Last week, I lost my voice. Literally, I couldn’t talk. Laryngitis.

Naturally, I joked about it: The ironies of a communication coach not being able to speak – what good am I in this condition? What a pleasure and relief for my family – finally, a break and some much-wished-for silence! My own vocal chords were on strike – was it something I said?

I also wondered. When will it come back – a day, a week, longer? Who am I without my voice? Am I relegated to communicating digitally only? What did people with laryngitis do before texting and emailing?

I will admit, sudden onset of laryngitis prompted some panic and an existential crisis: Whoa, where did this come from, what did I do to bring this on? What would I do if I had to deliver a speech or presentation in this condition? Cancel, reschedule, or create a killer PowerPoint or video? How could I turn this seemingly negative event into a positive? (Maybe blog about it?) My livelihood depends on my voice, what would I do if this persisted?

Turns out, I was still me; I had the same thoughts, ideas, and feelings. I just couldn’t share them – vocally, that is. It also turns out, the people around me were at a little bit of a loss without the all-too-familiar sound that drove through my larynx – my news, my bad jokes, my unsolicited opinions and everything else I rattle off in the course of a day. It was quite interesting to observe how people reacted to my inability to speak, including the pharmacist who, perhaps in an attempt to empathetically mirror my limitations, gradually dropped his own voice to a raspy whisper to answer my barely audible questions.

The experience made me think about voice and the fact that it’s not my voice that I lost, it was only my ability to talk. I couldn’t talk. But I had a voice and could give voice without being able to make much sound. I could communicate. So as with any other change that occurs in life – for the better or the worse – I decided that, if this stayed with me, I would adapt. I would still communicate and spread my ideas (like the gospel of #audience-centricity!) through writing. Maybe I would work on another book and share my thoughts that way instead of through speaking engagements? Maybe I would become a speechwriter, creating the actual words for speakers instead of coaching them to formulate and deliver their own? Either way, not being able to talk was not going to be the end of me.

Talking, I have realized, is overrated and overused (ergo, the gospel of #brevity!). Communication is the constant, it has evolved in infinite ways over the years, and adaptation is a constant too. Think about how we have communicated news for example. News was once shared via petroglyphs etched into rock and then eventually via newsprint on paper and currently via electronic transmission on a screen. And there are other examples as well, most notably the arts – visual arts, music, dance – all of which give voice and communicate but not necessarily through talking. Voice, which can and should be carefully cultivated and deployed, is something we all have no matter what. The various methods of communication at our disposal is how we share our precious voices.

P.S. About two days later, my voice returned – albeit not in fighting condition and still on the mend. Nevertheless, existential crisis averted and lesson learned: I never lost my voice and I never will.  

Beth Levine