Speak Up!: A Woman's Guide to Presenting Like a Pro

Speak Up!: A Woman's Guide to Presenting Like a Pro

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The insider's guide for women who want to master the art of business, professional, and public speaking

Whether speaking one-on-one or one to one thousand, women have specific challenges that can get in the way of their ability to convey ideas and engage an audience. Public speaking professionals Cyndi Maxey and Kevin O'Connor give women the tips and tools they need to be able to speak clearly, with confidence and conviction, and present information effectively.

In SPEAK UP!, you'll learn how to:

Deal with difficult colleagues

Speak on the spot

Use technology in support of your message

Sell your ideas with passion and power

Connect confidently with your superiors
For any woman who wants to get her point across, from the boss' office, to the conference room, to a convention center, SPEAK UP! will help you polish your presentation skills, get heard, and get what you want.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429946742
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/11/2008
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Cyndi Maxey, CSP, co-author of Present Like a Pro, is a communication consultant and speaker specializing in communication that drives profitable performance. She lives in Chicago, IL.
Kevin E. O'Connor, CSP, co-author of Present Like a Pro, is a leadership consultant and professional speaker. He specializes in working with professionals who have been promoted to leadership positions where they now lead former peers. He lives in Long Grove, Illinois. Combined, they speak more than 200 times per year.

CYNDI MAXEY is a communication consultant and speaker who specializes in communication that drives profitable performance. She is co-author of Present Like a Pro. She lives in Chicago, Illinois.
KEVIN E. O'CONNOR is a leadership consultant and speaker who specializes in developing technical professionals. He is co-author of Speak Up! and Present Like a Pro. He lives in Long Grove, Illinois.

Read an Excerpt

Speak Up!

A Woman's Guide to Presenting Like a Pro

By Cyndi Maxey, Kevin E. O'Connor

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2008 Cyndi Maxey and Kevin E. O'Connor
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-4674-2


Be Major When You're the Minority

Most women in business will have to face the time when she is the only woman in the room. When you're in the gender minority, be grateful rather than fearful. Accept that you will have some challenges but know that you also will have some advantages. You'll stand out, so men will be naturally curious: How did you get there? What are you like? Are you "one of the guys"? What do you know that they don't know? You have the power to turn that curiosity into genuine interest. How? Because you're a woman, you'll observe and listen more readily to the nuances of the situation: Who sits first? Who laughs loudest? Why are some people still on their cell phones? Who has the most paperwork? Who asked to help? You can use those observations to make decisions on how to lead and participate. Women add a new dynamic to business communication.

Whether you're at a small team project meeting or a larger event, now is your opportunity to shine. Never underestimate the career-building potential of your presence at meetings, even seemingly mundane regular meetings. We've heard top executives discuss individuals after a meeting — they don't miss a thing. Consider everything you say an opportunity to make a powerful impression.

Be Certain Like a Man

We have heard women at every level, from assistant to executive, speak in ways that lack steadfastness and undermine their confidence and authority. Have you ever caught yourself saying

"We kind of need to get going on this project." "There are, like, too many, y'know, of these on the front burner."

"How would you sort of like to proceed?"

"I really don't think this will get us where we were trying to be."

Now, imagine the difference when you speak with confidence and authority:

"We need to move on this now."

"We have to make a priority decision."

"What do you want to do next?"

"This won't work."

In order to be taken seriously, think before you speak, and speak with certainty. Like, umm, kind of, and sort of scream insecurity, not influence.

The Devil Is in the Details

Don't get lost in the process of gathering details when you are the only female in the group. Be able to pull up detail when needed, but only when the time is right. Men tend to think in bigger pictures and toward one target. There will come a point when they will need your "on tangent" perspective to their "on target" shooting. But wait until the right time.

