Women in Obama's administration developed a strategy called amplification to help each other speak up and be heard. Here's how you can amplify your speech and amplify your reach.
Female staffers in the White House are practicing effective communication skills with a tool they call amplification, where they repeat key points made by other women in the room. According to Juliet Eilperin's September 13th piece in The Washington Post, "This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution—and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own." From the piece:
“We just started doing it, and made a purpose of doing it. It was an everyday thing,” said one former Obama aide who requested anonymity to speak frankly. Obama noticed, she and others said, and began calling more often on women and junior aides.
These women set an intention, took action, and practiced it—all necessary steps to change any ingrained behavior. It's hard for women in the workplace to be heard but it's only in recent memory that we were let into the workforce in the first place. Women have always contributed to every facet of society, but only now are we taking ownership of our contributions. We are acknowledging how deeply the gender divide divides. We may be on the verge of electing our first female President, but we haven't even done that successfully—yet.
A report by McKinsey and LeanIn.org in September 2015 revealed that "at the rate of progress of the past three years, it will take more than 100 years for the upper reaches of US corporations to achieve gender parity." If we're acknowledging it, why isn't it getting better faster? It's not just systemic problems preventing women from taking over the C-suite. This very conversation is a roadblock between women when discussing the gender divide. Many women reject that the responsibility is on us because the deck has been stacked against women throughout history.
In Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg writes that "We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. We internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives—the messages that say it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men." Sheryl's "argument is that getting rid of these internal barriers is critical to gaining power." Sandberg has since recognized how hard it is for single parents to lean in and it's important to view the practice as a guiding star rather than a road map.
How will the world change when we see our voices as primary rather than secondary to men? How will the world change if the default voice belongs to a woman and not a man? As we enter this new era, how do we let go of conscious and unconscious behaviors that are no longer serving us?
Let's not tell any woman what she should or shouldn't do or say. Instead, let's make sure every woman has the tools she needs to be intentional, aware and in control of what she does and says.
Many of us educated post-feminists are speaking up for the first time. We don't want to admit it but we desperately want to be heard. It's exciting and scary to do anything for the first time. Learning how to speak in public and articulating your thoughts, feelings and ideas can be terrifying. That's why amplification put into practice is so inspiring. Women building executive presence need structures, techniques and safe spaces to develop these new behaviors.
Amplification is just one tool that can help us develop communication and presentation skills and hold ourselves and those around us accountable. Here's some others to help amplify your speech and amplify your reach:
Even if your knees are shaking, maintaining eye contact can make you seem more confident which can make you feel more confident. That's why Chris Anderson, Head of TED, says it should be the first priority when public speaking: "Great speakers find a way of making an early connection with their audience," he writes. "It can be as simple as walking confidently on stage, looking around, making eye contact with two or three people, and smiling." Making eye contact not only jumpstarts a connection with your audience but, when maintained, it makes you and your message more memorable.
What happens to your breath when you're nervous, unprepared or both? It becomes shallow and many of us experience shortness of breath or "air hunger". Do you begin speaking at full capacity, or do you exhale that strength and support before speaking? Practice square breathing ahead of time so you can speak with a fully supported voice when stakes are high. Not breathing deeply leads to habits we're all guilty of (men too!)—vocal fry, uptalk and low volume to name a few. Slow, deep breathing also stimulates the parasympathetic reaction—which can have the effect of calming you down.
A 2010 study in the journal Psychological Science notes that “women have a lower threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior,” so they may be more likely to apologize. This is not a female problem since men are guilty of it too, but it does stem from a lack of confidence and a lack of practice.
The first step to UNapolozing yourself is awareness. Many of us apologize all the time and do not even hear it. You don't have to use the words "I'm sorry" to apologize—though plenty of us do. Filler-phrases like "kind of", "just" and "I think" undermine our authority when used unintentionally. We physically make ourselves small and call our thoughts, ideas and feelings into question before they even leave our mouths.
So go ahead. Take up more space. Be heard and understood. Practice the art of public speaking. Communicate consciously. Try saying things affirmatively and with conviction. Download Just Not Sorry, a Gmail plugin that alerts you when you've undermined your authority in an email. Ask a trusted friend or colleague to be an outside eye as you develop your communication and presentation skills. Develop systems together, designed for your voices. Hire a public speaking trainer. Be kind to yourself first and foremost. If these behaviors stem from how hard we are on ourselves already, let's not add to it! Overdo it at first and notice how the world around you starts to follow your lead. If it doesn't feel exciting and scary, then maybe you're not going far enough.