Standing Out in the Crowd: A Guide to Being Seen and Heard

Men speak, on average, 7,000 words per day.  Women? 20,000.  

With those kinds of numbers, you would think women would have no problem being heard, but sadly that is not always true.  

According to research from Harvard Business Review, the number of words spoken may be part of the problem.  It’s called the “wind-up;” taking too long to articulate a point of view or failing make the point at all.  

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The Harvard Business Review research also found that male managers are well aware that it is difficult for strong women to be heard because either they aren’t speaking loudly enough or they can’t figure out when to break into the conversation. 

And, ladies, even if you are a top level executive, you know how challenging that can be. 

You have a seat at the table, but you’re the only woman, or one of the few, in the room. In this situation, it can be hard to ever feel like you are being heard!  

Why does this happen? What can you do about it?

While you may not be able to control the culture, there is a lot that is in your control.

Here are my top five tips for how to be seen and heard: 

1) be prepared to speak
2) pay attention to your voice
3) use active words and make authoritative statements 
4) stop apologizing
5) and don’t confuse passion with emotion

Be Prepared to Speak: Prepare comments or questions ahead of time that will move the conversation forward. If you can, speak up early in the meeting. Remember, most of the time you are not expected to be the expert, but, rather, to contribute in a thoughtful way.

Pay Attention to Your Voice: What you say, how you say it, and how you sound saying it matters.  You don’t want your words and your voice to come across as “noise.”  It’s about finding your voice and using it wisely and well.  

Your voice accounts for 35% of the way you communicate.  (The other 65% is your body language or non-verbal cues.)  That voice is controlled by your verbal skills, including everything from the volume and the speed at which you speak, the pitch of your voice, and your “vocal variety”, to the use (or lack) of filler words and up-pitch. Up-pitch is when your voice goes up at the end of a statement making it sound as if you are asking a question.  It is a vocal issue for both men and women that takes away from your credibility, command and presence.  

Use Active Words and Make Authoritative Sentences: Precise language shows you’re taking ownership of your opinions.  For example, replace weak words, such as “I think,”  “I believe,” and “I feel,” with stronger options such as: “I’m confident,”  “I’m convinced,” or “I expect.”  Be sure to include the “why:”  “and here’s why I am confident about X,Y,Z…”  Those words – “and here’s why” – are key to strengthening your message and capturing the attention of your audience!

As women, we often act more like facilitators than contributors. Stop. State what you stand for and you’ll become a meaningful and important contributor.

Stop apologizing:  Apologizing for small things like unattractive slides, a last minute change in the order of your presentation, or using “minimizing language” (such as the word “just”), reduce the power of your message and the strength of your presence.  It’s an UNconscious way of apologizing.

Don’t Confuse Passion with Emotion: If you allow your emotions to get the best of you, you miss out on an opportunity to create synergy and unity.

No doubt, this is all much harder if you are the only female in the room, but when you’re not alone, even if there is only one other female, use solidarity and amplification to boost your position, and that of your fellow women.

When a woman makes a key point with which you agree, consider repeating it and giving her credit. “Susan brings up a great point because _____ (it speaks to X… or it drives the point home about Y….)  This forces others in the room to recognize the contribution and can potentially deny others the chance to claim the idea as their own. It was Susan’s idea and Susan deserves the acknowledgement.

Now, if someone else in the room does claim the idea, ladies, you still have an opportunity to speak up: “ that sounds exactly like what Susan was saying…”  

Men have the opportunity to do the same thing; you can give Susan credit and recognize her contribution. That is what will help move the dial forward for everyone.

None of us can go it alone.  Just as much as women need to support one another, men, you are just as much a part of this equation.

Take advantage of these moments.  And, remember Liz’s 4 C’s: Confidence, Content, Clarity and Conversational. 

Have confidence in being prepared. Know your content and have clarity about what you intend to contribute and, finally, be conversational in your delivery.

When you do, you will have presence, you will have command, and you will be seen and heard as you intend.  


Read more from our Fall 2019 newsletter: A Letter from Liz | The Handshake Story | Become a Guest on Liz’s Podcast: Share Your Story | Executive Coaching Workshop for WomenFind your Invisible Edge

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