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.

Soulful Servings 

Getting healthy dose of quality communication with others and can do wonders for your soul. But how often do we get a full and balanced serving of it?

Taking a vacation with a long time friend is fun and rejuvenating, especially when you can connect with the child-like spirit you once possessed.  This year’s getaway was to the west coast of Florida and I was thrilled to have a three day road trip with my dear friend Andrea.

Our time together was just what the doctor ordered and our interaction time was extended, genuine and authentic.  We told stories, shared dreams and lamented the woes of the world.  We were together and connecting without the use of an electronic device, just like we did in the 1980s when we met.

I had full, balanced and delicious meals of communication that left me happy and satisfied. I can’t tell you how much I have missed live expression, eye contact and nuance in my connections with others. All the things we are lacking in our frenzied life of online interaction with what’s called the “Snackification” of communication, I got to enjoy and experience it in the flesh.

Since it is the Lent season, Andrea and I have decided to give up Angst. Relaxing and restoring a sense of balance were our main objectives and I think we have met our goals.

There are many different forms of communication in today’s online world: written (texts, emails, letters), verbal (phone, FaceTime) and social media (posts, blogs and tweets). To me, nothing beats good old fashioned face to face sharing.

As I reflect on these last few days I can’t help but feel blessed and thankful for being able to spend quality time with good friends and family.  This is what a full and balanced life is all about and I was so happy consume and savor my Soulful Serving!

 

A View on Balance: Yoga, Minds and Eyes

I went to yoga class the other day and after holding a difficult pose for a minute the yoga instructor asked us to switch sides. She calmed stated, “You may notice that this side feels different than the first one and that is okay. Just observe it, take note and let it go. Don’t judge the difference between the two sides.”

After hearing some groans and comments from the group about recent events, marches and demonstrations, the instructor gently reminded us that there are no politics in Yoga rather it is about centering and focusing. Yoga helps us balance and is about opening your body and clearing your mind.

Wouldn’t this be nice if we did this in our everyday life?

Being aware of the differences from all the different sides and viewing them with both eyes wide open and not filtering so strongly through our own biased lens.

I view my life as a continuous effort to remain in balance. Opposing forces are always around us and we are often asked to pick or support one side or the other. But why? Why is there always a binary choice? Why is one side viewed as always right and the other as wrong?

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After my yoga class experience, an interesting and apropos book was brought to my attention by Steve Smull, a thoughtful and insightful writer, with his clever commentary and posts on Facebook.

The book by Jonathan Haidt titled “The Righteous Mind” was published in 2012 and has an important and relevant message in the polarized and hyper-partisan world in 2017.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“It’s Yin and Yang. Both sides see different threats; both sides are wise to different virtues”

My husband Steve created another insightful thread online this morning that ties into this theme and I’ll leave you with his words.

“I view the world through both eyes. I have a right eye and a left eye. People who pick one to look through and close the other are missing depth perception. I suppose it’s simpler that way.

I do close one eye when I look through a viewfinder to capture an image. But not before surveying the scene with both eyes open first.

I don’t know why people are so incredibly defensive about how great it is to see through only their preferred eye. OK, one of your eyes may be dominant, but that’s no reason to cover your other eye with duct tape.”

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Dying to Adapt

The Death card is following me. I drew it two days in a row now and I’m wondering what the Universe is trying to tell me.

Rarely does this tarot card represent physical death so I’m not too concerned about an imminent demise.

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I am actually happy to see this bare bones figure on his white horse because he represents not only an abrupt end but also a new beginning.

A transformation.

A rebirth.

Death is not always a bad thing. Sometimes bad things need to end.

Sometimes sclerotic obstacles need to be broken down and removed.

Just like the Tower card helped me focus on the significance of the radical change at hand, Death gives me hope that there is something refreshing and different coming after the destruction.

Like a cosmic etch-a-sketch, it feels good to shakes things up and have an invigorating start.

Death teaches us to let go of outworn and outgrown ways of life and nudges us to move forward.

In my last blog Tower of Change,  I listed some options we have when facing change. We can resist it, we can embrace it or we can accept it.

Maybe with Death we have other choices.

When contemplating this dramatic card in the world today, I am reminded of the Agile principles of iterative development.

In this process you build, you inspect and then you adapt.

Build, inspect, adapt; build, inspect, adapt in a continuous cycle of short iterations.

What if this card is telling us to inspect and reflect on the death, let it go and they take action to adapt and improve?

Why can’t Death be a positive and cleansing experience? A fresh start?

Out with the old and in with the new. Kind of like those expensive chemical peels all the ladies at the day spa are getting these days.

Are we Dying to Adapt or stuck in our old, unproductive and unhealthy ways?