Our goal is to help you understand how to be most effective when presenting to men. Men — especially skeptical men — respond best to facts and data. When you present the facts and data in the context of a problem or an issue that is important to them, they will pay attention. It shows them that you are well prepared, that you are a force to be reckoned with, and that you are thinking "like a man" about the topic. Facts and data are to a man what Tinkertoys are to a boy, what engine parts are to a racecar driver. You simply can't build without them.

Inspire with Mental Pictures

Begin with facts and data, but take that one step further and carefully engage your audience by using metaphors, mental pictures, and thoughtful images to piece the message together. For example, a new sales strategy could be described as a six-step "workout;" customer focus might be visualized with digital photos; a new benefits plan could be analogous to maintaining a healthy environment or lawn. It's a step that men often overlook in their own presentations but one they will appreciate in yours. If you want to be truly successful, know your data cold and win over the experts by throwing in some interesting trivia-like tidbits to show that you've done your research but that you're not just there to present the facts. Examples might include when the product you are presenting was invented and by whom, how it got its name, and any other little-known facts that will interest your audience, especially the men in the room.

Since sports and TV are a major source of entertainment for a lot of men, those references will work well in your presentations to a male audience. Your goal here is twofold: to encourage your audience and also to be memorable when you leave. With a little extra thought, you can easily build in sports references. Read the sports section the day of your presentation and be able to refer to a local team. If you play tennis, relate the challenge of playing at the net to nearing a sales close. If you hike or jog, convey the sensation of adrenaline flowing to a step in the change process. The same is true for television references: Check out your media news source for new, popular shows or talk show gossip. Be able to toss out the name of a TV celebrity that is appropriate to the age group you're addressing. Often these references lighten the tone of the presentation and contribute to rapport building.

The Task at Hand

When you are ready to ask for agreement or action from your male audience, use phrases like the following: you may want to consider, the reason this is important is because, others have thought, an important benefit is ... These are all ways to gently guide action without sounding too brash or forceful.

What do men want from a female presenter? Most men want to hear a competent speaker who has a friendly and engaging persona, is a nonthreatening encourager to action, and a helpful commander of the essentials of what the audience needs to know now. In short, men want from a woman what they appreciate from a man — a nonthreatening equal up to the task at hand. The same applies when speaking to your male boss one on one as it does for larger groups. He's looking forward to your authentic self as well as your actionable ideas.

Discounted Female Need Not Be

Female managers repeatedly complain that their actions are misinterpreted or discounted. When they know the group needs to get busy with work, they are seen as controllers, yet when they have every detail accounted for, they are criticized for not understanding the big picture. Men, on the other hand, are rewarded for "seeing the big picture" rather than "delving into the detail." Male executives can make demands and not be seen as control freaks. Women are confused by what they see as a double standard. The bottom line is that men are rewarded on a different standard.

Male executives know the rules that have been laid out by years and generations of other male executives. Getting the job done is preferred to getting it done "just right." Attending to the important details is preferred to attending to "every" detail. The male executives we work with tell us that making decisions without having all the facts is commonplace for them. Saying something important in passing is preferred to saying something and documenting it in triplicate.

Additionally, men have become accustomed to women serving them at the workplace. At your office, who cleans up the coffee room? Who is the one appointed to be the "secretary" for some small group processes? What is the gender of most of the administrative coordinators at your office? How are they complimented and spoken of? How do they see their jobs? And who is the one who is the brunt of most of the gender-related jokes? Knowing the answers to these questions (and there are many different answers) need not make us resentful or boastful, only wiser about those we present to and those we present for.

Know the Rules to Break Them

When you know the rules, then you can play by them. When you really understand them, you can influence them. And when you know the rules very, very well, you can break them.

The female executive presenter must operate from knowledge and not resentment, from wisdom and not a blind obedience to the culture, from today's values and not from an antiquated idea of what she thinks is needed. She must operate from efficiency and not perfection. What she was taught as a young girl about service and femininity must be replaced with a new definition of both.

