To mark International Women’s Day we spoke to our expert Voice & Communication Coach, Debra Leigh, to find out how women can use voice and body language to enhance status, impact and rapport.
In my last nine years coaching voice and communication for a diverse range of businesses, I have worked with some inspiring female leaders. As we strive for greater gender balance in the boardroom and beyond, I have identified some key areas that can help increase your presence and allow you to take centre stage with confidence.
1) Posture is one of the most important aspects to consider when wanting to appear confident. Beware of hunching your shoulders and making yourself smaller than you are. Time spent on computers hinders this somewhat. Confidence levels can weaken with poor posture. Alison Cork talks of “avoiding an unconfident physical stance that suggests an apology”, so find your mindful moment every morning for that posture check and realignment.
2) BREATHE. Breathing is something we don’t often think about, but when used effectively can have a real impact. Be careful not to adopt shallow breathing from the upper chest. Remember to breathe low from the belly. Pilates and yoga are great for getting breath through the body if you get chance to add in a class or two a week.
3) Your voice is a powerful tool when used effectively. Be careful to avoid unhelpful habits such as adding an upward inflection at the end of your sentence – it tends to sound like you’re asking for confirmation rather than showing conviction. A downward inflection will give you more authority.
4) Don’t rush. As a leader you own all the time and all the space around you. Good use of pauses will give your audience time to take on board key messages, and give you time to breathe and order your thoughts.
5) Avoid use of ‘filler words’, like ‘er’ and ‘um’. Instead of using this hesitant thinking sound, we need to use our thinking time to BREATHE to bring our brains back to clarity.
6) Volume relies on good use of the breathing mechanism to support and strengthen the sound. Developing use of pitch and resonance will enhance the quality of that sound further.
7) Record yourself on your phone when you are talking in the office and listen back to it later. Get to know your voice. If it’s too high pitched or monotonal, it may be time to enlist the help of a good voice coach.
8) Think ENERGY. Do you have days when you feel over-energized and others where you feel exhausted? Many women I know are balancing work and home. Lindsay Comalie suggests, “Let’s start challenging our organisations to become more inclusive, challenging the status quo (leaders can be part-time, work flexibly, do job shares etc!) More inclusive organisations are reaping financial benefits so this isn’t soft!” Build self-awareness of where your energy lies at any given time to dial it up when you need to. Remember – little energy equals little impact - being overly assertive and direct is likely to lose you scores on the empathy front.
9) Self-belief - Believe in yourself - Sharon Webber tells me that 'Imposter Syndrome' is an area often discussed in coaching sessions with female leaders”, and intriguingly that “this has never come up in coaching with male senior leaders”. Amy Cuddy talks of our nonverbals influencing not only our audience but ourselves. We need to take the space and own it.
10) Let’s not forget - resilience is essential. Make sure you’re working on full power with the 3 must haves: nutrition, exercise and a good night’s sleep. As tennis champion Billie Jean King said, “I think self-awareness is probably the most important thing towards being a champion."
With thanks for words of wisdom from Sharon Webber, Lindsay Comalie, Alison Cork and Amy Cuddy.
© Debra Leigh 2019 - Voice and Communication Coach – The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.
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