Michelle Sales (pictured below) is a leadership speaker, coach and trainer and author of The Power of Real Confidence. In this book extract below, Sales offers her tips to make sure your voice gets heard at any meeting…
It was Eleanor Roosevelt who once said, ‘You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face … You must do the thing you think you cannot do.’ That means you’ve got to learn to speak up! Your voice is everything when it comes to being a leader. How you speak will affect how people listen to you. Six steps are involved in finding your voice:
Prepare to speak
To be able to perform properly in meetings, and to be able to speak up effectively, you need to prepare before the meeting. The issue is that most of us rush from one meeting to the next, with no time to reflect on how we want to speak up.
You need to slow down and think about your contribution and how you might have a real impact. You need to have prepared some notes that you want to talk about to allow yourself the ability to speak spontaneously.
When you prepare and come to a meeting with an accurate sense of what it’s really about and how it will probably unfold, you can build on others’ remarks. And you are better able to put forward your own point of view succinctly and with composure.
Maintain your tone
How you say what you say is crucial. People ask questions when they are seeking information or wanting approval for an idea or decision. While nothing is wrong with either of those situations, both can make you sound like you’re questioning yourself if you are actually trying to make a point.
To project your voice with confidence, don’t let the pitch of your voice creep upward at the end of a sentence. Maintain an even tone and finish your statements with full stops, not question marks.
As a Queenslander, I used to have a sing-a-long tone in my voice and tended to end a sentence with a question mark. I had a great sponsor early in my leadership career who gave me this feedback and caused me to tweak my tone. Doing so made a lot of difference to how others perceived my confidence.
Check your speed
Carmine Gallo, business communication expert and author of Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds, claims 190 words per minute is the ideal speech speed for public speaking. At this speed, your audience will feel less like you’re talking at them and more like you’re having a conversation over lunch.
If you speak too slowly, you run the risk of putting your audience to sleep. And if you talk too quickly, you can sound amateurish or nervous, and as if you’re trying to get the presentation over with as quickly as you can.
However, as you know, people speak at different rates at different times. If being nervous makes you speak faster, you need to be very conscious about slowing down. If you want to create some real energy in the room, you might want to think about speeding up. Your emotional state can greatly influence your speaking so it’s important to be aware of that.
A simple way to calculate your speech rate is to record yourself using your mobile device that can convert your speech to text. Just talk for a couple of minutes and capture the text. Then cut and paste the text into a Word document and do a word count!
Most of us fear silence when we are speaking. We rush to finish our point of view because we’re worried we will be interrupted and won’t get it all out. Or we think we might forget an important idea or lose our train of thought midway through a sentence. But silence isn’t your enemy; it can actually be a powerful confidence-projecting tool.
Storytelling expert, author and colleague Gabrielle Dolan teaches leaders that audiences need strategic pauses in order to retain and understand important points. Additionally, the ability to live with silences, whether of your own making or the audience’s, makes you seem more confident.
Watch your language
Do you ever begin your sentences with words or phrases such as, ‘This is just my opinion’, ‘Sorry’, ‘I’m still working on this’, ‘Well’, ‘I mean’ or any number of other negative prefaces?
Most people use these as a matter of habit or nervousness, but caveats and fillers can damage the confident tone you’re trying to strike. Instead, say what you mean and nothing else. For example, ‘We should take this pitch in a different direction,’ is much more persuasive than, ‘Well, I think we should take this pitch in a different direction, but I’m still trying to find out the best route to take.’
Try the opposite
I had a woman on a leadership program tell me about her tactic for speaking up in meetings. She referred to the Seinfeld episode ‘The Opposite’ where George returns from the beach and decides that every decision that he has ever made has been wrong, and so his life is the exact opposite of what it should be.
George tells this to Jerry, who convinces him that ‘if every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right’. George then resolves to start doing the complete opposite of what he would do normally.
My client realised that normally she would sit back in meetings and listen, and very often walk out having never spoken. She found that by using ‘the opposite’ as a fun tactic, she could find her voice early in meetings. She found that when she started to see evidence of this working successfully, she built confidence – and it just kept growing from there.