‘Amplify’ has recently become a prominent part of my vocabulary. Individuals and companies churn out content at a rapid pace and I often ask myself, what else is there to say? What do I have to add to this mountain of stories? To overcome these barriers, I integrated the idea of amplification. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, I aim to amplify the teachings of others and my learnings. Of course, this blog and my podcast are an act of content creation. I am adding on to the proverbial mountain. Amplification helps me frame my activities and filter what I want to say. With this article, I want to highlight how the idea of amplification can be powerful and freeing.
How does amplification work?
Amplification is a concept commonly used in music production. In this context, an amplifier (or amp) is a piece of equipment through which an audio engineer can change the amplitude of a signal. If this sounds too technical, bear with me for a minute. The concept is that an amplifier takes an electronic signal, processes it, and proportionally increases the amplitude of the output. Often, an amp is used to adjust the gain of the signal. To our ears, this process makes the signal sound louder. Bluetooth speakers have a built-in amplifier that allows us to adjust the volume of the sounds we play.
There is one more dimension to an amplifier as a piece of equipment. Every amp slightly changes the way in which we perceive the electronic signal through inherent effects that can be further enhanced. Examples include additional harmonics or distortion that enrich the sound. Think about electric guitars and the different sounds they can produce. Often the details of the sound are determined by the amplifier the guitarist uses. This change is subtle but can make a big difference to a listener’s overall experience of a particular piece.
I’ll release you from the technicalities of an amp but keep the concept in mind. To me this process is a powerful metaphor. A crucial part to amplification is feeding a signal into the equipment. Without some kind of processing, the signal cannot be amplified. In other words, before we amplify a signal (read: story, opinion, message), we need to listen.
Listening unlocks new opportunities
In conversations, we often make the mistake to think about our answers while the other person is still speaking. Out of fear to seem dumb or inarticulate by leaving a longer pause, we only process a part of what our counterpart tries to convey. To truly listen, we need to be present. We can potentially listen all day if we wanted to. For example, rather than simply consuming content, we can listen to the underlying concerns or messages that inform the video or piece of writing. Good entrepreneurs excel at listening. They listen to their customers and communities, to identify a need that they can serve.
Joanna Settle, my former directing professor and an incredible US-American Theater director and educator, emphasized the power of listening as I finished my undergraduate degree. Rather than going out into the world and creating right away, she suggested to do something other than directing and listen instead. Listen to yourself, the communities you are a part of, or the world around you, and you will discover what you want to say. Listening gives us the permission to slow down, breathe, and really take in our surroundings and experiences.
I used this technique in my last position with The NYUAD Art Gallery, where I started the Teen Council. The initiative was born out of two years of listening to the team at the gallery, parents, other leaders of arts institutions, and gallery visitors who expressed the need to involve teenagers in the arts more. Other institutions in the UAE had already begun to develop programs to involve younger voices in their activities. The Youth Assembly at Jameel Arts Center is one great example. Through listening and researching we identified that amplifying the voices of teenagers needs to be a crucial part of The NYUAD Art Gallery Teen Council. The initiative was a success with over 100 applications for twelve seats on the council. The program still runs today and encourages teenagers in the UAE to actively participate in the arts. Listening closely can be powerful and create potentially life-altering experiences for others.
Now let’s amplify!
The signal is in, and we are ready to amplify. Depending on our particular skillset and ‘build’ we might have different methods of amplification. If we have a personal brand, we can use that platform to send messages and stories that are important to our community to them. If our skillset is particularly strong in community organizing or event management, we might organize a gathering or protest to amplify a cause. Think about what dials and skills you have to amplify. Note that amplification doesn’t always need to be big and huge. The tiniest turn on a dial can alter a sound drastically. I am a firm believer in the ripple effect and even if our amplified signal only reaches one person, it can have a lasting impact. Maybe we change the volume and make it as loud as possible. Read: drown followers or listeners in one message to make sure it reaches them. Or perhaps we amplify the signal in such a way that it reaches the individual or institution that will most likely benefit from it.
Whatever skillset and metaphorical dial we choose, our particular individuality will add an effect to the original signal. Simply said, we all have inherent biases that can add some new overtones or distortion. So, before we shout a new message from the rooftops, let’s investigate our biases first to consciously choose what to say how. I have found this lens particularly powerful and approach what I share from the point of view of amplification. For example, this series of articles In the pursuit of finding my voice is a way to amplify the lessons I have been granted from my friends, teachers, and mentors. I do so through writing because it is a practice I have been engaged in personally and professionally. I don’t have a large public personal brand yet but the social media profiles I have provide me with the necessary mechanism to share these lessons. Based on your particular experiences and skills, how can you amplify a message, story, or signal?
My formula to amplification:
Take in your surroundings or the content you are consuming and dig deeper into what they are saying or what need they reveal. In a conversation, be present to the words that are being said without trying to think of an answer right away
Take a moment, however long it needs to be, and reflect on what you have heard or experienced. I find it helpful to do an activity for this part, it could be journaling, creating art or talking to someone. Something that helps me metabolize the message.
After your reflection, evaluate the process and how what is being said affected you? Did you get angry, frustrated, happy, excited, sad? Why? Think about what biases or internal circumstances might have directed your reaction.
Distill; Play with the dials
Based on your reflection and evaluation, decide what you want to amplify and how. What is your particular skillset and what opportunities do you have? Maybe the piece of art you created in your reflective period is exactly what needs to be shared or it’s a story you can refine or a conversation you can continue with others.
You need to take action and let the signal pass through you with the adjustments you have made. This part is crucial, and it requires you to get in touch with others through in-person conversations or digital means.