Encore! Elegant Skills for Powerful Presentations

How to Assess Your Public Speaking Comfort Level

Nervousness and public speaking go hand-in-hand. And in all my years as a presentations skills coach, I’ve found that people’s anxiety tends to fall into one of four categories. These four levels reflect a speaker’s comfort level and confidence. Which one best describes you?

  • Level 1: Pressured and Petrified: People in this category tend to display the greatest signs of nervousness—visible blushing, perspiration, quivering voice, or shaking hands. They are extremely uncomfortable and deeply afraid, often to the point of paralysis. These individuals generally have little experience speaking to groups, but because of a recent promotion or increased job responsibilities, they are now expected to speak (i.e., the technician who has been moved into the team lead position or the customer service representative who now has to manage others and represent the department). These people have little desire to speak in public, but now are required to do so. With limited confidence they have a great opportunity for personal and professional growth.
  • Level 2: Hurried and Harried: These people deal with their fear and discomfort by racing through their material for one specific purpose—to get through it! They are usually familiar with their subject matter but rarely prepare or practice. They like to wing it. Many even believe that their “practice” happens while they are giving their presentation. As a result of their lack of preparation, they “hurry” through their presentation, talking too fast, shifting their weight, avoiding eye contact, and showing other physical signs of nervousness. The good news for this group is that with a few simple changes they can quickly increase their capacity and become more comfortable and effective.
  • Level 3: Surprised and Startled: These people have situational nervousness. They are fine in their regular day-to-day presentations, but if asked to perform out of their routine, they experience anxiety and discomfort. However, they typically don’t show their nervousness. In fact, their audience barely picks up on it, but the speaker still feels anxious. These speakers take the time to practice and are generally more prepared than most, but unusual situations cause them to revisit earlier bouts of nerves and agitation. They are often the managers who comfortably lead staff or division meetings, but when asked to speak at an all-hands meeting or at a conference, they become anxious. The good news for these speakers is that they already know how to be comfortable in front of one type of audience, so it’s just a matter of increasing their capacity so that they can be as comfortable in every new situation they encounter.
  • Level 4: Eager and Enthusiastic: These are the people who love to speak and do so with ease, taking advantage of every opportunity and stepping up at a moment’s notice. They enjoy the adrenalin rush that speaking provides and ride it to peak performance. These people may be great product evangelists, expert salespeople, senior leaders, marketing and public relations professionals, motivational speakers, and corporate trainers. They have already built a substantial capacity for comfort—and there is still room to grow.

What sets these four groups apart? It usually boils down to just two things: knowledge and experience. Level 4 speakers know what they’re talking about and give presentations frequently. These confident speakers know from experience that preparation and practice are the keys to high performance. They develop powerful content. They prepare, rehearse, and get out there over and over. They have taken the time to build confidence.

Whether you need to give a presentation at a low-key staff meeting for just a few or at a high profile conference for thousands, you can increase your capacity to adapt to the demands of the speaking situation and use your skills and experience to succeed. Every speaker—even you—has the potential to get there!

Want to Be a Better Public Speaker? Play with Your Kids

My husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary in Hawaii last week and went to the beach every day. To me, swimming in a warm ocean, unlike the cold San Francisco waters, is one of life’s greatest pleasures. We spent the majority of our time swimming, snorkeling, and body surfing. But we also had plenty of time for my other favorite beach activity—people-watching. That’s when I discovered the link between public speaking and playing with your kids. We watched as young families arrived in colorful clothes and weighted down with beach gear. Like all of us do when we arrive at the beach, they laid out their towels, put up chairs and umbrellas, and carved out their space for the day. Then the parents turned their attention to the kids. They lathered them with sunscreen, laid out the snacks and emptied the beach toys. I saw one toddler covered in sun protection from head to toe—sun suit, hat, sunglasses, and even little boots to protect his feet.

Once the sunscreen was applied and the toys assembled, the kids began to play in the sand and dip their toes in the water. That’s when the parents took out their cameras to take pictures—lots and lots of pictures. And then the parents retired to their chairs to sit back and watch the kids play.

There’s nothing wrong with being a fussy parent (I know I was one), but I do see missed opportunities for enjoyment and family bonding when all you do is “fuss” and watch. After all, what are vacations for if not for bonding, closeness, and that all too brief special time that vacations provide to create wonderful experiences and lasting memories?

In my beach time observations I saw one model family. They arrived weighted down like all the others, the kids helping to carry and set up some of the gear. They set up shop, lathered with sunscreen, and did all the requisite fussing. Then the dad scooped up the baby and walked down to the ocean, ushering the other two toddlers who ran beside him. Then he scooped up everyone and headed into the surf. As the waves tumbled around his small brood he never stopped laughing, smiling, tussling, and encouraging. He made it fun and safe for his kids to play in the water. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the energy and joy of this man. And when the mom joined in the fun, he scooped her up too—at one point holding everyone and bouncing in the waves.

