W4W Wednesday for Women

The Most Unusual (and Amazing) Speech Preparation Story I’ve Ever Heard

I just completed a week’s training with the faculty at the University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry. This is my third year working with them, so we’re practically like family now. During one of the breaks we were chatting about speech preparation when one of the women present, Bernadette Alvear Fa, Assistant Professor, Department of Integrated Reconstructive Dental Sciences and Director of Local Anesthesia Curriculum, mentioned that the most challenging preparation she ever did was when she was in labor with her son. In labor with her son? What?  Prepping for a speech while in labor was something I certainly never expected to hear from anyone. I just had to get the details, and since we were all comfortable with each other, she didn’t mind sharing (or me sharing this story either).

I first met Bernadette in June 2011 when she was in my training class. I worked with her on her physical, vocal, and verbal delivery skills as well as her message development, and I gave her various options for preparation strategies to implement. At the time, she was 12 weeks pregnant.

Bernadette explained that in the months that followed the training, she gave numerous lectures with her ever growing belly, each time using the skills she had learned in my class. She was becoming a powerful and confident speaker. Interestingly, as her son started to kick, move, and punch from within, he always remained silent when she was lecturing or speaking in front of large crowds.

On December 3, 2011, Bernadette was officially 36 weeks and 1 day pregnant. She completed a lecture with a colleague and had one more official lecture to provide to the faculty 10 days later. She had the slideshow presentation ready to go and had reviewed it with her co-presenter. Then, on December 10, 2011, something unexpected happened. Bernadette’s water broke at 6:45 a.m. When she and her husband arrived at the hospital, she breathed her way through a few moderate contractions and then sent  out a flood of emails to notify people at work that she would not be coming in on the following Monday and would not be giving her presentation (at least not “live”). Three hours later she had an epidural and decided it was time to work on her “voice over” for the presentation she was going to be missing on Monday. Since she couldn’t be at the presentation in person, she wanted her co-presenter to have her sections of the presentation complete. Talk about dedication!

According to the readings on the monitors, Bernadette saw that she was intensely contracting, and her son appeared happy as a clam and bouncing around joyfully. She asked all visitors in the delivery room to remain quiet, as the only microphone she had for the voice over was the one included in her laptop, which was low grade at best. Knowing she had to make do without her usual professional presentation tools, she drew upon the DeFinis Communications vocal delivery skills she had learned and did the entire voice over from her hospital bed while in labor.

Once complete, she emailed the presentation to her co-presenter. She then patted her belly and said, “Okay, son. Mommy’s done lecturing. It’s time to come out. We’re ready for you.” Forty minutes later, the world welcomed Christian Michael Fa. He waited patiently while his mom finished her work, enabling her to completely focus on the most important task at hand now—being his Mom.

I sat mesmerized listening to her story. She could have easily turned the lecture over to someone else to prepare the voice over, and I doubt anyone would have noticed. But powerful women never give up! Bernadette was determined to follow through with the commitment she made and had the presence of mind to use the skills she learned in our class to prepare a voice-over presentation in this most challenging environment. In a room filled with stress, anticipation, adrenaline, and the frenzied activity of nurses and beeping computer monitors, Bernadette stayed cool, calm, and focused. As a result, she did an amazing job on her voice over…even while in labor.

Ever since women entered the workforce, they’ve had to creatively overcome the challenges of balancing work and home. In this case, Bernadette went the extra mile. She used her determination, perseverance, and optimism to balance these two forces in a way I’ve never seen before. If a woman can do what Bernadette did—be in labor and prepare a complex, technical dental lecture—then surely women are capable of anything, whether it’s leading a company, saving lives, or delivering a powerful  presentation under usual circumstances.

Bernadette is a true leader in her company and in her life. Christian has a lot to look forward to growing up with a role model of loving mother and confident professional.

Do you have an unusual or amazing speech preparation story? Share it here. We’d all love to read 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 Wednesday blogs and forward them to the powerful women in your life.

