You Have a Seat at the Table, Now What?

Much has been written about the strength and impact of women’s voices in corporate America and the level to which they are acknowledged and perceived. What we say and how we say it are critical success factors and key skills to refine and perfect. I would even go as far to say that how we present our message is an art which needs to be thoughtfully approached and practiced for maximum effect.

As more women get promoted into leadership and executive positions, the next challenge and question is-  how do we make certain that our input is heard? How do we connect and reach people to influence, motivate and inspire them?

Given my frame of reference and experience as a leader over the last 28 years, I’d like to share with you some thoughts, ideas and suggestions on how to ensure that your voice is  heard and respected.

My background is deeply rooted in the area of communication both in the military and in leadership roles in a number of large corporations in the US. I served as a Signal Platoon leader during the first Gulf War and my main job was directing and projecting my voice to give orders and commands to a communications unit that deployed cellular networks on the battlefield. I also received extensive training on radio communications and protocols during hostile operations. This is where I learned the importance and value of being bold, being brief and being gone. The mantra that stuck with me was: “Be bold, be brief, be gone”.  Make your point quickly and then be still.  Speak, wait, listen and learn.

After my time in the Army, I worked in various fields including Sales, Consulting, Project Management and Agile leadership, all of which rely heavily on strong communication skills to be effective.

I have been an active member in Toastmasters International since 1994 and enjoy giving speeches and mentoring others to improve their confidence and communication effectiveness. Basically, I’ve been working on honing my ability to connect, articulate and transmit information, stories and messages to others since the mid 1980s.

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As a long time Toastmaster, I’ve been told that I possess a “Confident Command” when I speak. It is from this perspective that I present to you some tips and techniques  on the topic of Powerful Speaking.

1 – Project your voice

Before you utter your first word at the table, on the conference call or at the lectern, take a long, deep breath and get grounded in your thoughts and intention. Relax your neck and shoulder muscles ( I use a technique of firmly pressing the palms of my hands together for 8 seconds- usually done under the table where I am sitting prior to standing for my presentation).

Be mindful of your volume and pitch. Avoid a shrill sound which is often overly high and piercing in quality. Even tones and breathing are your friends.   Practice your key foundational statements ( opening and closing) in advance so you can ensure that you project your message clearly and strongly.

2- Make your point quickly and succinctly

Back to the “Be Bold, Be Brief, Be Gone” mantra. Make sure that your main point is clearly stated up front and with power and conviction. Declare and proclaim the situation, facts and impact in a short 1-3 sentence statement of clarity and impact. Get their attention, connect and then elaborate on your point if necessary.

Providing brief stories and examples can help support your point and knowing your audience’s concern and frame of reference is key to ensuring that your message is heard, understood and hopefully appreciated.

Know your facts cold. This will help you deliver in a solid and unwavering manner.

Remember, Less is More.

3- Know your value and what you uniquely bring to the table.

Be prepared.

Be authentic.

Be steady.

Be assertive.

You’ve got this!

4- Having a Positive and Grounded Tone

It’s not only what you say but how you say it has never been more true.

As a woman friend and outstanding speaker from Laughing Matters Toastmasters club in Austin recently shared with me:

“Don’t be wimpy. Don’t be whiny. Don’t be pissy. Don’t go postal.

Rather, have a tone of confidence, composure, and quiet conviction.”

Another tip to have a good, solid tone is to tap into your Personal Power.

Here’s an energizing quote that I read on DailyOm.com two days ago.

“ Power is not about exerting our will over others, it is about being in complete truth with ourselves. When personal power is balanced, we are neither meek nor overbearing.”

When we have harness our Personal Power we:

  • Have a clear sense of our strength and the impact we can have on others
  • Are worthy and deserve to be heard
  • Come from a place of humility and strength- not entitlement

When speaking from a position of balanced strength, our tone and non-verbal communications send the message that “ I have something important and valuable to contribute”.

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The Goddess Pose

So take your seat at the table, speak up and let your voice and powerful message be heard!

I hope that this article was helpful and connected with you in some way.

Please send me your comments, questions and thoughts.

This is Brenda Smull signing off. Over and Out.