This kind of personal energy, leadership, and magnetism was compelling to witness, and in my musings I imagined that this dad was probably a magnanimous public speaker too. I realized in watching this dad that when someone knows how to “play” with their kids, they inherently know how to create trust. They are willing to give generously of their time, energy, and attention—and those are the same ingredients necessary to be a good speaker. Knowing how to create excitement, inspire others, and lead them in an experience—whether enjoying the ocean or supporting an idea—are the same traits.

So if you want to become a better public speaker, take the time to play with your kids.

What Makes Women Successful Business Owners?

Recently, I’ve noticed an increasing number of women leaving their corporate jobs in favor of starting their own small business. In one case, the woman was let go, and in several other cases, she left voluntarily. Regardless of why she ventured out on her own, one thing seems consistent: women make great entrepreneurs. Here are some interesting facts I came across from the National Women’s Business Council:

  • There are 7.8 million women-owned businesses in the United States.
  • Women-owned firms generate $1.2 trillion in total receipts.
  • Women-owned firms employ 7.6 million people across the country with a payroll of $217.6 billion. These employer firms have average receipts of $1.1 million.
  • Women-owned businesses make up more than half (52.0%) of all businesses in health care and social assistance.
  • The other top industries for women include: educational services (45.9% of all businesses are women-owned), administration and support and waste management and remediation services (37.0%), retail trade (34.4%), and arts, entertainment, and recreation (30.4%).
  • Industries with the lowest percent of women-owned businesses include mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction (15.0%), transportation and warehousing (11.4%), agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting (10.3%), construction (7.9%), and management of companies and enterprises (6.7%).

If you look at the industries where women business owners tend to gravitate—healthcare, social assistance, education, administration, retail, and the arts—you can see a glaring trend. Women do well in industries that are communication based.

Surprising? Not really. Women are, by nature, strong communicators. They know how to build relationships and create strong teams, and they believe that teams are important. No wonder they do so well in fields that require fine-tuned communication skills.

Additionally, the Small Business Administration has reported in recent years that women-owned businesses are far outpacing all other businesses in terms of growth. To me, that means women are choosing businesses that play to their strengths and their passion and are putting their all to making it a success.

As a female business owner myself, I’m obviously happy by these findings. But I think we can do even more. Yes, women are choosing business ownership because they want more control in their life—they want a way to work and stay productive without having to sacrifice family time. But what if they didn’t have to make that choice? What if the fact that women held only 14.4% of Fortune 500 executive officer positions weren’t true? What if women held more than the measly 15.7% of Fortune 500 board seats? And what if women held more than 2.6% of Fortune 500 CEO positions? I believe, as does Harvard Business Review, that having more women in top positions ultimately leads to greater overall success. Why? Because with women participating, a group’s “collective intelligence” rises.

So women, if you’ve ever dreamt about starting your own business, know that you have some natural tendencies that will contribute to your success. And if you’re one who enjoys the corporate culture, push on to make your voice heard in the executive level. Whichever path you choose, know that the business world needs your expertise, your passion, your communication skills, and your unique female success traits.

This blog is part of my Wednesday for Women blog series, where I feature stories, resources and information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. Please enjoy these weekly Wednesday blogs and forward them to the powerful women in your life.

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How to Be a Great Woman Leader

In 2005, a year-long study conducted by Caliper, a Princeton, New Jersey-based management consulting firm, and Aurora, a London-based organization that advances women, identified several characteristics of women leaders. They found that when it comes to leadership, women are stronger than men in several areas. For example, women…

  • Are more assertive and persuasive
  • Have a stronger need to get things done
  • Are more willing to take risks
  • Are more empathetic and flexible
  • Possess stronger interpersonal skills
  • Can “read” situations better
  • Make those they lead feel more understood, supported, and valued

Since few people are “natural born leaders,” almost all great leaders—women or men—have had to hone their leadership skills in order to make the greatest impact. And while women do have some natural leadership traits, it’s how well you develop those traits that mark your true leadership ability. 

So if studies indicate that there are particular traits women leaders possess, perhaps it’s time to look in the mirror and assess yourself. If you’re ready to step up to a leadership role, here are a few questions to consider:

Who do you admire? Asking yourself this question is a good place to begin because it helps you identify the characteristics of great women leaders, and because studies show that the characteristics and qualities you admire in others are often latent in you. When I work with executive women, coaching them on communication and presentations skills, I always ask this question because it gives us a reference point and a role model. It also helps us see their potential. So make your list and identify the characteristics. That’s your starting point.

