What Instrument Were You Born to Play?

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Old habits die hard.

Maybe it’s something in the water, or the phase of the moon, but I’m amazed at how often in recent weeks I’ve heard people justify self-limiting behaviors with reasons that I bet they’d never let a friend say about him/herself, e.g.:


  • “I never wear sandals because when I was a kid my sister always told me my feet were ugly”
  • “I am afraid to speak in a loud voice because I’m a big person and I’ve been told I’m intimidating.”
  • “I slouch because in middle school I was a head taller than all the boys so I was always trying not to stand out.”
  • “I don’t like public speaking because I’m short so I can’t command a room.”
  • “I think people don’t like me because my voice is too raspy/nasal/other so I don’t socialize with colleagues”


Trust me, the list goes on. It’s amazing.


I’ll leave the sandals comment alone, but the rest of those comments do matter to me because they are directly related to your executive presence, which does impact career success.


Specifically, it’s the mindset and respective behavior (or lack thereof) that impacts your career success, and those are the kinds of things I often work on with clients.


To use a musical analogy, if you were born with a piccolo in your throat, I can’t teach you to swap it out for a tuba, or vice-versa.


What I CAN do, however, is teach you to play that instrument masterfully.


  • It IS possible to have a big frame and speak in a strong voice without being categorically intimidating
  • It IS possible to tall and blend in, or short and still command the room
  • It IS possible to bond with coworkers no matter what your voice sounds like (and if there’s an on-going difficulty, it’s probably not voice-related at its core)
  • And it IS possible to take whatever vocal “instrument” you were born with and play it masterfully and beautifully.


That last point is exactly what we focused on this week on Speaking to Influence. Dr. Mark Wilkinson, voice expert, speaking/singing coach, professional singer and actor, took a deep dive into understanding the realities of your voice, and how to use it masterfully as a speaker.



One of the highlights of our conversation was tackling the misconceptions that often hold people back from achieving vocal excellence. Our myth-busting included common issues including:


  • What it really means when people say “speak/sing from the diaphragm” (and why that’s actually an erroneous phrase)
  • The six different vocal qualities and how to balance them
  • The importance of vocal warm-ups before speaking or singing – and some of his favorite “do now” warmup exercises
  • How to be authentic while also adapting and adjusting to different contexts and cultures in order to effectively communicate and connect with others
  • Critical voice-care best practices, and the impact of different foods on the voice


Listen to the full conversation here or watch it on YouTube here.


Then, once you’ve learned to play your natural instrument masterfully, it’s time to put it to work in “concert” with other speakers.


As an extra bonus this week, there are several other opportunities to explore speaking in context.


First, join me in speaking with host Anne Bonney on her aptly named podcast, “Dancing in the Discomfort Zone”.


With a good dose of empathy and humor, Anne seeks to empower everyone with the ability to stop avoiding the uncomfortable issues, and get to the heart of what’s most important.



On her show, we took a deep dive into the world of “Listening to Understand.” I shared the key steps to take when you need to have a hard conversation with someone, but in a way that allows both people to emerge feeling happy and confident that they have each been heard and understood by the other.


That feeling is priceless.


Then, on “How I Raised It,” I had the opportunity to speak with Nathan Beckord, founder of Founder Suite and Funding Stack. We focused on the unique realm of speaking to influence when pitching for investor capital.



Whether you’re a new startup looking to raise a bit of seed money from a “friends and family” round, or an established company seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in on-going venture capital, the simple truth is that there are key “do’s” and “don’ts” that need to be heeded if you want to be heard (and funded.)


Nathan gets right to the big questions, and together we shed light on the answers.


But whether you’re in a “discomfort zone,” a funding round, in a meeting, or out to lunch with colleagues, learn to play your instrument masterfully. Break free of those ancient (and useless) beliefs that hold you back, and be a maestro of your voice, and a composer of your future!

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