Friday, 30 January 2015

“Women are the majority of the population but still a minority voice,” says Christine Jahnke, a speech coach and the author of The Well-Spoken Woman. She’s worked with some of the most powerful women in the nation, advising Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and Michelle Obama’s first international speech, to help them command authority in any setting.
While Jahnke’s tips are generally gender-neutral, professional women may want to pay particular attention: Naturally high voices tend to make you seem younger, says Jahnke, so “some women may be starting a couple steps behind.” Whether you hope to ace a meeting, improve your presentation skills or project more power and authority when speaking with business associates, Jahnke offers the following guidelines.
Take ownership of the room.
According to Jahnke, speaking from a place of strength and authority is mostly a mental game. “Once you are in the room, recognize that you belong there,” she says, noting that women often approach meetings and presentations as if they’re being tested. When you feel confident and comfortable, it’s infectious. Furthermore, Jahnke cautions against avoidant behaviors like sitting in the back, hiding behind furniture and keeping your head down.
Stand like a champion.
“Giving presentations and making speeches is very physical,” says Jahnke. When on stage or standing before a group of people, she advises using the champion stance: position one foot in front of the other, place your weight on the back foot, hold your head up, drop your shoulders back, lean your torso slightly forward and smile.
Sit with your elbows on the table.
When sitting down, Jahnke counters your mother’s advice: Get your elbows on the table. “Don’t put just your hands on the table; it looks too lady-like,” she warns. Instead, sit up straight, lean forward and place your forearms on the table-top. Whether in person or on camera, maintain eye contact with fellow speakers or the camera lens.
Tailor your message to the audience.
When approaching a presentation, says Jahnke, a common mistake is asking: What am I going to say? Instead, she advises considering: What does my audience need to hear, and how much do they know about my topic? Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is especially good at understanding her audience and telling stories in a way that transports them to remote parts of the world, so that they can experience and visualize philanthropy’s impact.
Get to the point.
“Your competition is the attention span,” Jahnke says. Rambling, unfocused speeches will earn you few supporters. A powerful presentation stays on message, is made up of short sentences and few asides, and gets to the point quickly.
Slow down and breathe.
When PepsiCo chief Indra Nooyi first travelled from India to the U.S. to attend the Yale School of Management, she spoke so fast that she barely paused to breathe. Nooyi had to learn a slower, more effective pace that leant more authority to her ideas. Jahnke says that broadcasters usually speak at a pace of 150 words per minute, which is conversational yet metered.
Utilize your vocal tools.
“The worst thing you could do is drone on using a flat monotone with no variance in pitch or pace,” cautions Jahnke. She believes the voice is one of the most underused tools and can be manipulated to project power and incite interest. Optimize it by using a mid-range pitch, inflection to offer emphasis and variety, a volume that attracts attention but is not overly loud, pauses after important sentiments and clear pronunciation so that words are not lost.
Cut out fill-in words.
Ums, uhs, hms, you knows and likes will dilute your message and undermine your power. These “fill in” words may make you seem nervous, unprepared or unfocused. Oftentimes people use them because they are afraid of dead space, but in fact a pause is more powerful, says Jahnke.
Inject humor and warmth.
Female leaders like IMF chief Christine Lagarde and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg are excellent examples of women who are articulate and well-spoken but also utilize humor to connect with the audience. They project an ease and optimism that invites in listeners and establishes credibility.
Let go of self-doubt.
“Be Tina Fey–not Liz Lemon,” says Jahnke. Trusting in yourself and in the importance of what you have to say goes a long way in gaining the same trust of others. Fey’s 30 Rock alter ego Liz Lemon is plagued by self-doubt and self-consciousness that weakens her authority. Jahnke suggests building confidence by finding opportunities to practice your speaking skills, be it volunteering to be a panel moderator or giving a speech at a social or family gathering. “Get better by thinking about the little stuff.”


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