How do you assess your skill level? Once you have identified the characteristics of those you admire, assess yourself against these traits and sort that list into three buckets, “Strengths,”  “Average Skill Areas” and “Development Needs.”

What skills do you want to develop? In reviewing your list, select two characteristics you’d like to work on. They could be from any of your three buckets—strength, average skills area, or development need. Investigate options for learning, coaching, and skill development. If the area seems too big to tackle all at once, use the “Swiss cheese” method and decide how you can poke small holes in the challenge. For example, you may not be able to afford an executive coach but perhaps you can read a book on leadership.

With women holding only 14% of leadership roles in Fortune 500 companies, now is the time for more female leaders to come forth. So no matter what your leadership aspirations are, take the time to hone your leadership skills. We want YOU (yes you!) to lead!

This blog is part of my Wednesday for Women blog series, where I feature stories, resources and information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. Please enjoy these weekly Wednesday blogs and forward them to the powerful women in your life.

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Steve Jobs, One of Today’s Great Presenters, Steps Down from the Main Stage

Anyone in the public speaking business has likely paused at the news that Steve Jobs has resigned from the iconic Apple Computer. We all knew it was coming, given the serious health issues he has battled since being diagnosed with treatable pancreatic cancer in 2004. But it is a surprise nonetheless. His career has been nothing short of inspiring. Jobs had been named the most important person in personal technology at the start of his career in 1978, and then again at the end in 2011. Over the years, he has brought a wealth of innovative products to the world that have touched and changed nearly everyone’s life. And though his primary goal wasn’t to inspire presenters, that’s exactly what he did, giving us all a solid roadmap to follow. As sad as having him step down from his role at Apple is, the thought that he will no longer be giving his exciting keynote presentations is even sadder.

I have analyzed Jobs’ speeches many times over the years, and while I have never had the privilege of working with him, I admire that he is such a thoughtful and skillful practitioner of the best public speaking principles. He embodies the core success principles top notch speakers are known for, and he seemingly follows the DeFinis Communications methodology to a T, such as:

Delivery Skills: Jobs has excellent physical presence skills (eye contact, facial expression, posture, gestures, and movement), highly developed vocal resonance (uses his voice carefully, clear pronunciation and enunciation, and effective use of pitch, inflection, rate of speech, and strategic pauses), and a masterful use of distinctive language (uses short sentences never more than eight to thirteen words, chooses exhilarating words that are both powerful and emotional, and keeps his language clean of fillers and unintentional slang). He has the talent for drama, clearly conveying his passion.

Content Development: Jobs clearly understands his audience, and as such, he respects the importance of structuring his presentation’s content for each group he addresses. He defines his purpose and states it clearly and succinctly. He develops a clear beginning, middle, and end. He begins with a strong hook, states his purpose, and then lays out the agenda of his three to five main points. He develops the body of his presentation with a series of touch points, including analogies, metaphors, stories, data, statistics, and humor. And he uses thoughtful, sequential transitions, and ends with a summary, thank you, and final thought—“one last thing.” It’s textbook perfect in every way.

Visual Aids: Jobs’ visual aids are the opposite of the dense eye charts we so often see in typical technical presentations. His slides are image based with large colorful images, one big statistic, or one powerful graphic. He uses these images to augment his key point, not to overshadow it or mute his performance. His slides are exciting and dynamic visual entertainment, with a powerful point.

The Bar Has Been Raised

Jobs has consistently been one of the most powerful and best role models for business speakers in high tech. And he makes public speaking look easy, seamless, and enjoyable. But this is not due to a natural talent. I’ve heard that he works hard to prepare and even harder to rehearse so that every moment is well coordinated. He spends days, not mere hours, in preparation for one of his large main stage product announcements. Indeed, he has set the bar high.

In the only commencement speech he ever gave at Stanford University six years ago, Jobs told the newly minted graduates, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” That statement is so true for public speakers. While it’s great to use Steve Jobs as a role model for excellent presentation technique, what made him really great was that his technique allowed him and his message to shine through. And he would be the first person to tell you to model his skill, but to develop you own personal spirit and style.

In his resignation letter, Jobs wrote, “Apple’s best days are ahead of it.” While that may seem hard for us to believe today, we know that by stating this, he is preserving his legacy—a legacy of poise, power, and passion.

Looking for a Mentor, Consultant, or Coach? Here are the 3 top things to look for

For most people, hiring a mentor, consultant, or coach is a tough decision. And for women it can sometimes be even tougher. After all, you’re hiring someone to help you look at all aspects of yourself. You want someone to help you address professional and personal challenges so you become stronger, more skilled, more strategic, and just plain better in some way. Whoever you hire is going to see the real you, flaws and all, and that can be scary on many levels. So how do you choose the right person to help you? What are your criteria? How should you evaluate the person? What’s your checklist?