When she operates in a male environment, she need not "put up" with lesser status, she needs only to understand and operate in the understanding of what makes others successful, what moves a team forward, and what the real need is in each and every individual present. The days of women trying to act and be like men are on their way out. The best female presenters understand that the best presentation is one that allows them to be seen as a woman who knows that "one extra thing" very well. That "one extra thing" she has gained through acute perception of the audience's needs — whether it be affirmation, acknowledgment, or intense data on key issues. She can verbalize it for them and extract it from them simultaneously.

With a male audience,

• You don't need to become "one of the guys." Don't make the mistake of some female comedians and many executives by assuming more "male" characteristics of dress, language, and humor. Consider who you are at your female essence. Some of you are tough, no-nonsense individuals. Some are demure and quiet. Others are introspective. Be yourself, stay on message, and remain confident in your unique way, without resorting to acting more masculine. When you try to be more "like them," you run the risk of minimizing who you are.

• Know their issues. Be ready to articulate the issues well. If you have the time and access to your audience, conduct brief phone interviews prior to your presentation. These prepresentation interviews will help you greatly. You might even reference them in your presentation for greater credibility. Ask your interviewees if you can quote them by name. The more people you enlist on your side, the better they will understand the point you are making.

• Liberally affirm the general intention of the audience or the initiative. While not a strictly female trait, affirmation comes across with more aplomb from a female presenter. It may sound like the following: "While this is a difficult time we're going through, it's clear that this team has the right attitude. I can see it in your reactions to the data today and I hear it in your project reports." Or it may simply be, "Thank you for all you do for the IT department; it is appreciated, even on the darkest of days." Affirmation must not seem in any way sarcastic or to be any form of a put-down. It must be seen as genuine. In fact, this technique is a very good one to get a hostile audience on your side. Few of us dislike affirmation.

Women, when speaking today, often prepare more thoroughly, and think more self-consciously about personal appearance, because they feel the pressure to demonstrate their competence. For example, when I started teaching, I put on a suit every day to help create a sense of authority. Many students expect women instructors to be warm, nurturing, and kind, but credibility and knowledge are not automatically assumed.

Angela G. Ray, PhD

Assistant Professor of Communication Studies Northwestern University Evanston, Illinois


Find Your Female Voice

The female voice can be one of the most persuasive instruments on the planet — or it can be one of the most grating and distracting. We'd like you to think of your natural voice as a precious and beautiful trait. In essence, every woman's natural voice is beautiful; it just gets corroded with bad habits along the way. Those habits may include inadequate breathing, poor use of the vocal apparatus (lips, tongue, teeth), ineffective pitch and tone, or lazy projection of volume, to name a few. Poor habits are often heightened when presenting.

Have you ever left your boss's office embarrassed by the high-pitched squeaks you heard come out of your mouth during your project update? You knew you were a bit nervous, but you sounded like Minnie Mouse! Awareness is the first step to finding your voice. Now you need to do something about it. If you are like many of the women we coach, you will find it helpful to record your voice in order to hear subtle changes caused by emotions, the time of day, what you wear, and your level of stress. By recording your voice, you will pick up on the vocal habits you have perpetuated, without even realizing it. Record yourself often at various events and times of day. Recording your end of the conversation on your phone is also helpful; you'll hear how your voice sounds to others. Make a note of the fit of the clothing and shoes you are wearing: clothing can constrict you if it is tight or uncomfortable; shoes, especially heels, can make a difference in your overall ability to breathe and project sound because they affect your posture and muscle tension.

We watched a female executive respond to a question while seated among a group of colleagues. Her voice was muffled and slight, and we had a hard time hearing her, so we asked her to stand up and speak more loudly from her place among the group. When she stood, a remarkable thing happened. Her voice changed. It was clear, commanding, solid, and easy to understand throughout the room. Believe it or not, she was unaware of how powerful her voice became when she stood up to speak. From that point forward, we asked her to use her "standing voice" even when she was sitting down. She came to appreciate what that meant. She became aware of her "standing voice" and was able to be a full participant and leader in the group.

