Build Your Leaders

How to Crow with the Roosters: Tips for Women Executives Who Want to Communicate with More Power

It was the second time in less than two weeks that a female executive had sought my help to bolster her sagging self-confidence. "I am panicking during presentations," she shared. "My voice trembles, my legs shake, and for the first time in a long time, I'm doubting myself."

Earlier, another woman had expressed concerns about her difficulties when presenting. "My inner critic takes over," she moaned. "It's as if there are two conversations taking place in my head. I'm rehearsing what I'll say next while my inner critic hisses that I don't know what I'm talking about."

When we begin to lose confidence, unconscious forces are most likely at play. In order to reclaim our power, we must make what is unconscious conscious. The first step is to examine the situation to identify what is causing us stress.

Begin by examining what is happening in your life right now. One client, a thirty-something executive, shared that she had recently lost her father. The youngest of three, and a self-proclaimed "Daddy's girl," it was totally understandable that she would be feeling vulnerable at this time. Instead of beating up on herself, I encouraged her to be gentle and patient. "You cannot rush the grieving process," I explained. Having lost my mother in my thirties, I could empathize. "I have been awfully tough on myself," she admitted.

I asked both clients to detail several situations when they felt their confidence eroding. Together, we looked for common elements or triggers. In both cases, the women worked in male-dominated industries. Like so many female executives, they were in a minority. (Even though women now comprise nearly half of our workforce [46.5 percent], only 16 percent are in top management.)

My clients felt challenged, and research shows they probably weren't imagining it. Raised to be competitive, men enjoy verbal volleyball, while women are programmed to get along and "make nice."

Also upon examination, the women realized that the majority of their audience are "thinkers," and thinkers require great amounts of information in order to make a decision. Those who are not "thinkers" are sensors, and sensors love to challenge. They seek conviction.

By practicing empathy -- better understanding their questioners' needs and preferences -- both clients could relax their guard. They could take the questions less personally, and focus on giving their executives the information they needed to make a decision.

Of course, little boosts confidence when presenting like preparation. To become totally comfortable with your material, I recommend these four steps:

Step One: Make sure that you clearly understand what is expected of you. For example, if you are asked to make a short presentation on your department to top management, ask what information they are specifically seeking and why.

Step Two: Determine your agenda. What is it that you want them to do as a result of hearing you speak? For example, are you looking for additional resources, or do you want them to feel comfortable enough with your direction that they leave you alone?

Step Three: Draft three talking points that summarize the information they need while building a case for your agenda. These points will become your shelter during intense questioning. [When I train spokespeople to manage the media, I teach Q = A +1. When asked a question (Q), I suggested delivering a short, succinct answer (A) paired with a talking point (1).This is confusing. I think it might be more helpful to give an example of three talking points here.]

Step Four: Meet with your team and brainstorm the worst possible question(s) you could be asked and then draft your response(s). The old adage "Dread it, get it" is true.

Every good athlete goes into training before a big game. Likewise, every executive should do the same before an important presentation. Here's a game plan I offer clients.

The night before the presentation

  1. Get to bed early.
  2. Eat well (and early).
  3. Pamper yourself. One client takes a long, hot bath the night before each major presentation.
  4. Before going to bed:
    1. Review your three talking points.
    2. Visualize success. Great athletes know the power of visualizing success before each game. "Before going to bed, I hear the beautiful, hollow sound of the ball hitting the sweet spot of my racket and see the ball thundering across the net out of my opponent's reach," one tennis star shared with me.

The morning of the presentation

  1. Put on your power suit. Every executive should have at least one suit in the closet that he or she has identified as his/her power suit. As you put on yours, tell yourself that you are putting on your suit of armor.
  2. Review your talking points.
  3. Visualize success.

Minutes before the presentation

  1. Breathe. Place your feet firmly on the ground, breathe in for the count of four, hold for the count of two, and breathe out for the count of eight. Do this three to five times. Your heart rate will slow, and you will begin to feel more relaxed.
  2. Remember that your presentation is not about your performance; rather, it's about giving the executives the information they need to do their jobs.
  3. Also remember that in addition to giving management information they need, you have an agenda.
  4. Smile.

"Okay, I can do all that," my client said. "But what about in those meetings where the men are acting like roosters and crowing? How can I break into the yard and be heard?"

"Assert yourself!" I counseled. Studies show that men talk more and longer than women in meetings. Don't be afraid to interrupt; men aren't. Assume the floor and speak with conviction. Avoid soft words like, "I think." For example, instead of saying, "I think we can make a stronger impactů." Say, "We'll make a stronger impact by ..." Delete "buts," self put-downs, unwarranted apologies, and excuses from your vocabulary. Finally, minimize the number of feeling words you use and instead emphasize facts.

At times, all of us experience what experts call "the imposter syndrome." We will feel like fakes, unworthy of our position, and we will fear embarrassing ourselves. It is during these times that our inner critics are most active. When faced with a hyperactive inner critic, don't try to stifle what she is saying; her voice will only get louder. Instead, listen but don't buy into her drivel. Tell her she is full of it; you know your stuff. And you will succeed by following these simple steps. You'll regain the confidence, competence, and conviction to crow with the roosters.

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Copyright 2007, All rights reserved

The Career Engineer" Randy Siegel works with organizations to take high-potential employees and give them the leadership and communications skills they need to be successful as they rise through the organization. Purchase his book PowerHouse Presenting: Become the Communicator You Were Born to Be through, and subscribe to his complimentary monthly e-Newsletter at