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Wednesday for Women: Public Speaking Lessons from Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep just won an Oscar for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in the movie The Iron Lady, and in my view she deserves an equally prestigious award for her introduction of Hillary Rodham Clinton at the Women in the World Summit 2012 at Lincoln Center in New York City. I’m a big fan of Meryl Streep and an even bigger supporter of our Secretary of State. The combination of these two women on stage gave us a powerful example of how different styles and backgrounds can yield equally successful presentations.

Doing a formal introductory speech, like what Meryl did, can be challenging. So let’s look at three areas of Meryl’s speech and have a seasoned actor show us how it’s done:

  • Image: With her bright red jacket and those fabulous black reading glasses, Meryl’s image had impact. Best of all, she didn’t just look great; she used her outfit as a prop, referring to the “put downs” of Hillary’s pantsuits over the years. She twirled around and showed us her jacket, poking fun of those who poked fun at Hillary.
  • Content: Meryl’s captivating message is rich with what we call “touch points” or “rhetorical devices.” These are the stories, examples, metaphors, facts, and humor that make up the core content of a speech, and that make it interesting and inspiring. Meryl’s speech was funny and moving because it was packed with plenty of twists and surprises, contained humorous, colorful stories, and teemed with respect and sentiment all while making playful jokes about Hillary.

For example, Meryl began by comparing herself and her early life to Hillary, which she says that every living American woman her age has done. She goes on to compare the two women’s experiences at Yale, where their similar paths diverged. “While I was a cheerleader, she was the president of the student government,” says Meryl. “Where I was the lead in all three musicals, people who know her tell me she should never be encouraged to sing.” But then she got serious and said, “Regardless, she has turned out to be the voice of our generation. I’m an actress, and she is the real deal.”

Meryl went on to describe Hillary’s constant fight for women worldwide to stop criminal behavior, seek justice, and provide support. She revealed things not everyone may know about Hillary, such as how when travelling on diplomatic missions she meets not just the country’s leaders, but also the leaders of the local grassroots women’s movements. It’s something that’s automatically on her schedule.

And let’s not forget that brilliant ending that took everyone by surprise when Meryl reached below the podium, pulled out her Oscar, and said, “This is what you get when you play a world leader.” The audience went wild. “But if you want a real world leader and you’re really, really lucky, this is what you get,” Meryl continued, as she directed everyone’s attention to Hillary’s entrance on stage. This was a model introductory speech.

  • Delivery: Good delivery does not call attention to itself. It gets the job done by clearly expressing the message without distraction. Meryl’s delivery combined a certain degree of formality with the most charming attributes of good conversation. She was a bit dramatic—even showing off at times—but she was also direct, spontaneous, and animated. Most of all, she looked like she was thoroughly enjoying every minute with her erect posture,  big smile, confident eye contact, and that charming way she “sighed” so enjoyably at her own jokes.

She controlled the timing, rhythm, and momentum of the speech as skillfully as only an experienced public speaker—or actor—can. And while she had her written speech in front of her, she didn’t read it verbatim. She ad-libbed and took time to react to her message as well as to the responses of her audience. And even when she lost her place and briefly stumbled, she recovered with grace and slipped back into the lighthearted flow—and the limelight.

Public Speaking at its Best

Maybe it takes an actress playing a public speaker to be able to give a powerful introduction to one of the world’s great leaders. Actor or not, Meryl wrote a wining speech, delivered it with heart and soul, and accomplished what she set out to do: She made us realize anew why all American citizens, not just women, are fortunate to have Hillary Clinton traveling the world, leading critical diplomatic initiatives on our behalf. Hillary stands out as a leader, a role model and one of the greatest advocates for women in recent history.

Meryl was right. You get an Oscar for playing a world leader, but you get an adoring and appreciative public who deeply understands the importance of your mission when you are one.

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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Three Women, One Mission: Peace

In 1903, two years after the Nobel Foundation was established, a Nobel Prize was awarded to a woman, Marie Curie, for the first time. Women have been winning Nobel Prizes ever since, but in very small numbers compared to their male colleagues. But is the trend possibly turning? It could be, because this year, not one, but three women were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman. While they were awarded the prize jointly, each stands out on her own as a true inspiration for women everywhere. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: Liberian president

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is Africa’s first and only female elected head of state. Over the years, she established a reputation as a firm financial politician, which earned her the nickname “Iron Lady.” When she was sworn in as Liberia’s first female head of state in 2006, the country was emerging from a 14-year civil war. Millions had lost their lives and the country’s infrastructure was in shambles.

