PAUSE - the silent opportunity of connecting with your audience
December 1, 2014
Women's March to Freedom
March 8, 2017
Dare to be different ladies: speak up with confidence!
November 1, 2014
I remember three years ago being asked to work with a female manager from one of the top global corporate organisations – a Cambridge woman who had the intelligence and expertise - but lacked the confidence when speaking in public and didn’t have the presence to lead others ... Eighteen months later, she sits in her office as Director, confident she can make a visible difference in her company.
I have spent the last few years intrigued by how many conversations I have had with HR, L&D and Senior Management on how to help more women put themselves forward and step into senior roles with confidence and self-belief. I have noticed how many women hold themselves back, are afraid to speak up or ask for what they need - women who struggle to hold their space, take risks and stand their ground. The key reason? Lack of confidence.
In Katty Kay and Claire Shipman’s book - “The Confidence Code” - they talk about meeting woman after woman, from lawmakers to CEOs, who express “some version of the same inexplicable feeling that they don’t fully own the right to rule the top … that they seem to lack a certain boldness, a firm faith in their abilities.”
Notwithstanding their global leadership positions, both Christine Lagarde (MD of the International Monetary Fund) and Angela Merkel (German Chancellor) confess that they still over prepare and rehearse: “We want to be completely on top of everything and we want to understand it all and we don’t want to be fooled by somebody else … of course it is part of the confidence issue … to make sure that you are going to get it all and not make a mistake … Well ... it is very time consuming.”
Despite girls still making higher grades than boys at school, Brenda Major – social psychologist at the University of California in Santa Barbara - has noted that men consistently overestimate their abilities and subsequent performance and that women routinely underestimate both. In Hewlett–Packard’s study on how to get women into top management, evidence showed that women applied for promotions only when they believed they met 100% of qualifications necessary for the job. Men applied however, when they met only 60%. Women still feel they need to be sure they have all the necessary skills before they can apply for the right job. They are not comfortable taking risks and want to feel safe.
Caroline Miller – author and psychologist who specialises in confidence and optimism - says that a “willingness to be different is critical to confidence … Confidence comes from stepping out of your comfort zone and working towards goals that come from your own values and needs, goals that aren’t determined by society.” Lagarde echoes this: “Dare to be different … make it your selling point. Don’t try to measure yourself, your performances, your popularity, against the standards and the yardsticks and the measurements that men have used before you. Because you start from a different perspective, you have a different platform, you want to push different initiatives and you should be authentic about it.”
So women, sit up and take note. Confidence is linked with authenticity, your self-belief and your willingness to be different. Have clear goals; believe that you have something unique to offer; don’t be afraid to stretch yourself; and take risks. As Hillary Clinton puts it: “Dare to compete!”
When people are confident, they communicate a lot of non-verbal and verbal behaviour that supports this. You will notice an expansive body language, lower vocal tone and a propensity to speak sooner and often in a calm and relaxed way.
Here are 3 key tips to help build your confidence:
1) Own your space – Women tend to make themselves smaller and often don’t plant their feet firmly on the floor so they lose presence and gravitas. Don’t be afraid to expand to your full height and width so you are not overlooked.
2) Speak up – Princeton Research discovered that when in the minority, working on a project, women spoke as much as 75% less than men. Be brave and offer an opinion. Be aware of how your voice comes across … is it breathy, quiet, shrill or high-pitched? Does it command or go up at the end of your sentences so you sound like you are asking a question rather than making a statement? Take your time, access the warmer tones in your voice, drive through to the end of your thought and pause to make your point. Pausing is a very powerful way of drawing attention to what you have to say and accessing your authority.
3) Hold your ground – Stand by your beliefs and opinions. Don’t apologise or sound hesitant when expressing them. Be assertive and know your boundaries so you don’t get interrupted, talked over or derailed. When things get overwhelming, stop, breathe, compose yourself and start again.
Finally ladies, take heed of Sheryl Sandberg’s (COO of Facebook) piece of useful advice: “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.”
Go for it! Take that first step - lean in, own your space, hold your ground, speak with authority and make a contribution that increases your visibility. Develop that most important ingredient in your success - confidence!