Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

Should You Speak Up?

yellow school bus with green and yellow lights

The people who most need to speak up are often the most silent.

That is a choice and it is made for an understandable reason.

Today, let’s take a closer look at the fine line between what you say and how that relates to your professional success.

Friends Who Speak (Up)

One of the great things about being a professional speaker is having the opportunity to be around other professional speakers.

Professional speakers come in all shapes, sizes, and fees. Our topics range from the profound to the mundane, from aspirational ideas to tactical, tangible tips. There’s always something new to learn.

I recently attended an event where I got to see one of my favorite speakers, Jess Pettitt, who you may recognize from the recommended speakers section on my website. During this event, which was for members of the National Speakers Association Philadelphia Chapter, Jess spent a few minutes going through a talk she gave at the National Conference in 2022 called Cancel Proofing Yourself (btw, you should really watch the talk).

Part of the reason she went through that talk, and some of the behind-the-scenes, was in response to a question I’d asked about how to say things people need to hear but may not want to.

How To Get Hired and Referred

The playbook for getting hired and referred after a talk is pretty straightforward.

  1. Don’t challenge power or authority, too much.
  2. Don’t make anyone too uncomfortable.
  3. Don’t question the system, too much
  4. Don’t push for, too much, change.

Sure, we want to believe that rocking the boat, being different, or being a disruptor is where the real money is. We want to think that companies are itching for change and progress.

But the truth is, that the change really needs to feel safe, and it can’t make too many waves. The people who hire you are not interested in anything that threatens their position, status, or profits.

  • Just try getting up on stage and pointing out that the company that hired you has an almost entirely white, almost exclusively male board of directors, and a matching C-suite. See if you get hired back.
  • Just try saying the following words and phrases with even a hint of negativity: white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and Christianity. See if you get hired back.
  • Just try advocating that the workers in the audience form a union. See if you get hired back.

But what happens when something needs to be said?

Subtlety Speaking Truth

I write a lot about systems of power because most of the problems we face are significantly more complex than the actions of a few misguided individuals.

I have a keynote where I point out that much of what makes the current model of leadership and management so toxic is the legacy and lasting influence of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism. Delivering that message to a room full of companies operating under capitalism, and often run by teams of white men, is no easy task. It’s like trying to thread a needle by throwing the string across the room while running backward.

I continue to talk about these things because it’s important and so much is at stake. I keep trying to help people see all of the dots, so that we can collectively start connecting them in order to bring about a better world for everyone.

To do this, I must spend a lot of time thinking about how to say these things in a certain way. It must be…

  • clear and understandable,
  • without anyone feeling judged or attacked, but rather invited to entertain the ideas in a safe way,
  • all while not losing too many subscribers or future opportunities to get on stage.

It’s a subtle balance.

Deliberate Choices

One of the things that Jess said in her talk, and in her recent recap, is that there is no way to stop yourself from “getting cancelled.” All you can do is commit to making deliberate choices and owning those decisions.

One of the other points she brought up, is that the consequences of what you say, how you say it and where you say it, are not distributed equally.

Someone can absolutely walk into a room and call it like they see it, saying what needs to be said in the most straightforward terms. While that may be exactly what people need to hear, not everyone is afforded the chance to say it with the same outcome.

Here’s where we come full circle to where I started this post…

The Privilege and Responsibility to Speak Up

The people who most need to speak up are often the most silent.

The people who most need to speak up are the ones with the privilege to say the difficult, uncomfortable truth with the smallest chance of being harmed for saying it.

While I’m not opening any doors by introducing myself as an anti-capitalist, autistic, atheist, it can help that I am a white, able-bodied, cisgender man, in a heterosexual marriage. Because those facets of my identity can more easily get me in the room. Since I also work for myself, I have the opportunity to call out racism, ableism, sexism, and anything else, in most situations with fewer negative ramifications than most of my counterparts whose various identities differ from mine.

I am, generally, in less danger. But, there are also times where I’m in a room, as one of the few neurodivergent people, and my business partner speaks up on my behalf. It makes me feel safe.

You don’t need to be — and shouldn’t consider yourself — anyone’s savior. It’s about being aware of the difficult things that need to be said, and being willing to use whatever power and leverage you have to make things better. More often than not, it’s small and simple, not violent and revolutionary. So start by looking around the rooms you are in and decide whether you will speak up for others.

Sometimes you will say what needs to be said in the moment, out loud, and directly. Other times, you’ll do it gently and privately. And sometimes, you’ll have the time to work it into your keynote or writing.

Whatever path you choose, take a moment to make it a deliberate choice and then own that choice. Just keep in mind, that neglecting to make a choice, is still a choice.

Who will speak up? Hopefully, all of us, when we have our chance.

Show CommentsClose Comments

Leave a comment