Despite the obstacles, Sirleaf found a way to unite a country that had only known destruction. She secured debt relief for Liberia in excess of $4 billion. She also managed to convince investors that it was worth investing in a country that was small yet rich in natural resources. Additionally, under Sirleaf’s leadership, the export ban on diamonds and precious wood was lifted. In short, she gave people a new vision of the future.

Leymah Roberta Gbowee: Liberian peace activist

Leymah Gbowee was 17 when war broke out in Liberia in 1989. She had just finished high school and was about to begin studying medicine when her community fell apart and her dreams got put on hold. When the warlord Charles Taylor became president in 1997 and the brutal conflict in Liberia escalated, Gbowee decided she would fight for peace with the women of her country. She quickly found supporters for her cause, with both Christians and Muslims joining her at rallies and peaceful demonstrations.

In 2002 Gbowee founded the movement Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace. In 2004 she was appointed to Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which aimed to foster dialogue and stability. Two years later she became an advisor to the Women Peace and Security Network. Today she leads the organization from its headquarters in Ghana’s capital, Accra, where she lives with her family.

Tawakkul Karman: Yemeni human rights and democracy activist

Tawakkul Karman is one of the most energetic and courageous democracy and human rights activists in Yemen. Men and women alike are counted among her followers, some of whom call her the “Mother of the Revolution.”  Since 2007 Karman has organized weekly protests outside government buildings in the capital Sanaa. As a result, she has been arrested by security forces and jailed numerous times.

As a blogger and co-founder of the organization Journalists Without Chains, Karman supports the interests of fellow women. For years she has called for women to fill at least one-third of all public jobs in Yemen. That’s a huge goal for the country, considering that Yemen is extremely conservative and women are often treated as second-class citizens.

Upon hearing that she had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, she described it as a victory for the Arab democracy movement as a whole. She called it a signal that the era of authoritarian rulers was coming to an end in the region.

*****

I applaud these women and am humbled by their sacrifices and actions. They are true heroes, and their work and words are an inspiration for women everywhere.

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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When Passion, Power and Perseverance Combine – You Get Melinda Gates

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Tracking the philanthropic activities of Melinda Gates is like watching an army of ants build their colony. Yet she is not just the queen; she is also a worker, taking on the roles needed to build the vision, implement the plan and change the world. If you ever think that everything going on in our world today is so bad that there’s nothing you could possibly do to spark change, look in the direction of Melinda Gates. She is the perfect antidote to that outlook. She turns doom, gloom and apathy on its head. As a powerful female role model and spokesperson for the projects and people who have benefited from her good works, she continues to inspire and uplift us. As a speaker she also gets it done. She speaks with passion and sincerity, and listeners are moved by the sheer scope of her vision and her can-do spirit. I talked about her personal power and communication style at length last year in this blog.

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What I find so endearing about Melinda, though, is that while she is a compelling speaker and philanthropist, she rarely seeks the spotlight. Quiet and thoughtful, she is content diligently working on the causes and initiatives that matter to her. If no more than a blip about her success appears in the media, so be it. She is the strong and silent leader—someone who can move an army of people with her mere presence.

I am also impressed that she’s not singularly focused on one cause. She has her hand in many projects, giving us the opportunity to see her in action in a variety of settings. While most people know that she and her husband Bill work in developing countries, focusing on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty, she also works hard at home to make sure local needs are addressed.

For example, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which she and her husband directly oversee, has been awarded LEED-NC (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for New Construction) Platinum certification from the United Stated Green Building Council, making it the largest, non-profit LEED-NC Platinum building in the world. Completed in the spring of 2011, the campus is located in downtown Seattle across the street from the Space Needle. It replaces an asphalt parking lot with a campus that returns more than 40 percent of the site back to green space via two-acres of living roofs and native plantings. At 639,860 square feet of occupied space, the project demonstrates how large-scale sustainable architecture can be delivered at the highest level.