If volume is an issue for you (as it is for many female speakers who speak softly), chances are you are not breathing correctly. Breath should be supported by the diaphragm to boost your volume level; volume in front of a group needs to be louder than one on one. Many women simply speak at the same level in front as they do sitting down. When you're standing, take deep breaths, expanding your abdominal and chest area, and push the sound out! Make this a habit every time you stand to present for a team meeting, a board presentation, or a product review — even for five or six audience members. If most of your presentations are one to one, be very aware of sitting tall so that you have room to breathe.

For larger groups, make the microphone your friend. You definitely need a microphone for groups of fifty or more; most business environments designed for fifty or more are also designed for audiovisual equipment. One of our favorites is the cordless lavaliere mike (a small mike that is attached to you with a clip) because it allows you to move around. A lavaliere mike, when clipped securely about three to four inches from your mouth, is an invaluable ally. In general, ask trusted colleagues if they can hear you; encourage them to tell you the truth. If you can't be heard, nothing else matters. Worse, you've made yourself an example of a female stereotype — the soft-spoken, unassertive type.

It is crucial to identify how others perceive your voice, especially when you are presenting to men who pride themselves on having strong voices that fill a room. Women's voices vary more widely in pitch and tone. Some have a deep, husky sound, while others rely on a cute voice that is perky and lively. Still others have an interesting accent or twang they have owned from day one. Each voice has its own character and its own purpose. Our job here is not to tell you to eliminate your vocal style, but to suggest that you become keenly aware of it. Awareness is the key and a powerful skill for anyone who wants to influence — one on one or before a group.

Always speak with more volume and energy than you will in a one-on-one conversation. If a microphone is present, use it. Never ask, "Can you hear me without the mike?" because nobody will tell you the truth. If your audience is largely baby boomers and older, chances are that a percentage will have some form of undiagnosed hearing problem. Always take command and use the mike that's there. Even for a small group, a good 20 percent will be happy you used it. They might not even be aware of their hearing problem, but they will be happy to have heard you loud and clear. That is the point.


Excerpted from Speak Up! by Cyndi Maxey, Kevin E. O'Connor. Copyright © 2008 Cyndi Maxey and Kevin E. O'Connor. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Part 1 Present to Impress,
1 Be Major When You're the Minority,
2 Find Your Female Voice,
3 Charisma or Credibility? Let Your Audience Choose,
4 Be the Storyteller,
5 Motivate the All-Female Audience,
6 Look the Part,
7 Own Your Age,
8 Be Memorable,
Part 2 Adapt with Professionalism,
9 Maneuver the Dotted-Line Relationship,
10 Survive When the Audience Is Just Not That Into You,
11 Handle Criticism,
12 Keep Your Tiger in Check,
13 Be Professional — Even When Your Boss Is Not,
14 Survive — Even on a Bad-Hair Day,
15 Learn the Limits of Your Office Culture,
16 Adapt to the Expectations of Other Cultures,
Part 3 Influence with Impact,
17 Preparation Is the Key,
18 Assert Your Authority,
19 Be an Effective Teacher and Facilitator,
20 Focus on the Essentials,
21 Be an Astute Listener,
22 The Audiovisual Conundrum,
23 Connect with the Decision Makers,
24 Communicate with the C-suite,
Part 4 Lead on Your Feet,
25 The Sales Pitch,
26 Showcase Your Services,
27 Train from 1 to 100,
28 Capture the Keynote,
29 Be the Best MC,
30 Present Bad News,
31 Honor and Award with Aplomb,
32 Plan and Organize with Authority,
Part 5 Create a Lasting Connection,
33 E-mails, Memos, Letters, and More,
34 Preinterview to Ensure Success,
35 Don't Break at the Coffee Break,
36 Effective Phone Communication,
37 Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,
38 It's Just Dinner — Or Is It?,
39 Give the Business Eulogy — Differently,
40 Influence on Retreat,
Frequently Asked Questions,
Top Ten Tips,
Helpful Resources,

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