The foundation of any relationship, especially for women, is trust. While trust is certainly important for men as well, women seem to seek it sooner in the relationship. As such, women often allow their “women’s intuition” or “gut instincts” about a person to shape their decision of whether to work with them…and they do so on the first phone call.

Whether you’re a woman looking for a mentor, consultant, or coach, or you’re a woman who works in one of these roles, following are the top three keys for building a trusting relationship during the first interaction.

  • Someone who takes his/her time with you. Obviously, the initial phone call with anyone is much like a sales call. But those consultants who focus on building trust are able to guide the conversation in such a way that it doesn’t sound or feel like a sales call. These people take their time, ask focused questions, really listen to the answers, and encourage the prospect to go deeper into the conversation. The dialog feels natural, not like an on-the-spot interview.
  • Someone who uses a neutral tone of voice. People who have a sense of tone—who know how to control their voice—naturally come across as more trusting. Using a neutral tone means the person’s voice is responding neither too strongly nor too lightly. Responding too strongly often makes it sound like the person is overbearing, while responding too lightly makes the person sound disinterested. Controlling your vocal tone so it’s deep, balanced and even puts listeners at ease.
  • Someone who is giving of information rather than guarded. Think of this as the difference between offering facts versus offering insights. While knowing such things as how long the consultant has been in business and what types of people he or she works with is important, that kind of information doesn’t always lead to trust. Real trust comes from sharing insights, personal examples, and emotional stories that are relevant to the prospect. The insights don’t have to go into great depth and detail, but they should highlight the quality of the consultant’s expertise.

If trust is the basis for an effective mentoring, consulting, or coaching relationship, then the selection process is indeed very personal. In other words, you can’t hire someone simply because of their experience. And even though it is important to review the person’s references and track record, what is more important in the end is to trust your interaction and your gut instincts. If trust hasn’t been established prior to your working together, you need to pay attention to that. Trust is not a “nice to have.” It’s an essential element for you to have a productive relationship that leads to positive and lasting change.

This blog is part of my Wednesday for Women blog series, where I feature stories, resources and information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. Please enjoy these weekly Wednesday blogs and forward them to the powerful women in your life.

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Can Public Speaking Be an Enjoyable Experience?

For most people, giving a presentation—whether something formal to the board or something casual to a community group—is a stressful experience. And as we all know, too much stress can contribute to health problems and impede a person’s ability to live a robust life. The American Institute of Stress reports that some surveys show 75 to 90 percent of visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related complaints. And according to the National Women’s Health Information Center, the effects of stress on women’s physical and emotional health can range from headaches to irritable bowel syndrome. Fortunately, there is a way to make public speaking less stressful and something you actually look forward to. Making public speaking enjoyable comes down to being in control of yourself and your environment. The more control you feel you have, the less stress you’ll experience in any situation. Granted, there are always some things you can’t control, like the weather, but there are key things you do have a say on. Here are the top four for presenters.

  • Your Content – Obviously, if you’re writing your presentation’s content you have a great degree of control over it. But merely writing the words and confidently owning the words are two different things. That’s why practice is paramount before delivering your presentation. When it comes to practice, I like the “Think It Through, Talk it Through, Walk It Throughmodel. Here’s how I do it: Once the content is set, I think it through when I’m washing the dishes, taking a shower or driving my car. I talk it through when I’m out for a walk or bouncing a ball. And I walk it through in full dress at least three times with all my equipment, props and aids. For those important presentations, I recommend that you schedule three to five practice sessions well in advance of the event and take them seriously. If you find this difficult and need support or “tough love,” arrange for a colleague or friend to join you. It’s not as easy to cancel a “meeting” you have scheduled with a colleague—so let this small tip help you practice.
  • Room Prep – How many times have you arrived just in time to deliver your presentation, only to find out that the room isn’t set up, the LCD projector isn’t working, and your handouts aren’t photocopied? Now you’re scrambling trying to pull everything together at the last minute. Talk about stress! I advise that you make it a rule to be at your presentation site at least one hour early. Even if your presentation site is simply the conference room next door, at least peak your head over well in advance to make sure everything is ready for you. Don’t assume someone else will do it, even if others have typically handled it in the past. Ultimately, if things aren’t ready, you look bad; therefore, control the situation before it controls you.
  • Your Audience – While you can’t always control who will be in your audience or what kind of mood they’ll have that day, you can control your audience’s first impression of you. One advantage of being at your presentation site early is that you’ll be able to greet your audience members as they arrive. That physical contact of a handshake and your greetings and small talk will help put you and your audience at ease. You’ll no longer be talking to the people from the marketing department whom you’ve had limited contact with; you’ll be talking with Jack, Lori, Raj, and Donna—people you’ve personally met and shared a story or two with. Talking with people you know is much more enjoyable than talking to strangers.
  • Food – Chances are you’ve been to a workshop or long meeting where the supplied afternoon snack consisted of cookies and brownies. While tasty, this traditional mid-day fare is the last thing the presenter or audience needs to stay alert. If a snack will be provided during your presentation, arrange that it consist of fruit, whole grains (crackers, bagels, etc.), and water. Food that provides actual nourishment and slow releasing carbohydrates will help everyone stay attentive and on task with your message.