In addition, their Foundation is also working with Starbucks to encourage local coffee drinkers to help King County public school teachers (the county where the Gates are located). King County Starbucks stores are now giving away $10 gift cards for DonorsChoose.org, an organization that helps teachers ask for money for classroom materials and equipment. People who pick up a DonorsChoose.org gift card will be able to go online and pick which school project they want to support. About 100,000 gift cards are expected to be distributed at King County Starbucks. The cards will be paid for by the Gates Foundation.

So from famine and poverty overseas to environmental concerns and education issues at home, Melinda Gates is one of our most inspiring women role models today. Her endearing style, unyielding certainty, and vision for what can change in our world have set the bar high for leaders everywhere…and for individuals too. So if you ever think your actions won’t have an impact, take a lesson from Melinda Gates. While you may not have billions of dollars for philanthropic generosity, you can rest assured that even the smallest ant can make a difference.

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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Wangari Maathai: Honoring a Powerful Female Leader and Speaker

A little over a week ago, on September 25th, the world lost a great environmental and political activist, Wangari Muta “Mary Jo” Maathai. For those of you who may not be familiar with her or her work, here’s a small snapshot of her many accomplishments:

  • Founder of the Green Belt Movement, a grassroots tree-planting organization, comprised primarily of women, whose goal is to reverse deforestation, provide firewood for Kenyan women, and create an income generating activity for rural communities. The program led to the opening of 5,000 grassroots nurseries throughout Kenya and the planting of over 20 million trees.  
  • Awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 1986. This prestigious, international award honors those “working on practical and exemplary solutions to the most urgent challenges facing the world today.”
  • Awarded the Goldman Award in 1991. This annual award honors grassroots environmental heroes from the six inhabited continental regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands and Island Nations, North America, and South and Central America.
  • In 2004 she was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace.
  • She was an elected member of the Kenyan Parliament and served as assistant minister for Environment and Natural Resources in the government of President Mwai Kibaki from January 2003 through November 2005.
  • In addition, she was a highly accomplished public speaker!

I had the honor to see Maathai speak in 2006, when she was a guest speaker at the Goldman Awards ceremony. She was a big woman with a commanding presence. She stood on the stage dressed in full African dress and spoke with the deepest, melodic, and most powerful voice I’ve ever heard from a woman. Her words moved all 3,000 people present to their feet for minutes of cheers and ovations. We all left her presentation wanting to do more—to be a part of her power, her strength and her vision.

I met her at the reception back stage later that evening. She was big and powerful in stature (I felt like I was standing next to a mountain), yet she was so warm and extremely gracious. She was truly a powerful leader and one of the best speakers I have ever seen.

Known by many as “The Tree Mother” and “The Tree Lady,” Maathai likened herself more to the hummingbird. In doing so, she often told the story of a fire raging in the forest, and all the forest animals gathered to helplessly watch the fire destroy their home. But one little animal, the hummingbird, decided to take action. She swooped to a nearby stream, gathered what water she could in her little beak, flew over the fire, and dropped the tiny water droplets into the flames. She repeated this over and over. Finally, the larger animals asked her, “What do you think you’re doing? You’re so little, and the fire is so big. What do you possibly think you can do?” And the little hummingbird replied, “I am doing the best I can.”

“And that,” said Maathai, “is what we should all do. We should always be like a hummingbird and do the best we can.”

Maathai certainly lived by her own advice and did the best she could, which ultimately affected millions of people and made a big difference in the world. My hope is that as more people learn about Maathai, her work, and her legacy, that the hummingbird in all of us will awaken and we will all work to make a difference. Then, when it’s our turn to fly away home, we’ll leave knowing that we left the world a little better than when we came.

