Campaign messages like “we are the voice for the children” and “we are the voice for the poor” are all too common. Those people already have their own voices (however they express themselves, be it though auditory speech or another means)…. Whether they are “heard” is another matter.
My point is, being the metaphorical voice for another means we are speaking on behalf of our story contributors, the people our organization serves, but that is not what we are doing, or is not what we should be doing. We are more like a metaphorical microphone, amplifying their messages.
Considering yourself in that role, you can focus on being a correctly working microphone. If you were giving a talk at a live event (remember those days), you would be up on stage at the tech rehearsal, and someone would walk to the far back corner of the room and shout, “I hear you,” or not, after you talked into the mic. If they didn’t hear you, the AV crew would adjust the mic settings or get you a new one.
It’s not enough to realize you are your clients’ microphones, not their voices. Now you can do the work of getting feedback from the back of the room. If you only pay attention to how you sound to yourself talking into a mic or just look to the reactions in the front row, you may be being a faulty metaphorical microphone.
Troubleshoot before the next big speaking engagement:
1. Analyze your subjectivity.
What is influencing your perspective?
What experiences do you share with the people you are communicating about, and are you making sure not to project your own experience onto theirs?
2. Reveal your evidence.
Generalizations can sound like stereotypes. So, if there is evidence, reveal it. Be specific.
Always ask: How do I know that? What am I basing this off of?
Share evidence—direct quotes, personal testimonials, or research—that backs up the point you are trying to make and keeps your own biases and assumptions in check.
3. Honor the contributor’s agency and authenticity.
Believe people when they tell you their story. Sure, you may need to back things up with research when you start making broad statements about groups, but you are not investigative journalists probing into the accuracy of any person’s history)
Use the contributor’s terminology (e.g., pronouns, identities, descriptors) when they are talking about themselves, even if you have to provide clarifying details to the audience.
Give credit to all sources and contributors; cite sources properly and acknowledge their contributions.