A five minute read on how, as a woman, you can utilise your voice in different ways to command situations and influence positive outcomes.
Includes 4 strategies for finding your voice and using it effectively in the workplace.
We don’t have to look far to see women leaders using their voices effectively on the world stage to galvanise and persuade audiences and inspire them into taking action: Malala Yousafzai, Michelle Obama, Jacinda Ardern to name but a few.
Many observers amongst us look to them to identify shared character traits, body language or tones of voices used to communicate messages effectively, for us to emulate within our own workplaces.
At the heart of it lies passion.
Having said that, women tread a fine line between passion and demeaning labels like “emotional,” worst still “over-emotional”. Women often find articulating their voices at work becomes a mixed blessing navigating the misnomers “bossy”, “feisty” and “difficult”, terms reserved for them alone, and rarely if ever used to describe their male counterparts. As a result, it’s not uncommon for women to feel disempowered, whether because they feel ignored, making points that are then hijacked by, and credited to, men, or by becoming reputationally worn down by the use of uncomplimentary adjectives.
So how do we successfully navigate the path from shadow to spotlight and own that work stage in a compelling and persuasive manner?
4 Strategies for finding your voice and using it effectively
Let me share with you 4 observations from my own personal journey, transitioning as I have from criminal barrister – very comfortable with the art of public speaking given the daily fodder of legal arguments, cross examination, jury speeches and the like – to coach and TEDx speaker, albeit now with a very different audience. It’s been an absolute eye-opener given the different skills required, not least ditching the security of notes and the desk/ lectern prop.
1. Take your seat at the table
As Sheryl Sandberg said in Lean in, her best-selling book, women deserve a seat at the table. She encouraged women at every level to find their own voice and use it to speak effectively.
In order to do so, we as women need to be at those meetings, making those presentations, and leading with authority. Take centre-stage. Doing so can sometimes feel like quite the challenge. But, going back to those famous examples, by finding what we are passionate about, and using our voices enthusiastically to channel that, sitting at that table will be all the more comfortable, like second nature.
2. Be visible
Once at the table, what to do to stay visible? It’s pointless taking a seat if you recoil into the shadows.
Think about your positioning, both physically and or metaphorically. What outfit can you wear to stand out (in a beneficial rather than gregarious way), and that shows, visibly, that you mean business?
Where will you sit? If you are better served by being in the thick of it, move away from doorways and distractions to take centre stage.
Introduce yourself. Ask questions. Signal your presence.
3. Be heard
There’s a lot more to being heard than simply raising your voice. In fact, did you ever notice how teachers gain the attention of their class, by lowering their volume, and using silent gestures even, as opposed to shouting?
So how can you elevate your voice? Pay attention not only to the effective use of volume, but also by looking at the gravitas of your delivery, and the quality of your content.
Have you noticed how much more open you are to ideas when they are relatable, as opposed to those espoused from on high? Think about how you can connect with your intended audience through storytelling. Help them share your passion. Get eyeball to eyeball with them. Ditch your notes.
Be definitive. If you are setting your stall out as a thought leader, your audience will expect you to lead. State your position clearly without deviation or dithering.
And if the very idea of stepping up to speak, in whatever context, fills you with dread, turning you cold and pale from head to toe, think how you can better manage your state. The NLP Ring of Power state management exercise is a super one to adopt here. Even something as simple as getting yourself into the right head space either through meditation or movement can work wonders for getting in the right zone.
Do your research. Observe other speakers, whether in person within your own circles, or on the world stage. Take a keen interest in TED Talks and seeing what you can learn, adopt and model.
It goes without saying, in many ways, the most effective tool to develop the art of skilful speaking is through practice. That way you will develop confidence in your own voice.
Where circumstances allow, record it. By observing the replay, what do you notice about your body language and the use of pace, tone and breath? What works? What to ditch or develop?
Don’t be afraid to take every opportunity to practice, whether by offering to do the next work webinar or using video to good effect on social media.
4. Allies, Role Models and Role Modelling too.
Finally, when you are out of the room, away from the table, think about finding allies still prepared to speak up and advocate for you in your absence; it may be your mentor or a role model perhaps.
Think also about how you could be a role model for others too, to support those around you to find and develop their own voices as well: empowered women empower women, after all.
Be that woman.
Nikki Alderson Biography
Nikki Alderson, specialist coach, speaker and author, and former Criminal Barrister with 19 years’ experience:
- supports organisations, law firms and barristers’ Chambers to retain female talent; and
- empowers female lawyers to achieve career ambitions.
Nikki specialises in 3 areas:
- Women leadership transition and change;
- Enhanced career break returner support; and
- Workplace resilience, mental toughness, confidence and wellness.
She is the author of Amazon No.1 Bestseller Raising the Bar: empowering female lawyers through coaching, (https://amzn.to/3fodKQX) nominee for the Inspirational Women Awards, Champion of the Year Category and finalist in the 2020 Women in Law Awards, Legal Services Innovator of the Year and 2019 International Coaching Awards, International Coach of the Year Category.