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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Women in the U.S. Senate. 17 Strong…and Hopefully Growing

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17 Senate Women

Many bloggers (including myself) often lament the dismal number of women in corporate executive leadership positions. And while those figures are low, have you ever noticed how few women represent us in the United States senate? Here are few shocking facts:

  • Since the establishment of the US Senate in 1789, there have been only 39 female Senators.
  • The Senate was all male until 1922, when the first woman Senator, Rebecca Latimer Felton, served for one day. She was appointed by Georgia Governor Thomas W. Hardwick to replace Senator Thomas E. Watson, who had died. The appointment was politically motivated. Hardwick was seeking the Senate seat in the next election and wanted to fill the vacancy with someone who would not be a competitor in the upcoming election. His ploy ultimately failed, and Walter F. George won the election. Because Congress was not in session when Felton was appointed in October, her official appointment came on November 21, 1922, with the swearing in of the newly elected Senator Walter F. George taking place November 22, 1922, making Felton’s tenure the shortest for any Senator in US history.
  • It wasn’t until 1932 that a female graced the senate floor again, when Hattie Caraway of Arkansas became the first woman to win election to the Senate.
  • The first women’s bathroom located outside the Senate Chamber (where the men’s bathroom was conveniently located) wasn’t established until 1993. Before that, female Senators, at the risk of missing a vote, had to run downstairs to share a public restroom with tourists.
  • Currently, only 17 of the 100 US Senators are women.

With 51% of the US population being female, it is striking that women have such limited political representation. Granted, from the founding of this country to early 1900, women were indeed held back from seeking a Senate spot—they couldn’t even vote much less run for an elected position. But with the passing of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1920, that barrier was removed. So what’s holding women back from seeking political leadership positions today?

Some say it’s the public’s lingering perceptions of gender roles, while others claim it’s sex discrimination. Or it may have more to do with women not wanting to place their life under a microscope, as is commonly done to politicians, or the very real challenge of raising enough money to run for office.

For one politically astute and well informed woman I met last week, it is the fear of public speaking that’s keeping her from her political ambitions. Running for higher office and representing voters requires not only having great command of the issues, but also an easy comfort level speaking in front of all kinds of groups. Whether it’s a town hall presentation, a media interview or a larger main stage speech, public speaking plays a significant role in politics.

Fortunately, public speaking skills are much easier to fix than any of the other potential roadblocks mentioned. By reading some books on the topic, taking courses, and even working with a good speech coach, anyone can strengthen their presentation skills and eliminate their fear of public speaking. So if you’ve ever had the urge to toss your hat into the ring but stopped short because you were uncomfortable speaking in front of a group, there is help. It’s time for women to stand up and be heard—in politics, in corporations, and everywhere in between.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

Wednesday4Women Blog Carnival: “Top Presentation Strategies for Women”

I recently came across an excellent article at TrainingMag.com that explores gender roles in public speaking. To briefly summarize, the author identifies several differences in the way men and women give presentations and how both genders can learn from each other to improve their speaking skills. Although I think there is plenty to learn from the opposite gender, it is documented that women learn better in single-sex groups. That’s one reason why I started my Wednesday4Women blog series, to provide insights, resources and advice from women, about women, for women. The success of this concept has amazed even me.

For this blog carnival, I asked several experts to share their views on “Top Presentations Strategies for Women.” After an overwhelming number of replies, I’ve narrowed it down to the most relevant pieces of advice. The contributors offer spot-on suggestions and include such topics as “How to Ask for What You Want with Confidence” to “Tips for Aspiring Women Speakers” to “5 Presentation Tips to Wow Your Audience.” You’ll also find information from websites listed on Forbes’ “Top 100 Websites for Women.”

I highly recommend you spend time reading these golden nuggets of wisdom and learning more about each of our talented contributors. They have a lot of valuable information to share. Enjoy!

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Savvy Speaks: Top Presentation Strategies for Women Savvy Sisters - Savvy B2B Marketing Great advice to help women play to their natural communication skills.

Top Presentation Strategies for Women Emily Jasper – From the Gen Y Perspective A handful of tips women may use to help improve their presentation skills.

5 Top Tips for Aspiring Women Speakers Susan Macauley – Amazing Women Rock/Unleash Amazing You Advice for you to feel more comfortable, confident and in control when you speak. (Can also be found here.)

How To Ask For What You Want With Confidence Brenda Solano – Hybrid Mom Have you noticed how you can speak with complete authority at home, but when it comes to business you sometimes lose your voice?

5 Presentation Tips to Wow Your Audience Christie Cruz – Career Advisor for Global Young Professionals Strategies that can help you overcome your presentation fears and “wow” your audience.