Being in control of yourself and your environment plays a big role in how stressful or enjoyable your public speaking experience will be. Manage these two critical areas and you’ll be a healthy and strong presenter who can control anxiety, connect with your audience, and find joy in every public speaking opportunity.

This blog is part of my Wednesday for Women blog series, where I feature stories, resources and information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. Please enjoy these weekly Wednesday blogs and forward them to the powerful women in your life.

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Keys to Developing Presentation Content for Women

No matter what industry you’re in or what type of presentations you give, chances are you have women in your audience. With 69% of American women in the workforce, the female presence in business is everywhere. Women give and listen to presentations, make buying decisions, lead groups to action, and influence companies worldwide. Therefore, to successfully present to this powerful audience segment, you need to know how to relate to women in every presentation you give. As a public speaking coach and owner of a presentation skills training company, I give and listen to presentations every day. So I have a unique perspective on this topic. I know what works from a technical standpoint, and I know what works from a audience standpoint. To that end, I offer these three tips for developing your content for a female audience. (Note: while these suggestions apply universally—to both men and women—the tips highlighted have a higher receptivity in women).

1. Women appreciate and respond well to stories.

It’s no secret that women love a good story. No wonder 55% of all fiction books sold are to women. Knowing this, it’s surprising how many presentations I hear that are overloaded with facts, statistics, and dry information—with no stories whatsoever.

To connect with the women in your audience, stories are a must. Realize that not every story has to be about you or your company. You can use stories that are in the public domain or stories you’ve heard from others. You can also use metaphors and analogies that relate to things women typically respond to, like family, food, or travel. As long as the point of the story builds upon or relates to your topic, it’s a valid story to use. So as you plan your content, make sure you focus on stories as often as you focus on facts.

2. Women want to participate and feel involved.  

Women enjoy feeling a part of the group. Women yearn for inclusion, for connections, and for relationships. Therefore, find opportunities to create ways for women to get involved in your presentation. You can suggest a “pair and share” activity, ask rhetorical questions, organize a group activity, or simply elicit feedback often.

The key, however, is to really want and value the involvement. Simply garnering participation at key points in your presentation but not making that participation meaningful to the experience, or not using or validating the information that is offered, sends the message that you really don’t care. So gain involvement and use what’s been offered. Your message will resonate stronger with your female audience if they feel they had a part in shaping it.

3. Women are keen to visual images.

Visual images are important for any presentation. In my experience, women respond to visuals that are more integrated, complex, and open to interpretation.  Unlike stereotypical visual concepts, such as men like images that are hard, sleek, and cold, and women like images that are soft, fuzzy, and warm. Women enjoy and are stimulated by images that are more subtle and less prescribed.  

One example of this is the Andrew Wyeth painting Christina’s World. In it, a woman is lying in a field, looking at a house. The painting’s message is not definitive. The woman depicted could represent someone distraught, forlorn, or forgotten. Or she could be hopefully reaching toward home—to that place of belonging and family love. Or she could have simply tripped and fallen. Paintings like this carry a degree of complexity and uncertainty that force people to interpret the image based on their own experiences. Women are comfortable with that complexity where there are multiple interpretations—no right or wrong. So to create powerful visual content for women, choose images that evoke a story.

Stories, participation, and powerful images – these are the three factors that are important for any presentation, but are especially so for a female audience. Keep these concepts in mind as you plan your next presentation and you’ll be one step closer to connecting your message with this powerful segment of the business community.

This blog is part of my Wednesday for Women blog series, where I feature stories, resources and information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. Please enjoy these weekly Wednesday blogs and forward them to the powerful women in your life.

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Let Me Call You Sweetheart…and Other Workplace Communication No-No’s

Recently I was having an email exchange with a gentleman I had never met before. During the course of our communication, he replied to one of my questions by writing, “Well of course, silly.” “Silly”? I’m sure he meant no disrespect in his word choice, so I brushed the incident off. However, it got me thinking about all the times I’ve heard men (bosses, clients, vendors, and co-workers) refer to women in the workplace as “sweetheart,” “darling,” “love,” “honey,” and even “babe.” I know I’ve been called all sorts of pet names on many occasions. Have you?

No matter what type of workplace communication it is—an informal meeting with management, a formal presentation to a client, or a phone inquiry to a vendor—showing professionalism and respect is key. As such, pet names have no place in workplace communication.

