“Permission to Speak”: a Practical Guide and a Radical Manifesto

A coach to Hollywood stars and CEOs, Samara Bay has produced a book that aims to help its readers do nothing less than "change what power sounds like, starting with you."

Sometimes a book comes along just when you need it and Samara Bay’s words arrived at the perfect moment. A month ago I left my corporate job to pursue something new and I’ve had an excellent companion on that journey: Bay’s new book, Permission to Speak: How to Change What Power Sounds Like, Starting With You (Penguin Random House, 2023).

This is a guide for anyone figuring out how to use their voice—or how to help others use theirs. Bay’s writing is passionate, insightful, and true: She clearly cares deeply, and thinks deeply about her work. And as a vocal coach to celebrities and leaders, she brings a ton of real-life, A-List experience to her writing. 

As a speechwriter, there are three (always three!) things that struck me about this book:

First, Bay comes at public speaking and power and speech from the perspective of the voice. As a scribe, my focus has mostly been on the written word: Getting a c-suite executive to rehearse has, more often than not, been an uphill battle. But frankly, every speechwriter knows that if the speech is poorly delivered, the message is unlikely to land. And, as Bay writes, there’s “what we have to say, and how we have to say it so people can hear us.”

Second, Bay writes about changing what power sounds like, by starting with the reader … not a CEO or a politician who already has a significant profile. With her writing, she’s addressing the likes of you and me! As someone who’s spent more than a decade perfecting the art of sounding like other people, this book gave me the space to reflect on my own voice. Doing so will help me better help clients, in the end.

And third—the absolute best thing about this book—is that Bay does it all from a feminist perspective that describes (with alarming accuracy) the realities women face every day. She gives context to vocal tactics like upspeak and vocal fry, explaining just why women have adapted to become likable and unthreatening when we speak. 

But there’s more than data and context. This book is packed with practical exercises for discovering your own voice—your actual physical voice. As she guides the reader through the exercises, Bay even acknowledges women’s propensity to hold in their stomachs in a bid to meet society’s preference for thinness. How often have I sucked in my tummy while I’m presenting?! And what has that done to my voice? There are also exercises for getting in touch with your emotions, including a meditation, which she suggests you record and listen to … in your own voice. I haven’t been brave enough to do that one yet! 

Permission to Speak is more than a how-to book, it’s a manifesto, a call to action for women to rediscover their emotions, their voice, and to get in trouble at the same time. She nudges her readers “to be a bit more daring, to take the gamble, to reveal your heart.” In an age where women are leaving their jobs at higher rates than ever before, women’s rights are being eroded, and sometimes, things can feel just a little bit bleak, Bay’s book is a guide for our times that offers a toolkit for anyone who wants to change the sound of power. 


Felicity Barber is Founder & CEO of the new executive communications and speechwriting agency, Thoughtful Communications.

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