It starts with a voice. Your voice. Your ideas. Your opinions. Your thoughts. Your learnings.
You have something you’re interested in, something you want to communicate to others. So you write. Or you give a presentation. Or you record a screencast. You do these things more and more, sharing what you learn and what you think.
Over time, as you get more comfortable, you learn how to improve. You learn how to write more effectively. You learn how to make your presentation resonate more deeply with an audience. One day, years later, you look up and you find out that you’re not the best—in fact you still have a lot of room for improvement, but you’re much better than you used to be.
This is the way you improve. This is way it’s supposed to work.
Except that often, it doesn’t. There’s a lot of advice out there, mostly well-intentioned, about how to be better. Don’t use passive voice in your writing. Make your movements deliberate on stage. Avoid filler words.
It’s great that people share these tips. It’s all good advice and it will likely make you better at communicating.
But advice like this can also be intimidating if you focus too much on it from the beginning. In fact, I would argue there are two likely outcomes. The first is that you get so nervous about doing it right, about not messing up, that you decide it’s best not to try anyway. Who needs that stress and criticism? The second likely outcome is that you decide to write or speak, but you’re so caught up in the mechanics of doing it correctly that your voice—what makes your contribution unique—gets lost in the shuffle.
Don’t get caught up in the mechanics too early. If you do you’ll end up blindly adhering to rules that simply may not apply to you. People say don’t use animated GIF’s in talks. Myself, I can use the occassional GIF at a specifically timed spot, but anything more isn’t me and people will know it. But that’s just me. I’ve seen some people give amazing presentations that were absolutely full of them.
The most important rule to follow when giving a talk or writing is to be yourself. I can learn just about any topic out there from a million different posts or talks. The reason I’m listening to you is because I want to hear your take. I want to know what you think about it, what you’ve experienced. More than anything, I want your authenticity. I want you to be you.
You’ll get better. You’ll learn how to communicate more effectively. You’ll learn how to make your message more powerful. You’ll learn the rules for more effective communication, and you’ll learn when and how you can break those rules to actually improve your message. But those things come later.
First, you find your voice.