So how do you get people to stop calling you “honey” and other such names? The most effective way is to take a compassionate and direct approach. This is one of those communication challenges that require tact and diplomacy so you don’t trigger defensiveness in the other person. Essentially, you’re giving constructive feedback—and that requires skill.

While the issue of pet names in the workplace can be a touchy subject, women have an opportunity to raise awareness. Being called “sweetheart,” “honey,” or any other pet  name can make a woman feel less respected, belittled, undermined, not taken seriously and consequently uncomfortable. And I’ve found that men either don’t even know it’s an issue, or they play it down and think women are making a mountain out of a molehill. So it’s a matter of taking the time to educate and inform men in order to help each other communicate professionally and respectfully.

Here are some pointers to help you navigate this situation.

  • Set boundaries early. Sometimes people perceive a relationship to be casual in nature when it isn’t. That’s why it’s important to set boundaries early on and to maintain those boundaries throughout the relationship. If you let the issue slide and allow someone to call you “sweetheart” for many months, changing that behavior may be a bit more difficult. It’s better to call it out the first time you hear it.
  • Decide if it’s worth the effort. Is being called a pet name a “small annoyance” to you, or is it something that gets in the way of smooth communication and productivity? For me, the “silly” comment was a small annoyance. However, I’ve been in situations where being called a pet name was a bigger, ongoing problem. In many cases, it’s best to overlook and disregard the small annoyances and focus on the bigger challenges.
  • Think about the other person first. If you decide the issue needs to be addressed, first consider the person you’ll be confronting. Does he need a sit-down formal meeting about the issue, or would a short casual comment correct the situation? Sometimes a quick, “Rather than call me ‘sweetheart,’ can you please call me… (insert your name),” works wonders. Other times the person may need more insight into why the pet name is disrespectful.
  • Plan your “script.” If a formal sit-down meeting is warranted, carefully plan what you will say and how you will say it. Include both power words and emotional words to convey sensitivity and certainty. Remember to use “I” sentences so you stay focused on the issue and not the person. For example, “I have noticed that I get called ‘honey’ a lot, and I find that term disrespectful (unprofessional, condescending, etc.). I’d prefer if everyone in the office, including you, call me by my proper name. Can I have your support on that?”
  • Keep the tone light, but don’t make a joke out of it. You want to send the appropriate message and make sure it’s acted upon, so being overly jovial or too stern may not help you get the desired results. If there’s an edge to your voice, the other person may take offense to your words; if there’s too much humor in your voice, the other person may not take you seriously at all. Therefore, keep your tone professional but not too formal.

Of course, any conversation like this hinges on trust. Therefore, before you rush in and state “Don’t call me ‘honey’ anymore,” you need to determine whether you trust the other person enough to give them feedback, and whether they trust you enough to receive it. If trust is lacking in the relationship, you may need to work on it first before addressing other issues.

Ultimately, communication is the key to highly productive and satisfying relationships, and it’s everyone’s job to focus on, improve, and develop effective communication skills. And because women tend to have higher relationship and communication skills than men, it falls on our shoulders to raise the bar, set expectations, and be strong role models so everyone can participate fully, feel included, and bring their best to every communication situation.

Have you been in a situation where someone repeatedly called you a pet name at work? I’d love your comments on how you handled it.

This blog is part of my Wednesday for Women blog series, where I feature stories, resources and information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. Please enjoy these weekly Wednesday blogs and forward them to the powerful women in your life.

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A Public Speaking Lesson from My Sister

I’ve been on vacation in Maine for the last few weeks. Our family has a house in a small coastal village where we come every year. I love being in Maine, so far away from the bustling Bay Area where I live. It’s a quiet retreat, a respite from the traffic, noise and density of city life. My sister met me here last week. She’s from Miami, so she too enjoys the peace and solitude. Together, we quickly settled in to a quiet routine of morning walks, time on the water, long conversations, afternoon naps and lots of reading.

Our village is small and quaint with only a handful of houses. When my sister and I arrived, only a few of those houses were opened. The summer season starts late in this part of Maine. But even with so many houses still dark and bordered up, it’s a safe and quiet place.  

One night we went to bed early and quickly fell asleep. At around 2:15 a.m., I heard a loud banging noise and then the sound of footsteps clomping up our driveway. In a fog of sleep, I listened to the heavy footsteps. “It must be a deer or moose,” I thought. I pulled the covers over my head and sunk deeper in my bed. Then I heard the footsteps walk down the porch steps and back down the driveway. All was quiet again, but I tossed and turned for the next 45 minutes thinking I should get up and make sure I locked the porch door.

