Those of you who read most of my posts may have noticed a change in approach over the last few months—especially if you’re getting them by email. My weekly post, which goes up on Friday, is now more focused on user experience, design, customers, entrepreneurship.

Put another way, my weekly post is now more focused on people and ideas.

I do still post more tactical WordPress tips, complete with code samples. Some of the posts that get the most traffic here are about exporting notes from PowerPoint and downloading multiple email attachments. I’m glad I can be helpful with those, and I don’t mind the extra visitors, either.

Yet, instructional posts don’t showcase what’s unique about how I see the world.

Similarly, I enjoy giving one specific, technical WordPress talk at WordCamps, but it’s not one of my best presentations.

I want to share how I know this now. It’s not because I think I’m a “beautiful and unique snowflake” and decided I knew what I could offer the world in the form of writing and speaking.

I’ve done (and continue to do) two specific things.

Write and Speak Consistently to Find a Voice

Last November, I made a commitment to start posting at least once a week to this blog. I’d heard it before (and Chris Lema covers it here pretty well), but I knew holding myself accountable and being disciplined in my writing would help me get better. I didn’t want to just get better at tone or cadence or structure or ledes; I wanted to get better at writing. I wanted to get helpful ideas out of my head and into a readable format so they could be shared.

Too many of our best ideas lie dormant (or go unnoticed) because conveying them outside of conversation is hard.

Further, I’ve been speaking pretty consistently for almost two years now. Several of my talks start as ideas I can get across in casual conversation, but are also difficult to convey concisely. Instead of relegating it to those random chats, I use the natural constraints of public speaking—definite timeline, time boundaries, slides, abstracts—to help me get the point across. I keep iterating based on how I feel things went and the feedback I get.

Listen to Feedback

Feedback isn’t just valuable in helping me make a talk or a blog post better. Feedback has helped me start to find my voice.

It’s an odd phenomenon, because people were telling me:

  • You’re good at the big picture stuff.
  • I like that your talks are about people.
  • You don’t miss the forest for the trees.
  • I enjoy the philosophy in your talks.
  • The psychology and data you share is intriguing!
  • Your humor is refreshing during a conference.

There are all real things said to me—unsolicited—online or in conversation. And yet, I thought maybe folks were just being nice. I’d managed to set aside all the tools for achieving objectivity I employ daily as UX designer. I so desperately wanted to avoid being pompous that I neglected to hear people telling me how I can best help others. I focused so much on receiving criticism well that I let positive feedback go right through me.

Humility can coexist with the knowledge and utilization of your unique perspective. Once I accepted that I can keep my head on straight while also believing the positive things that strangers said to me, I realized I was finally starting to find my “voice”.

Even right now, as I write this, sharing this whole idea feels cheesy. Learning to push through moments just like this one has resulted in those positive statements from strangers.

So, keep trying. Keep pushing. Keep listening. You’ll find that you don’t have to think too highly of yourself to knowingly offer a helpful, unique perspective.

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July 18, 2014 — Leave a comment — In Blog, Presenting