Professor, vocal coach, and author Jessica Doyle-Mekkes talks about finding your voice (and your power) by speaking up and having confidence in what you have to share with the world.
Finding your voice and using it fearlessly–how might that help you make a life that matters?
I’m excited to share with you my conversation with professor, vocal coach, and author Jessica Doyle-Mekkes as part of our Productive Living series.
Who is Jessica?
Jessica is the Head of Musical Theatre at East Carolina University where she’s taught voice and vocal pedagogy since 2017. She works as a speaker, advisor, and clinician to individuals, groups, NGOs, and businesses small and large teaching women how to harness the power of their voices (those in their heads and the one coming out of their mouths). Jessica lives in Greenville, North Carolina, with her husband Don, their daughters Tallulah and Jolie, and a codependent chihuahua named Sebastian. Her first book, I’m Speaking: Every Woman’s Guide to Finding Your Voice & Using It Fearlessly, releases this month and is available for pre-order now on Amazon. The book was recently called, “a bible on how to stand your ground against trepidation” by Publisher’s Weekly.
How Jessica got started
Jessica has always had a passion for helping women find their voices, which grew from the women in her life who greatly influenced her. She noticed that women had been training for years in their profession and could speak really well about what they did each day. But when it came to asking for a raise, speaking with an important team member, or having other difficult conversations, they were coming up short. These women found that their education and life experience were not helping in these situations.
Based on the conversations Jessica had with these women, she did additional research on public speaking, and combined with what she already did for a living, she decided to help women find their voices and learn to be comfortable asking for what they wanted and needed. Jessica’s “side hustle” has since grown into a business in which she can combine her professional life with helping women every day.
A typical day for Jessica
Jessica likes to begin her day early and considers herself a lark, although she is more of a natural night owl. She gets up around 4:30 or 5:00 most mornings and uses this time before her children get up to write (she wrote most of her book in these early morning hours) and enjoy a cup of coffee.
Later on in her morning, she does the mom things, along with her husband, like making lunches, double-checking homework, and dropping the kids off at school. From there Jessica heads to work. She is privileged to be able to create her own schedule, working with her students during the times that work best for her, and beginning and ending her day with what works best for her family and personal life.
After getting her kids from school, Jessica will get a quick workout in while the girls are having a snack and then it’s on to evening activities and occasional work events. Jessica tries to be in bed by 9:00 each night so she can get up early the next morning and do it all again.
For Jessica, true productivity is saying no to things that aren’t important and altering her schedule to fit her needs. She’s learned that saying no and taking charge of her own time is hard because others may not like it. But she has found that if she is honest with others about her time and intentions, it’s always better in the long run.
Scheduling tools Jessica recommends
If Jessica had things her way, she would keep her schedule and to-do’s in her own head, but that wouldn’t be effective. Instead, she uses a weekly pen-and-paper calendar in her home for family activities and appointments. She also uses the calendar on her phone, heavily relying on setting alarms for things so that they don’t slip her mind. Jessica is working on getting into the habit of sitting down each week and reflecting on the appointments and activities coming up so nothing gets missed.
How women can find and use their voice
Jessica chose to write a book on women finding and using their voices because as a vocal coach, she is asked a lot about finding your voice. This involves finding your voice both physically and then using it in the way that benefits you the most. Jessica wants to shine a spotlight on your voice and the fact that it can be used to increase your confidence and overall presence. Women put a lot of time into their appearance and the things they say, but not a lot of time thinking about what their voice will sound like and how it will be perceived. This can cause a lot of anxiety and make or break important conversations.
Jessica also wants to help women focus on the voices in their heads, which tell them that they aren’t worthy, their ideas aren’t good, or that they aren’t likable. Society as a whole was made with men in mind, including their voices and how they are heard, so women need support with finding their voice while still sounding authentic and powerful. Jessica uses knowledge and tools to teach women how to do this. And this information isn’t just for performers, but for anyone who needs help getting what they want and need out of life.
Why it is so difficult for women to speak up
In Jessica’s book, she states that 45% of female business leaders say it’s difficult for women to speak up in meetings, men are 4 times more likely to negotiate for what they want at work, and men do 75% of the talking during the average business meeting. Jessica thinks that one reason for this is that typically, there are always more men in the room. The idea of being the only woman in the room is a very real thing. Women are under-represented, under-supported, and always balancing both their personal and work lives.
Another reason women struggle is because the idea of speaking up is intimidating and imposter syndrome is always looming. Women are fighting an uphill battle with what they’re trying to express and the message they’re trying to get across to others. The roots of these issues are deep.
Finally, Jessica believes that speaking up is a skill and one that is difficult for women because they are not taught how to do it with confidence. In our youth, we are rewarded for being quiet. However, female leaders are now viewed as people who think outside of the box, cause a ruckus, ask questions, and chart new paths. But we still don’t necessarily know how to speak up with confidence.
Three Commandments of Conquering Fear when speaking publicly
- Prime – This is based on brain science and involves putting the steps in place to set our brains, bodies, and voices up for success. This could involve basic self-care like eating properly, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly. These are often the first things that are neglected when we get busy.
- Pinpoint – This is all about focus. When speaking up, the fear is coming from the unknown. But the best way to overcome this fear is to prepare, whether that be through role-playing or rehearsing important steps. Take the unknown and make it known. You’re not preparing for what will happen, you’re preparing for what might happen. Know your material and be prepared for any questions that might arise. Be confident in your subject matter. Record yourself speaking and make changes in your presentation as needed.
- Power – Power means courage and is all about doing it. You can prepare and practice all day but eventually, you have to just do it. This is where the concept of self-efficacy and believing in your own abilities comes in.
Jessica believes that these three commandments can play a huge role in reducing the fear and anxiety that come from public speaking. She wants her clients to feel excited about public speaking, rather than fearful of it.
Common critiques that women get when speaking up
Volume – they are speaking too quietly or too loudly. Practice speaking at a higher or lower volume and let others know what you need in order to do this, such as a better microphone or a stand.
Unprofessional/Uneducated speaking voice – this can mean vocal fry, which has become a very common way of speaking and not something that is a reflection of your education or professionalism. But, it’s easier to criticize a woman’s speaking voice than acknowledge what she’s talking about. Jessica encourages us to speak authentically and only make changes if we want to.
One of the most useful things we can do to avoid these criticisms is to record ourselves talking and listen back to it. Jessica has a chart in her book that can help you pick out and fix flaws in your speaking that you may notice.
What does making a life that matters mean to Jessica?
To Jessica, this means doing something that leaves the world a better place than she found it. Helping women find their voice, follow their dreams, and do so authentically is her life’s work.
What do you do to get back on track on a day when everything gets away from you?
On these kinds of days, Jessica tries to remember that when she feels like she is dropping all the balls she is trying to keep in the air, it’s okay if they fall because balls bounce. She tries to keep things in perspective and remember that everything will be okay.
Jessica’s last words for the listener
Remember that your voice is powerful, in both the ways you speak to yourself and to others. You have the power to change things using your voice.
What do you think? Questions? Comments?
Connect with Jessica
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