Top Presentation Strategies for Women Mark Grimm - Story-of-the-Day Blog Important presentation principles to help you bring home your message in a clear, compelling way.

Be Original Like Temple Grandin Deborah Taylor-French - Dog Leader Mysteries Temple Grandin, one of Time Magazine’s “100 most influential people,” exemplifies original communication.

Top Presentation Strategies for Women Joanne O. McGhee – Sage ELT, LLC Presenting in front of a group whether, it is small or large can be both exhilarating and intimidating.

Top Presentation Strategies Katherine Winkelman – Gioia Company, LLC Presentation tips from the perspective of a small business owner.

Top Presentation Strategies Nancy Longo - Longo Job Explorer Important communications advice from an award winning journalist.

Speaking Engagement? Wear this! Margaret Lawrence - Naracamicie One of our favorite San Francisco stores enlightens us on what to wear for our next presentation.

 

Presentation Strategies for Women Lisa Braithwaite – Speak Schmeak Why do we single out women as needing special advice?

Where is your Mommy Voice? David Rosman – InkandVoice Communication Unfortunately, many women seem to lose their "Mommy Voice" when giving a presentation.

Cracking the Presentation Glass Ceiling Kathy Reifferstein - And...Now Presenting! Women must overcome some unique challenges to maximize their impact as speakers.

This blog carnival is a special edition of my Wednesday4Women 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. I appreciate your insightful comments and suggestions for future blog carnivals. A special thanks to all our bloggers and to you, our readers.

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.

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

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.

A Conversation with Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox…and You’re Invited

I just learned that Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox, will be in the Bay Area next Wednesday (6/29/11) giving a presentation with George Colony, CEO of Forrester Research. And here’s the best part of all: You’re invited to attend (and for a discounted rate—see the end of this blog for a special offer for DeFinis Communications readers). The event with Burns and Colony is being presented by the Churchill Club, Silicon Valley’s premier business and technology forum. Titled, When Two Luminaries Meet: Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox, in conversation with George Colony, CEO of Forrester Research,” the event promises to be an unscripted, candid conversation between two powerful global business leaders about topics that matter to our economic success as a nation, as companies, and as individuals. Topics for discussion include innovation, the economy, leadership, recent “aha moments,” how they’re viewing the market, and more.

In July 2009, when Burns was first appointed CEO of Xerox, I wrote a blog about the accomplishment. You can read it here. What impressed me about Burns and prompted me to write about her was the fact that she was the first African American woman to lead a major Fortune 500 company. She was also the first woman in modern history to take the reins from another female, departing CEO Ann Mulcahy. Since then, Burns has led Xerox through the acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services, in a move to transform the company once known for copiers into the world’s leading enterprise for business process and document management.

In a world where there are too few women in C-suite positions, we need women like Burns to speak out and show everyone what is possible. Burns wasn’t born with a proverbial “silver spoon” in her mouth. Rather, she was raised in a housing project by a single mother. She beat the odds and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Polytechnic Institute of NYU in mechanical engineering and a master’s from Columbia University. She started at Xerox as a summer intern, and over a 30-year period she worked her way to become the CEO. She serves on boards such as American Express, National Association of Manufacturers, University of Rochester, and the MIT Corporation. She helps lead Obama’s national program on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and serves as vice chair of his Export Council. In 2009, this impressive woman ranked ninth in Fortune’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business. Yet she is known as one of the most down-to-earth CEOs you will ever meet. She is truly the kind of role model we all need.

The Churchill Club has asked Burns and Colony (who was a recipient of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2006) to have a public conversation on the evening of Wednesday, June 29 in Palo Alto, CA. So mark your calendar for this dynamic and inspiring event:

Date: Wed., June 29

Time: 5:30 p.m. Registration and networking 6:00 p.m. Banquet (plated dinner) 7:15 p.m. Program begins 8:45 p.m. Program concludes

Place: Four Seasons Hotel Palo Alto 2050 University Ave East Palo Alto, CA 94303

RSVP: http://www.churchillclub.org/eventDetail.jsp?EVT_ID=907.

Use discount code “gDeFinis15” and get $15 off the non-member price of $107.

Contact Churchill Club at info@churchillclub.org for group discounts.

Hope to see you there!