigns supreme. The climax of the movie is the new King delivering his first wartime radio broadcast where he announced Britain’s declaration of war on Germany in 1939, without a hitch. The king’s speech inspired the country and united them in battle while giving the new monarch the confidence he needed to be King. What a legacy!
Most of us will never be a king or a president of a country, but we all have a platform for our voice when we communicate. On social media we have virtual followers and online friends. Some of us are influencers. We may be leaders in business or our community. We may pontificate from a pulpit or coach in a classroom. It matters not. But make no mistake, your words leave a lasting legacy within your sphere of influence and this should give you pause before you speak, tweet, post or share. Your words can uplift, edify, elevate or enlighten. Or they can dis-empower, tear down, vilify and condemn. Your words can spread joy or pain, love or hate.
Theodore Roosevelt’s quote about the “man in the arena” is now even more famous because it is where researcher turned author and influencer, Brene Brown, derived the title of her bestselling book, “Daring Greatly”. This is the power of voice! Truth begets even more truth and from Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy we have a book that leaves a legacy that urges us all to let go of our facades and show our vulnerabilities because therein lies our strength and courage. We need that message more than ever today.
In these precarious times, will you join me in committing to getting in the arena, letting our voices be heard, living authentically from our truth, using our words for good, so hopefully, prayerfully, we can leave a legacy worthy of our time spent on earth? We’ve sure got our work cut out for us!
Natalie Jobity is an inspirational author, branding coach, marketing consultant and freelance writer. She is the author of the Amazon Best-selling style guide :Frumpy to Fabulous: Flaunting It. Your Ultimate Guide to Effortless Style. Read more of her inspirational posts on her website. Email her at Elanimage07@gmail.com.