Objective Evaluations in a Polarized World

A vast amount of ink has been devoted to analyzing and evaluating Hillary Clinton’s speaking style. I will not be adding to the heap of hypothesis and judgment (although I do feel that I have some relevant qualifications and experience to do so) and will instead take a different angle and discuss another important topic of late, namely the ability to provide effective evaluations of speeches or debates when you disagree with or dislike the content or topic. Giving credit where credit is due is a rare occurrence these days.

During my 22 years as an active Toastmaster member, I have given over 200 formal speech evaluations and presented numerous educational sessions on how to provide encouraging yet constructive feedback on another’s presentation. I have created and shared an easy way (I call it the DSI Model) to structure a cogent 2-3 minute Toastmaster Evaluation. For you acronym buffs, DSI stands for Delivery, Structure and Impact.

The Speech Evaluation is a cornerstone of the Toastmasters program and is critical for the growth and development of the members’ communication and leadership skills.  It is also one of the most difficult things to do well.  Providing verbal feedback in front of the entire group is challenging and often a scary proposition for new club members who are asked to evaluate fellow speakers who may be more advanced and experienced.

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The ability to give objective and neutral feedback on another person’s speech is hard enough without all the many external and internal factors influencing us.  Pesky things like human nature, emotions, personal biases, insecurities, political correctness, extreme political views, polarization of opinions and what I call the “siloed, echo chambers” of social media and cyberspace  (for more on this check out “A Matter of Perspective”).

So now to the crux of the matter at hand, are we humans capable of lifting our personal filters and actively listening to the words and opinions of others with whom we disagree or dislike? Can we set aside our own beliefs, thoughts and values on the content/topic and focus on the Delivery, Structure and Impact of the speech? Without some guidelines and a controlled, unemotional approach, this may prove challenging for many people today, especially since large portions of the American public rarely see or listen to opinions which differ dramatically from their own.  Open, honest discussion and debate is too often discouraged and sadly suppressed on college campuses today.

Here are my thoughts and advice on this feedback challenge:

  1. Remember that as a speech evaluator, you are there to observe and provide neutral and constructive feedback, recommendations and suggestions on the basic tenants and techniques of effective communication and public speaking.  There are manuals and speech objectives to guide you.
  2. Focus on the Delivery and Structure of the presentation with specific examples.
  3. When commenting on the Impact of a speech (especially if you disagree with the content), try to set aside your personal emotions and biases and look at and assess the overall audience response to the speech.
  4. Honestly ask yourself if the topic/point of the speech is clouding your ability to provide positive and objective feedback on the Delivery and Impact. If it is, then:
    1. Try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who supports the topic and reflect on how they would respond to the speech.
    2. Run a “What if” scenario in your mind by replacing the content of the speech with something that you agree with and see how you would view and analyze it.
  5. Open your mind, take off your biased filters and focus on how the speaker is connecting, delivering and making their point.
  6. Was the speaker able to motivate, educate, influence or inspire?
  7. The purpose of your evaluation is to encourage and help club member improve and develop strong communication skills, not to impose your views, values and opinions about the subject matter.

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Hopefully this advice will prove useful to my fellow Toastmasters around the world and may even help open up the dialogue among Americans who are embroiled in the highly contentious and negatively charged Presidential election season of 2016.

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I will be presenting the contents of this article in the form of an eight minute Toastmasters speech on the morning of November 8, 2016.  As part of the presentation, I will be giving a sample Evaluation of Hillary Clinton’s most recent debate performance.

This speech will be the last one I give at the Denver Techmasters club in Lone Tree, CO prior to our move to Austin, TX.

 

A Matter of Perspective

I ventured out of the safety of the siloed, Facebook echo chamber of thought and position this week and attended two live Toastmaster meetings. Wow, did I get a healthy dose of reality and a refreshing view of diametric perspectives on the same topic.

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It was a tale of two speeches, each given by an intelligent and thoughtful Toastmaster. Both speakers were white American women over 50 years old who I know and respect. Both speeches dealt with the topic of Islam but with dramatically different views, conclusions and calls to action.