When I finally forced myself out of bed, it was 3 a.m. I looked out the window and saw a woman in black running gear jogging on the road in front of our house. She was holding a large flashlight that illuminated the road in front of her and her German Sheppard. “That’s odd,” I thought. I had never seen this woman or her dog before. But something about a woman in black and a very large dog gave me some sense of peace. I assumed all was well once again and was back in bed and asleep in minutes.

The next morning my sister walked into the kitchen bleary eyed. “I’ve been up all night,” she said. “Did you hear that loud banging? I was scared to death! I would’ve come to get you but I was terrified to leave my room. I was even too afraid to turn on my light or call for help!” She proceeded to tell me the details of her arduous and fretful night.

Then I told her my version of the story. Not wanting to alarm her, I mentioned that I thought the footsteps were from a four-legged creature like a deer or a moose, and the banging could have been the animal stepping mistakenly onto our metal bulkhead.

“No,” she said, “it sounded more like someone was pounding on the front door—right under my room.”

Why did my sister and I have such different reactions to the same event? How could fear be experienced so differently in two people who shared the same gene pool and similar life experience? Not wanting to tax my brain too much since I was on vacation, I chalked it up to our reading choices.  

While my sister was spending a few hours each day engrossed in a terrifying crime novel and closing her door tightly at night to protect herself from her imagination, I was reading “The Happiness Project.” My sister was terrified, couldn’t leave her room, turn on the light, or scream for help. I, on the other hand, was in a meadow with Bambi, Stomper and the rest of the Disney crowd, pulling the covers over my head and wishing the danger away.

Now, you may be asking, “what could this story possibly have to do with public speaking?” A lot! As you know, I see public speaking lessons everywhere. So here are a few public speaking lessons that also apply to life:  

  • You are not alone: Struggling and veteran presenters often feel that no one understands the pressures, fears, or challenges they face. In truth, no matter how alone you may feel, someone out there shares and understands your experience…and can help. Reach out to others when you need help.
  • You are what you read: We hear the adage “you are what you eat,” but for those of us who love words, “you are what you read.” Fill your mind with positive words, images and themes especially before giving a presentation. Watch what you consume intellectually as well as biologically. There are benefits and unknown toxins in both.
  • When danger and uncertainty strike, take action: Sometimes, despite your best preparation, things go wrong during a presentation. Don’t let it rattle you. Listen to your survival instincts and let your head lead you out of the paralyzing fear.
  • Gather data: When you walk into a new situation, or if you hear the footsteps of uncertainty coming your way, get up and look for answers. Facts can quell your fears and at the very least let you know what you’re up against. This will give you a chance to take control. And when you do, you will feel much better about the situation.

After my sister flew back home, I had lunch with some friends from town and they mentioned the incident. In fact, it’s now the talk of the town: “The Higgins’s called the police and reported that someone was banging on their front door,” my friends said. The state police are 45 minutes away, which explained the police woman jogging through the neighborhood with her German Sheppard 45 minutes after the incident. And lucky for us the “prowler” was caught. It turned out he had too much to drink and was just looking for a place to crash.

Now, my neighbors have arrived, the houses are no longer boarded up, and I’m sleeping soundly in the dark night. The moral of the story? In public speaking and in life, reach out to others before pulling the covers over your head.

This blog is part of my Wednesday for Women blog series, where I feature stories, resources and information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. Please enjoy these weekly Wednesday blogs and forward them to the powerful women in your life.

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The Secret to a Woman’s Success – Take Care of Yourself First

I was traveling via air from San Francisco to Maine recently. As the plane was nearing take off, the flight attendants started their usual safety demonstrations. I politely sat through the “how to buckle your seatbelt” and “how to use your seat cushion as a floatation device” spiels. Then, after the demonstration of placing the oxygen mask over your own mouth before assisting someone else, I began to think how useful this advice would be for women in their everyday life. No, this has nothing to do with wearing oxygen masks around town. It’s about helping yourself before helping others—something too few professional women do these days.

I see these over-burdened women every day. They’re typically in their thirties or early forties. They’re trying to excel in their corporate job, trying to raise a family, and trying to participate in their communities. They’re juggling so much and being pulled in so many different directions that they ultimately reach a point where they are completely burnt out. They simply can’t compete at the professional level they need to AND take care of their family AND be active in their communities AND have a life of their own. Something has to give…but what? Too often, it’s their professional pursuits that get put on hold.

Some of these women drop out of the business world completely, some leave their corporations in favor of an independent work pursuit, and some stay where they are in the company but don’t compete for more senior level positions or responsibilities. This is a terrible situation for the business community, as we’re losing countless women—countless resources—who can advance a company, change the organization, and help businesses move from being linear driven to more strategic around communication and relationships.

So what’s the solution? How can we reach women and head them off at the pass before they make the decision to drop out of or diminish their role in the corporate world?

