At 4’ 11”, I always felt at a disadvantage in the corporate world. My petite stature had senior managers overlook my presence and my otherwise, powerful voice would be drowned or bulldozed. That’s when my sister advised me to adopt wearing a sari. To complete the picture of seriousness and seniority, she accessorised my attire with zero-power glasses. My best friend recommended, I complete the picture with a pair of 4 inches heels!
I walked into the conference room for a pitch presentation and the new-found sartorial avatar did nothing. I spluttered and stammered through my presentation. My client, a woman in her 50s, of average height and kind demeanour, took me aside and said something that none of the books on confidence could have taught me.
She said, “Women in leadership roles often stand in a spotlight alone. Develop your leadership presence. It has nothing to do with what you wear outside. It’s what you possess within. Walk into the room as though you own it. Command attention with your content. Speak it truthfully and purposefully.” She continued, “It’s called leadership presence.”
The confidence to step into you and get over yourself. Power lies in that. It’s a skill many women, I have met feel the need to develop.
To the women who think and feel ‘less’ at key meetings, negotiations, conversations that take you away from the comfort zone, here’s what helped me.
- Be you.
You don’t need to emulate other more ‘powerful’ women or men. What you have and who you are is unique. There’s only one of you in trillions. Acknowledge that power of being special. Self -realisation and awareness is the first step.
- Refrain from confidence-hacking language.
Catch how you speak to yourself. What’s the tone of your inner conversations? Are they hacking your confidence or elevating it? Self-worth is all about your language.
- Be unapologetic.
Stop saying, “I’m sorry!” Look out for the many times you keep apologizing in your conversations. It places you on the backfoot and undermines your abilities.
Clarity of thought and communication is key. Sum up what you need to say in 10 or 12 words. Keep it simple. Avoid any jargons. You’ll command attention and relate to people better when your communication is succinct and precise.
Women’s voices have a higher pitch compared to the lower-pitched male voices. Upspeak is the tendency of pitching your voice up, at the end of a sentence. Men do it, too, however, it seems more prominent in women. Add vocal variety, warmth and connection when you speak. The best way to find out and correct yourself is by seeking feedback and recording your voice.
Watch your posture. How are you sitting, right now? Slouching does not exude confidence. And, neither does choosing to sit in the back. In fact, it makes you disappear. Sit upright, stand tall with your head held high. You won’t need heels to build your confidence.
- Stand up.
Given the opportunity to speak, make sure you stand up with confidence and what you say will then hold the attention of your audience, better. Standing up instantly increases the energy and separates you from the rest to make you visible. I’ve known many leaders to prefer being seated when asked to speak and getting their voice lost in the milieu.
Walk into meetings and conversations with some homework. It is empowering and has a positive impact on your credibility. Knowledge is power and when you know the subject well, it will reflect in the way you confidently, speak up.
- Look the part.
You don’t have to be dressed in designer wear to command leadership. Dress smart, wear a smile and be in tune with the communication code of your industry. Be assertive and fake it at times, if you feel otherwise.
Learn to be persuasive. The ability to inspire change comes from how you are able to move the people around you, to think differently and trust your ideas. To help them to see the vision they haven’t thought of themselves, yet.
As I write this, I hear Accenture gets its first woman CEO, Julie Sweet and I feel confident that more women are being inspired to take on leadership roles and lead with executive presence.
Look for what you need to add to polish or build your leadership presence