One of the reasons I love going to Toastmaster meetings is the opportunity to see and hear (in more intimate detail than a 140 character Tweet or a short Facebook post) the thoughts, reasoning and opinions of my fellow club members and friends. I may not always agree with the premise presented but I always listen to and respect a well presented topic.

Nuance is something that is sorely lacking in today’s divided, abbreviated and often anonymous world of online communication. Nuance is what I appreciated when I listened to and compared the two viewpoints this week.

Speech #1 was given on Monday night and was done in the form of a book review. I was initially startled and taken aback by the titles of the books which included “ The Osama Bin Laden I Know” and a history of war in Afghanistan. The speaker encouraged us to open our minds to view Bin Laden is a different light and shared some history, context and perspective from the minds of a number of Muslims in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.

What was most powerful and intriguing was the personal dialogue I had with Speaker #1 after her presentation. I thanked her for sharing her views and thoughts with the club and then, to my surprise, she invited me to an Interfaith Open House at the Denver Islamic Center the following Saturday. Wow, talk about opening up your perspective and worldview!

Speech #2 was given on Saturday morning by a soft spoken yet earnest woman with a passion for liberty. Her topic was on the history of the Ottoman empire and the negative impact of radical Islam in the world today. It was an informative presentation meant to raise awareness and did not shed a very positive light on the rise of global jihad.

The second speech was given two days after Bastille Day and the awful carnage caused by a terrorist in Nice, France. How much did this influence my perspective and openness to visit the Islamic Center open house later that day?

My husband is a photographer with a talent for seeing and capturing things in dramatically different ways.   He has taught me the importance of the type of lens, the angle of view and the lighting when capturing a moment.   These concepts can readily be transferred into my views and experiences this past week with the pair of presentations on the complex topic of Islam. How can two Toastmaster woman of similar age and background see things in a such a different way? How much has my frame of reference (my lens) clouded or influenced my view of the subject? How has the lighting changed to modify my aspect?

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These are the questions that I am asking myself today and I’m not sure that I know all the answers.

What I do know is that I need and crave a richer, fuller dialogue and conversation with my fellow humans on these delicate and difficult topics. I know that nuance and open, honest communication (which includes active listening) is key to coming to a better, more peaceful understanding of each others view points and values. I know that, sadly, this is not easy in today’s divided world of Us vs. Them.

It is a Matter of Perspective that cannot be easily shared or conveyed on the Internet and in Social Media networks where we are often “preaching to the choir” and rarely reach (never mind change the hearts and minds of) those with whom we disagree.

I encourage you to reach out to others on a more personal, live and interactive level so that you can hear viewpoints and opinions that you may not agree with.

Who knows? Perhaps a new frame of reference and a change in lighting may cause your perspective to shift.

Independent Thoughts

Words have meaning. Words have power.

As a Toastmaster for over 21 years, I have witnessed first hand the strong influence words can have.  They can arouse strong emotions. They can motivate people to act with an outpouring of kindness and generosity.  Words also have a dark side and can be used to manipulate and incite violence.

This weekend is America’s birthday, a time to celebrate our nation’s Freedom. I find it ironic, and a great deal disheartening, that the media’s response to the recent Brexit vote in the UK has cast such a dark shadow on ideals of Independence and Self-Determination.

As someone who voluntary raised her right hand and solemnly swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I would bear true faith and allegiance to the same, I feel strongly about our nation’s Independence, Liberty and Freedom. The powerful words of my military Oath of Office meant a great deal to me and still do.  Lately, I have been disturbed that the values that I hold dear and have sacrificed for are being tarnished and trashed.

Veteran's Day Celebration

Duty, Honor, Country are now considered controversial words that shouldn’t be uttered in public places because they might “offend’’ someone. Well, I’m sorry but I think those three things should receive more focus and given a higher level of respect.

20131109-4826K-Veteran's Day Celebration-0961-WEB Patriotism and Sovereignty don’t have to be dirty words in the global community if everyone increased their levels of Respect and Tolerance.

I am an unapologetic American and I love my country.

Words have meaning. Words have power.

Happy Birthday America. 

Land of the free and home of the brave!

Veteran's Day Celebration