Women have an amazing ability to create support systems within communities and job sectors. The tech community in Omaha is a great example – every woman I have met in the Omaha tech community has offered to help make connections, find jobs, collaborate, and make me feel that I had a shoulder to lean on. The music industry also has a great support network – it was while working as a musician that I met Alicia Dara, a nationally recognized voice coach in Seattle, Washington.
Alicia taught me how to sing properly as a rock musician, a skill that I did not come naturally to me, as I hadn’t done much singing prior to starting to perform live in public. Many other singers I worked with in the rock genre had injured their vocal cords by singing improperly, so I knew that having an understanding of technique was important. Feeling sure of your abilities also makes performing in front of other people substantially less stressful.
Alicia is an outspoken women’s rights and empowerment advocate, and since our initial meeting, has expanded into Public Speaking. She offers private and corporate coaching, as well as Public Speaking Bootcamps focused on women.
We spoke recently about her work and what what motivates her. She offers her advice on communicating effectively, both as a women in an industry such as technology, as well as communicating as a remoter worker specifically.
April: It’s been almost 15 years since we first met and played a few singer/songwriter workshops together. You’ve greatly expanded into public speaking, specifically to women. Why is advocating for women such a strong theme in your work and life?
Alicia: When I was in high school, I had a social studies instructor who spoke to the class one day using anti-choice rhetoric. I stood up in class and told him it wasn’t acceptable. He kicked me out of class, and I reported him to the school system. He was censured, and I ended up being voted as the “most likely to start a feminist movement.” It was not meant as a compliment. I decided that was an identity I did want and was proud of.
After graduating and moving on to work in the music industry, my experience, both as a vocal coach and as a performing artist, and the experience of countless other female musicians, is that there is so much groping that women have to deal with.
April: I definitely had that experience, and as a bartender as well. People felt like it was acceptable to reach out and grab your arm or touch you without asking. It happened all the time.
Alicia: Right! I am not a hugger. Those experiences are the primary reason why.
I became involved as a volunteer for Planned Parenthood, and have been a member of the Board of Advocates of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and Hawaiian Islands. You don’t have to be a genius to realize that women do not have parity, and I can’t live with that.
April: What made you decide to expand into public speaking?
Alicia: When I turned 40, I realized I needed to make a living wage. I wasn’t charging enough for my services. I had several people ask me to help them prepare for public speaking engagements. It ended up being a great pivot- I raised my rates, rebranded, and created “Public Speaking Bootcamp for Women” which regularly sells out. I also fly around the country giving lectures and trainings to women. This year I’m even creating online classes, so I can reach as many women as possible (next up, webinars!)
All of this adds up, and last year I made more than I’ve ever made before, and twice what I did 5 years ago. Growing my business and taking control of my finances has been the single most empowering action I’ve ever taken. Now I often work with clients on how to negotiate raises, bonuses, and higher salaries. It speaks to those issues that are important to me – empowering women to be heard and ask for what they are worth.
April: What is your advice to those working remotely on communicating effectively?
Alicia: One of the issues I frequently work on with private clients is the frustration of leading a team when you work remotely, or work with a remote staff. A major part of leadership is presence, so I teach clients how to create that presence even if you aren’t in the same room. This includes:
- Finding your “power voice”
- Realize it’s as much “what you say” as it is “how you say it”
- Communication needs to be direct, clear, and simple
- Learn how to articulate
- Make your voice heard
Technology, in many ways, has made it harder to communicate effectively. I teach people to avoid these things:
- Avoid using “uptalk” – where you raise the pitch of your voice at the end of a sentence. This confuses the listener- are you asking a question?
- Avoid “vocal fry” where your voice is low pitched and rough or creaky
April: What about written communication? So much of the work we do now includes Slack communication, group chats, messaging on tasks through Trello and Asana, not to mention e-mail.
Alicia: You need to find the balance between casual and professional, and realize how you define that balance should probably be different with co-workers than it is with clients.
- Create clearly defined boundaries.
- Avoid superfluous communication
- Emojis are best suited for personal communication
- Less is more effective
- Frame your communication in positive terms, i.e. rather than “I can’t” “I don’t” etc. use “I prefer” “Our procedures include” etc.
- Proof and review your communication using a “tight edit”
April: How do you stay connected working remotely?
Alicia: As someone who is self-employed and works from home, I have a community of other coaches (vocal coaches as well as business, life, and arts) that I check in with on a daily basis through group texts. It helps me feel connected.
If you’d like to read more about Alicia, find a Bootcamp near you, or hire her, check out her website: http://www.aliciadara.com/
Photo: “Public Speaking Bootcamp for Women: 5-Hour Edition” at The Riveter. Credit: Alicia Dara