I look forward to drawing more Deaths cards and hope that I am open and ready for the transformation and rebirth it represents.

 

Diamonds in Taos, My Brillant Friends

The rain passed and the sun shone brightly on our annual girlfriends weekend adventure. Like the venerable Taos Pueblo, our friendships are earthy, authentic, stable and grounded.

Our relationships are also like diamonds. They have clarity, they are clear and they are bright.

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I cherish these trips more and more each year and appreciate the gifts they bring.

A treasure trove of experience and exploration, these adventures are authentic and restorative as my friends give me perspective, advice and opinions.

We hike, we eat, we share, we dream.

We adjust each other as we stretch and help perfect yoga poses.

We soak in warm tubs and openly discuss whatever if on our minds.

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These friendships are enduring (not the “friend-for-a-season, friend-for-a-reason” variety so common today).

My friends are precious gems and will be there for the duration.

Our trips are real and pure with limited use of texting and iPhones at the table during meals, limited talk of news we can’t control, no gossip and no drama.

We talk, we discuss, we debate and we look directly into each other’s eyes. We have true connections with wonderful things like nuance and non-verbal expressions.

We appreciate our freedoms and the exquisiteness of the land and reflect on the beauty of our brilliant friendships.

Like diamonds, I treasure the moments we spend together. I treasure these women like the precious gems that they are.

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Tabby, the Ruby, whose high energy and sense of adventure guides us to the next exciting destination.

Nancy, the Pearl, whose wisdom and inner strength shines through the tough journeys of life.

Clarissa, the Sapphire, whose creative expression quietly brings joy, peace and beauty to those around her.

I have an affinity for the Peridot, which has been long considered to be an aid to friendship by bringing optimism and good cheer.

So I lift my glass to you my brilliant friends and say “Thank You!” for your kindness, support and wonderful company.

Thank you for shining brightly on whatever location we venture to.

 

 

Knowing What We’ve Got

Being sick while on vacation has put me in a philosophical mood.  Yesterday I reflected on the labyrinth.

Today I was well enough to fully appreciate an easy jog on a cactus-lined trail.  My senses were heightened as I savored every minute of my normally routine and bland morning exercise.    The old adage “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” kept repeating in my formerly stuffed head.


Then I started branching my thoughts and thinking of other things I have taken for granted and don’t appreciate enough.

Things like Integrity.

Honesty. Liberty.  Respect.

Things like Health, Happiness and Serenity.

Priceless things like Gratitude, Friendship and Honor.

I take none of the things for granted and cherish them more each day.   It’s amazing what a clear head in the desert can do for you!

Reflecting on the Labyrinth

Reflecting on the Labyrinth

I started my vacation journey with the expressed goal of relaxing, resting and reflecting.  Little did I know that outside events and internal viruses would so dramatically change my point of view.

It all started at the airport in Denver, when shortly before our departure, I perused Facebook and was shocked to learn to that a fellow Toastmaster had died the night before, within an hour of giving a speech.  Wow…  I had no words.

 


Retrospectives have been a big focus for me these past weeks as I’ve been writing and speaking on the topic since the beginning of the year.  Now, as I am cooped up in a desert hotel with the humbling head cold, I am further forced to slow down and reflect on life’s crazy path, journey or maze, depending on your perspective.

I am intentionally trying to avoid reading the news updates from the outside world but it is difficult to shield myself from the bizarre and unsettling stories about crazy killing Uber drivers and an egomaniac billionaire who may win a nomination for president of the United States.  The calls to fasten my seat belt on this nauseating narrative have caused me to want to curl into the fetal position and never check Facebook or CNN again.

A positive ray of hope entered my sheltered yet wounded psyche yesterday when I came across a poem while sitting in a waiting room.  It was written by Caroline Adams and started with ” Your Life is a sacred journey”.  It’s powerful message spoke to me about change, growth, discovery and transformation.  It encouraged me to expand my vision on what is possible and to see clearly and deeply.

Caroline’s words kindly comforted me as she reminded me that I am on a Path- exactly where I am meant to be right now.  And from here, I can only go forward. Shaping my life story into a magnificent tale……


And now I sit, I write and I reflect.  I am eager to get out of my room and go explore the labyrinth that’s down the sandy path in this beautiful desert. I am ready to experience the joy of life more fully now that I am again reminded that nothing lasts forever and every moment is a gift.

I am reminded that Life is a sacred journey and should never be taken for granted, no matter how badly we feel.  Nothing lasts forever. Not the high, not the low, not the happy, not the sad.  The Labyrinth of Life just keeps going until it doesn’t.  I’m going enjoy and appreciate it now while I can.