The key is to have women take care of themselves…first.

No one will deny that being pulled in many directions is tough. When you’re in that situation and feeling stressed, it helps to take a time out—go out in nature, go off for a weekend with the girls, go to a spa, or do anything that helps you replenish who you are. Of course, the tugging in all directions will still be there when the “me-time” is over, but when you’re mentally, emotionally, and physically refreshed, you have a better chance of being able to successfully manage it all.

So my request to all women is this: when you feel overwhelmed and that something in your life has to go, that’s your cue to focus on yourself. In today’s world, “me time” is not a luxury; it’s a necessity.

This blog is part of my Wednesday for Women blog series, where I feature stories, resources and information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. Please enjoy these weekly Wednesday blogs and forward them to the powerful women in your life.

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Are Your Presentation Skills Your Hidden Strength?

It’s a man’s world. Do you think this statement is obsolete in 2011? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Consider these sobering facts:

  • Only 12 Fortune 500 companies are run by women, down from 15 last year, as three left their posts and were succeeded by men.
  • Women earn 77.5 cents for every dollar a man earns.
  • The more education a woman has, the greater the disparity in her wages.
  • Women work longer to receive the promotions that lead to higher pay.
  • Four in ten businesses worldwide have no women in senior management.
  • Women earn less than men in 99% of all occupations.

There’s no question that women face certain professional challenges. The majority of the time, women are competing directly with men and being held to male standards. Interestingly, there’s one skill set in particular where women outshine men almost every time—that is, communication.  

From my own observations and from talking with other communication specialists, it seems that many men today struggle with communication issues. They’re in senior level positions and want that promotion to the C-level, but their poor communication skills are holding them back. These senior leaders have excellent credentials, advanced degrees, and strong professional experience but when it comes to their presentation and communication skills, they can fall flat.

In contrast, women are naturals when it comes to communication, facilitation, collaboration, and relationship building. Women typically want the relationship to be the driver of business success. They want to communicate openly and develop personal relationships with co-workers, colleagues, clients, and vendors. Yet they’re working in a world where communication is considered a “soft skill” and where personal relationships aren’t valued, let alone developed.   

But here’s the silver lining to this gray cloud: When women get to the point that they’re in the running for top positions, they stand out and compete well. Because women have this foundational piece of strong relationship and communication skills, they have the ability to bring people into a conversation, to get the masses rallied around a cause, and ultimately get others on their side and moved to action. Those are the traits of a true leader.

So rather than dwell on the challenges women face in the world of work, I propose that we focus on our strengths, develop them, and use them to our best ability. Only then will we see the playing field level so everyone can step up and take their career as far as they want it to go.

This blog is part of my Wednesday for Women blog series, where I feature stories, resources and information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. Please enjoy these weekly Wednesday blogs and forward them to the powerful women in your life.

Sign up for our monthly newsletter to receive valuable tips, techniques and updates on the latest news and events from DeFinis Communications.

The Key Factor for Your Presentation’s Success

When you’re preparing a presentation, who is the most important person you need to consider? The answer: Your audience. You’ve likely experienced, at least once in your career, what happens when you forget about your audience. Here’s the scenario: You create the perfect presentation complete with solid transitions, compelling visuals, and stellar numbers. You have great jokes planned and practice every element of your speech. Yet, as you stand in front of your listeners and talk, your message isn’t garnering any interest. You know you’re crashing fast. While you may have prepared incessantly before you went to the front of the room, you forgot about the one critical element to your presentation—your audience.

If you forget your audience, your presentation can backfire. That’s why knowing the details about them is critical for your success.

For example, Andrew Winston is a well-known consultant who is dedicated to helping companies grow and flourish by utilizing green environmental strategies. He speaks across the globe to varied audiences. As such, Winston is a master at crafting his presentation to match the needs of his diverse audience. 

Winston speaks to audiences of adoring fans, sustainability conference attendees, and even lumberjacks and loggers. Do you think he takes the risk of delivering the same speech to each unique audience? Of course not! The brilliance of Winston is his ability to deliver a compelling presentation every time he speaks because he caters to the specific needs of each audience. When he is in front of his fans, he is bold, controversial, and risk taking. However, when he is in front of an audience of skeptics, he eliminates the controversial pieces and engages with the audience on a personal level.

As a presenter, you must get your audience on your side. If the people in front of you want numbers, give them numbers; if they want jokes, give them jokes. However, if you don’t take the time to analyze what would best suit your audience, your presentation will fall flat no matter how much you prepare. 

Therefore, before you begin crafting your speech, know who you are going to be standing in front of. Will you be amongst your cheering, loving fans? Or a caustic, skeptical group of dissenters? Make sure you are prepared to speak to the hearts and minds of the crowd in front of you!