Public speaker coach Zoya Mabuto explains how to find your authentic voice.
The lockdown initially seemed disastrous for Zoya’s company, Zoya Speaks, where she offers facilitation, leadership development and public speaking coaching. After giving herself a pep talk, she reframed how she looked at the situation and searched for the lessons and opportunities it presented. Part of pivoting her business was to fast-track her online offering.
“For the most part I’ve been able to migrate the entire business (coaching, facilitation, public speaking). I’ve made major adjustments, including pricing for the services I offer, but I am still able to go on and more opportunities have become available,” Zoya explains.
It’s been an insanely busy time with both her and her husband working full-time while having to care for two small kids (aged four and seven), but it’s given Zoya an opportunity to be more authentic. “It’s also given us an opportunity to model to our children how we work. Sometimes I’ll be presenting to clients with my four-year-old sitting on my lap or speaking to a coaching client and then you’ll hear my little girl’s voice from the bathroom: 'Mommy please come to wipe my bum!' I’ve had to become comfortable with that. That distance between the private and public life has been significantly reduced. We all understand that this is who we are, and it’s been beautiful to solidify this idea of authenticity.”
The power of using your authentic voice
Zoya believes that we can change the world with our words and voices when we know how to use them. “When I talk of this concept of ‘the world’ people often think I'm speaking about someplace out there. The power of our voices is used most of all in the world that is in our homes. In the manner in which we raise our children, how we build long-lasting relationships with our partners, our friends, and our families. And when we don’t know how to use the power of our voice, we can be quite reckless and cause more harm than good. We can use voice to advocate for those who are voiceless. Our voices can lift people from despair to hope. Our voices can inspire change. Our voices can critically question and challenge. Our voices have power because of their ability to cause things to shift in some shape or form.”
“I’ve seen way too many people make themselves small and we then miss out on the contributions and insights that they would have been able to share or give. Owning the power of your voice has nothing to do with being the loudest person in the room. It’s about having the knowledge that you have something of value to contribute. Disagreeing instead of going with the flow when you have to. That’s when things start to change.”
What is your authentic voice?
Zoya recalls the fight scene between T’Challa and M’Baku in the movie Wakanda. They are fighting to rule and M’Baku is challenging T’Challa, the rightful heir. At one stage M’Baku overpowers T’Challa and it looks like M’Baku will win.
“And then we hear the voice of T’Challa’s mother, the Queen Mother, shout: ‘Show him who you are!’ When T’Challa hears this something in him is provoked and we start to see him slowly regain his strength. I liken this to the idea of an authentic voice. It’s the knowledge of who we are. It’s the acceptance of both the very best and the very worst of who we are. And being comfortable to show up in the knowledge that we will make mistakes, but to know that it’s part of this multifaceted, holistic individual that I am.”
Zoya notes that your authentic voice is not about perfection and that she often clears up that misconception with her public speaking clients that she coaches. Instead, she helps them uncover the unique things that make each one amazing. “I’m here to help you connect with who you are and what you bring to the table so that you’re not uncertain about that… It’s that ability to own every single part of who you are and then to step out courageously anyway.”
Finding and using your authentic voice not only allows you to speak from a place of deep truth that emanates wisdom, strength and character – it’s also how you most connect with others. Zoya cautions against “faking it till you make it”. “We think we can fake it and get away with it, but people’s intuition is so amazing at reading when we are being inauthentic. So you can imagine how that hinders the ability to connect.”
Being inauthentic comes across as insincerity and instead of building trust, you’re placing a wall between yourself and your audience, client or loved ones. “With authenticity the opposite happens. People will connect with us. They will meet us halfway. They can relate. Or they can recognise that you’ve gone to those places in yourself that they might be struggling to get to.”
The need for people to feel connection is real, but that doesn’t mean fitting in. Zoya refers to what Brené Brown, author of Dare to Lead says. “She makes an important distinction between fitting in and belonging… the two are polar opposites. Fitting in is when you twist and turn to shape yourself to acclimatise to a situation. Belonging requires you to be yourself without having to change who you are to match the situation. She takes it a step further by saying that you have to belong to yourself first.”
How to find and nurture your authentic voice
1. Invest in a coach and join toastmasters
It takes work to undo the layers of indoctrination about how we must show up, present ourselves, behave in certain situations, and how we should speak. “When you undergo any personal development journey you’re doing the work of peeling the layers to better know and understand yourself. I've invested in a coach for myself and I’ve seen the benefit of people investing in me as a coach.” 2. Watch online talks
“There’s so much information by way of TED Talks and on blogs about these kinds of things. So watch those talks and listen to other people’s insights and perspectives on the same topic, and start to weigh in.”
Journalling is not only cathartic, it also helps you to clarify the fuzzy thoughts in your head. “Writing about your experiences is one way to make sense of things that don’t make sense. Then do the work of going back to your journal to identify themes and patterns. What are the things that irritate you, what do you most like to do, what energises you, what drains you? That brings you closer to a knowledge and awareness of yourself and finding that authentic voice.”
Zoya concludes by saying that personal development work doesn’t have a finish line. “You’re not going to watch a couple of TED Talks or journal once or twice and then that’s it. You never arrive with this work. Instead it becomes a lifelong quest to stay in perpetual awareness of yourself and then to extend that awareness to others.”
Author: Leanne Feris