Think of the last time you were trying to change someone's mind or get support for an idea. Perhaps you were speaking to an investor or board of directors--people who had as much power as you did, or more. Did you have the confidence and communication skills to be heard? As a young woman, I didn't. Only now, after more than 30 years of working and a decade of teaching leadership, have I finally found my voice. That's why I wrote my new book, Making Your Voice Heard: How to Own Your Space, Access Your Inner Power and Become Influential (Octopus Books).
The book teaches strategies to influence others, even without formal authority. It also tackles the internal struggles, such as imposter syndrome, that may be preventing you from confidently speaking up. Here are some tips.
1. Change the undermining thoughts inside your head.
At some point, you've probably been told to "fake it till you make it"--in other words, look confident on the outside and you will eventually feel it on the inside. But what if that voice inside your head keeps telling you that you're not fooling anyone? The first step is to find out what that internal messenger is saying to you; only then can you change the script. If you find yourself thinking "I am a failure" after a failed attempt, stop and replace this thought with "I am still learning."
The lessons might not be evident right away--with some of my biggest failures, it took a few years for the pain to dissipate enough for me to see the lesson it held--but the more you accept each failure as a learning experience, the less you will fear failure. And the less you fear failure, the more willing you will be to challenge yourself and move your business forward.
2. Use your voice to its full potential.
When preparing for a presentation, it's common to focus on what you say and how you look. But how often do you think about how you sound? Paying attention to the qualities of your voice, such as tone, pitch, pauses, and volume, can make you a more engaging and powerful speaker. Practice reading a three-minute excerpt from a presentation (or passage from a book) three times and record each attempt. First, speak as monotonously as possible, then speak in an overly dramatic manner (really exaggerate and push yourself!), and finally, speak with a degree of expressiveness somewhere in the middle.
This exercise should feel uncomfortable--you are aiming to sound more engaging, not to stay within your comfort zone. Trying out these extremes will help you sense where the ideal tone lies. If you are usually a very monotonous speaker, you might even find that your "extremely dramatic" voice has the right level of expressiveness. Play the recordings for your friends or colleagues and get feedback from them.
3. Hone your cultural intelligence.
Culture is a set of unwritten rules about how we should think and act, and it looks different in different settings. (You've probably noticed that engineers, accountants, and salespeople all have their own ways of speaking and behaving.) Understanding the unique culture of each environment you're in will help you navigate those differences and be more influential.
To develop your cultural intelligence, reflect on your cross-cultural interactions, especially those that left you feeling as if something went wrong. These reflections can be done with a friend or in a journal. The point is to give yourself feedback and think about what you could have done differently. Sometimes it is as simple as realizing you should have paused and asked a question of the other person ("What is your reaction to what I just said?") rather than marching ahead with unspoken assumptions.
Building your influence skills can help you grow your business, drive change, and be a role model for your team. It requires growing your internal power, managing your external image, and adjusting your strategy to fit the context and audience. While that all takes practice, the effort is worth it. Make your voice heard, not only to empower yourself, but also to inspire those around you.