Why you need a Sounding Board

I have a secret to share with you. I like to talk. A lot. Often too much. Sometimes it's to vent, at other times to share something interesting from my day, but every now and again it's to run a crazy idea, dream or venture that materialises in my brain and I just want to bounce it around other people's skulls.

As such, I have always wanted to form my own sounding board, my own set of confidants who I can reach out at the right time to listen to what I have to say, not rely on platitudes but the story and the story behind the story that I am trying to share and support my adventure while dissecting the many ways it could genuinely turn pear shaped.

Today, this blog serves as my own adventure into trying to create my own personal sounding board, more so because try as I did I was not satisfied with the results reliable ol' Google provided.

What are Sounding Boards, and what are they not?

Mentors, coaches, sponsors and sounding boards, what are the differences? For the most part, a mentor or a coach has an active role in improving performance, a skill, an action or the overall potential of an individual. A sponsor has an interest in you succeeding or pursuing a certain path, and will vouch and support that path. A sounding board on the other hand is not as active in its action towards your success and does not have to be supporting you towards your chosen endeavour. In other words, there is a lot more ownership in this relationship for you to seek and engage your sounding board, as opposed to a mentor/coach/sponsor who might be more active in this engagement.

Sounding boards "a person or group on whom one tries out an idea or opinion as a means of evaluating it."

What would make a good Sounding Board?

Firstly, this sounding board needs to be accessible to me, whether that is one or many individuals. Not in the be-ready-when-I-send-you-my-idea way but more so, please reply within a few days so I can help evaluate my next steps forward. Nothing will be gained if I have an idea that I want stress tested but never gets any eye ball time for a few months either. Accessibility between yourself and your sounding board is key.

Language and meaning. The whole point of taking an idea, a thought or venture to a group of trusted confidants is that such individuals have a firm grip on who you are, why it is that you are bringing up such an idea and be able to speak with the same language as you. I don't mean the literal language here, but what we actually mean when we define the idea. To know the story behind the story. If I bring forward the idea of creating some self-propelled flippers, like some backwards attempt at beating a Whiteshark MIX, a good sounding board might understand my background in swimming, know to ask the right questions and overall provide sound advice/direct criticism that considers some of the story behind the idea.

Trust. This one is key, for many factors. You need to be aware and trusting that both parties, both the one presenting an idea to the sounding board and the sounding board themselves have a shared level of trust that allows an unimpeded view and feedback. The whole purpose of a sounding board is to take an idea that you want to 'bounce' off people who you can trust and will be able to share their real thoughts or comments that you need to kill/improve/move forward with the idea.

How to find who to have on your Sounding Board, and what is a good number?

You don't need a choir to sing to you. I don't disagree that getting 500 comments/views on an idea from different individuals is a good thing, but you also need to consider the value achieved of that extra veracity versus action on the idea itself. Personally, I think that a minimum of three individuals who are relatively unconnected to each other serve as a great starting point for a sounding board, but let me give you my reasoning.

  • You want to give the statistical possibility for the sounding board to agree/disagree at the same time, but three can give you just enough to see where that trend lies. Ie 2 positive sentiments vs 1 negative sentiment.

  • Unconnected - helps to bounce an idea against a variety of thought processes and backgrounds, without it becoming three good close friends that all live and know of the same ecosystem. Sure they can know each other somewhat, but the more variety the better the sounding board will work in your favour

  • The fewer members you need to bounce an idea around for your sounding board, the easier on your logistics and absorption of feedback. No point gathering the whole cities view on a point if you won't get the time to ever take any action.

How to formally put together your Sounding Board

The resounding word of that title is to formalise it - in whatever that may seem most appropriate for your context. Let me give an example: Our other half of the Mere Mortals, Kyrin, is a close confidant of mine, someone who has known me for an eternity and gets where I come from for many of my ideas and suggestions. Given my proximity and relationship with him, a more informal approach is one I take to consider him on my sounding board. To this end, I share with him that I have an idea that I want his opinion on or thought. We even tend to do this live on our podcast.

Flipping over to another individual however, let's take for instance someone that I know but would not consider them an individual that I connect with on a weekly basis, perhaps more on a monthly basis, I would broach to them that I want to float past ideas/thoughts to them to get their perspective, which you obviously value. The other critical thing to consider is how each of the members you choose to be part of your sounding board can best connect with you. I personally have toyed with the idea of using a Discord channel specifically for this.. But I am still not sold on it.

Hone in on what exactly you expect or want from your sounding board. Remember this is not a cheer squad you are putting together, but a group that is willing to help you out and get a helpful perspective. Again for myself, ideas and thoughts tend to transfer themselves from brain to speech faster than I can genuinely process and as such tend to be mostly garbage. A sounding board for me helps to crystallise the idea, at least enough that it can be explained to someone, while at the same time getting some crucial feedback/perspective that I simply might miss.

That's all Mere Mortalites, I hope that this might assist one of you out there in putting together your own personal sounding board. Juan out.

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