“Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.” Maya Angelou.
All of us at Timbre seem to be in love with this quote. It gets wheeled out at nearly every opportunity we have to talk about what we do.
Also the irony of this written post on the power of voice is not lost on us. But if today we must use a print form of Angelou’s quote is because her voice has been heard and we now trust it in every form.
I’m reminded of a line from a Billy Joel song. Honesty is such a lonely word.
I’d replace honesty with authenticity for the purpose of this note. Everyone knows it’s the thing to aspire to in all one says, does and reflects and yet it is bloody hard to say what it really means in words.
Lucky for us, the voice helps where words often don’t.
I recall this time when a communications person from a company was briefing me about an interview we needed to record with a new leader in the organisation. The comms person told me the leader wasn’t known for his articulation skills and had struggled addressing people in face to face sessions and hence I’d be required to do all it takes to elicit some “fun” responses.
As it turned out, the leader was a person I had interviewed while he was with another organisation, not once but twice over two years. And I remembered both interactions for his natural ease and humour on the calls. Hence I was a bit thrown by this contrary feedback from the comms person. Not for long.
I ought to say here that most of our corporate radio and podcast interviews are conducted over the phone. Indeed, this is what allows us to reach employees and company spokespersons who maybe geographically spread. We certainly can’t afford to fly down to places as near and wide as Sarjapura and Poland to record interviews ‘in person.’
To come back, the interview in question was a breeze and all concerned we thrilled with the output. The leader was a total rockstar on that chat. Perhaps, the faceless nature of this sort of interaction was what worked best for him. I’m certain the comms person now saw him in a different light – as an ace communicator who just needed to get off the ground from a different sort of runway. One that didn’t involve distractions like faces, arc lights, etc.
Of course one understands that there’s no way a leader can afford to hide away in his cubicle and avoid all contact if he is to be effective. But let’s just face it, how many employees of say a multinational anyway get real face time with their leaders? That sort of thing is sold as some rare opportunity, even prize, ie, for employees to engage with leaders in person. Fireside chats, CEO connect, leadership connects – all kinds of names are given to these face to face sessions. But how often do these and can these really happen? But a simple voice clip can be mailed out every day, if you’d like to get obsessive about it J
And why wouldn’t you want to be heard if you know you cannot be seen as often as you’d like? The former is clearly more important given we’ve come a long way from regarding our CEOs as the Amitabh Bachchans of our lives, where a mere glimpse would suffice to strike awe in our hearts.
In any case, ‘in person’ in the literal sense of the phrase isn’t all it is cut it to be. I’ve spoken to people face to face and over the phone, Webex, Skype, etc and the latter media have often given me the best results. These faceless interactions are liberating and devoid of distraction. People say all kinds of interesting things over the phone.
Chats like these tend to be more freewheeling and indeed we’ve been able to collate for at least one company some of the most organic and authentic responses to questions that tend to elicit measured and cliched responses in for example, written or online surveys.
Then, an interesting add-on benefit to getting people to voice their thoughts emerged from this insight from another comms person from another company. They told me they saw the podcast as a great training place for managers to help hone their verbal communication skills. The subject matter delivered they felt was only a secondary objective J
Of course you have to enjoy talking to people, you need to be passionate about your work and need to trust the medium to deliver for you. The first two apply to both, the interviewer and the interviewee. The trusting the medium part for the latter is tricky.
A lot of people are conscious of how they sound, accent, etc, and wonder if these may detract from the core message. While it is true that we do form some impressions of a person based on these superficial attributes of voice, from experience, I can safely say, people always respond to a tonality of expertise, to pride in your voice over what do, to your confidence and to genuine warmth. Nothing to do with accents and the quality of your voice.
I must confess the reason I landed my 1st FM RJ job back in 2001 with Radio City, was an anonymous diary I used to write for indya.com. Something I could never replicate on air though that was the hope. I was struck by how impossible I found it to voice what I could so easily write.
I realise it wasn’t the medium itself but the anonymity of the writing that was emboldening. Anonymous writing may be popular, like the diary was I think, but it can’t always be trusted. It was a diary of a single woman by one who was properly married. And that deception is perhaps why my voice simply refused to own my writing.
Seetal R Iyer
Co-founder & Head of Content, Timbre Media