I heard this phrase during a guided meditation recently and it caught me off guard.
“Say hello to your body” the facilitator prompted the group.
“Say hello to your breath”
Such a simple and refreshing invitation.
That’s what it means to check in with yourself.
In the same way you would greet a friend walking into the room, you can bring your attention to your very own being – your physical presence, your breath, and your thoughts.
I cannot emphasize the power of this practice enough.
When you live in a society where you feel unseen, unheard, unvalued – for any reason – you are at risk for internalizing those beliefs.
Quickly “They don’t see me” turns into “why don’t they see me?” turns into “I’m not worthy of being seen” turns into “I’m invisible.”
The evidence of your value is not reflected Out There. If you seek it there you will be sorely disappointed.
If you want to be seen and heard, you have to see and hear yourself first. And often.
Whatever is going on inside of you, wants your attention. You can ignore that prompting or you can engage, and listen.
There are many reasons why it can be difficult to hold space for yourself. It’s not always convenient. Uncomfortable emotions may come up, you may have to pause your regular activities. There may be an outpouring of the very feeling you wanted to avoid.
Even so, returning to yourself is worthwhile. Critical.
Don’t let the steam build up.
You can avoid thinking about the pressure, but you will still experience it. And so will everyone else you interact with.
The more you tend to yourself, the easier it will become, eventually it won’t be an event at all. Just something that happens regularly. Maybe even something you cherish.
Over time, you will come to recognize yourself from these encounters. Your voice and your perspective will not be a mystery to you.
Your understanding of who you are and what you are on this planet to do will be more familiar to you and more resonant than whatever They Say.
If you’re not sure how to be with yourself, that’s okay.
Find a moment to be still. Then, say hello to your body. And say hello to your breath.
At some point in my early thirties (not until my early thirties!) I realized that if I got married, whether I adopted my spouse’s name or not – I would never really have my own name.
I have a strong connection to my heritage as the descendent of people who were enslaved in this country. My people are the women and men who found their ways out of oppression through sharecropping, domestic work, and migrating to a better life in the West. My people are the men and women who created unprecedented opportunities for their children and carved out a black middle class in Bakersfield, California, where there was none before. I’m tied to them through the stories that circulate in my family and the old photographs that surface from time to time, and the facial features I can recognize across the generations.
The connection is not in the name.
My last name, Williams, belonged to my father, and my grandfather, and my great grandfather – a man I’ve never known, and a man my great grandmother did not choose to marry or raise her child with. Not too long before that, the name belonged to a slave owner (indubitably a man) somewhere in Georgia. Most likely. The particulars are vague because the records only go back so far.
So even if I “kept” my maiden name throughout my life, was it really mine to begin with?
When I met a man that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, and we got engaged, this philosophical and largely theoretical question about last names came sharply into focus. For me.
Whenever I told a woman that I was getting married, pretty quickly the question of whether or not I would change my name came up. This question was never posed to my fiancé about his name. Except when I asked him.
“So…what are you going to do about your name?” friends, acquaintances, the grocery store clerk would inquire. At first I thought I would stay a Williams. That alone felt like a small victory of some kind (in the ongoing saga of Malika vs. the Patriarchy). It felt like a modern choice. Independent woman. Assured. But it also lacked something.
I can’t ignore the fact that I want to be an exclusive member of my own family name club. I want monogramed stuff. Probably not towels, but maybe a sign on the mailbox? I want to be known as a collective. I want to share a last name with the person of my choosing.
So my thinking evolved. Maybe we could both be Williams-Anderson, or Anderson-Williams? I could compromise on the order.
I brought the idea to my partner. He was skeptical. “Anderson-Williams is a lot of letters…” I didn’t disagree. He said he was happy for me to stay Williams and he would remain Anderson. He said he liked his name, especially the way it anagrams to “A Random Nerd Wanders On.”
It’s worth mentioning that my beloved has the exact same name as his late father. He’s not just an Anderson, he’s an Anderson II. Bearing his father’s name has an emotional significance that he didn’t necessarily want to detach from.
The simplest way forward was clear: we could both keep our established names and leave it at that.
But what about the monogrammed goods? And children?
“So, our kids would be Williams-Andersons, right?” I posed…a little desperately.
I couldn’t imagine being outnumbered by Andersons in my own home. No way. If there was going to be a family name club under my roof, I would have to be a founding, named, member.
My fiance grimaced and raised the Too Many Letters Issue again. He believed that having a cumbersome last name could cause a lifetime of irksomeness for our future critters (as we fondly refer to the yet-to-exist children).
I rolled my eyes. It works for Brad and Angelina’s children! They’ll be fine!
He pushed back – and where would it end? If the critter had a hyphenated name, and they married someone else with a hyphenated name – would the grandkids be double hyphenates? The Anderson-Williams-Jolie-Pitts?
Honestly, I couldn’t care less about the grandkids’ last names. They’ll have to cross that bridge when they get to it. But this was definitely a sticking point for my future husband.
“Well, we could make up our own name.” I tossed into the conversation casually, half-heartedly. His eyebrows went up and his head tilted to the side. “Hmmm…maybe so…” he mused.
Then, we didn’t discuss it again for 3 months.
People continued to ask me what I was going to do and I’d give a short recap – “basically – I said that either we both change our names or neither of us do, but I want the kids to have my name too, but Norm doesn’t want their last names to be too long, which I don’t think is really a thing, but maybe we’ll come up with a new name? But we haven’t talked about it in a while, so probably we’ll just keep our own names…”
The inertia of making no decision was building momentum. I knew that if I wanted us to come to a resolution, it was on me to bring it up again before the wedding. Or, we could table the issue all together until the first critter arrived.
It’s not really my style to table anything though. So, we hashed it out again. In many ways, my partner had more at stake in the arrangement. My family expected that I might adopt a new name at some point in my life, but Norm’s change would come as much more of a surprise. Fortunately, my partner likes to be surprising.
Another tidbit that informs this conversation is the fact that as a couple, Norm and I both love naming things. We have our own language – that we use daily- with dozens? hundreds? of words and phrases made up and strung together from our experiences together. We enjoy words, we delight in whimsy, and we’re excellent (in our own estimation) at finding the right combination of syllables and sounds to convey a concept.
Based on both of our concerns, values, and a little bit of research, a new reality emerged. The clearest choice was to make our own name together.
And so we did.
There was a voracious period of brainstorming. Anything was fair game to consider. Anything was fair game to veto. Tilapia? Nope. Wilder? A combination of our existing names. Interesting, but Norm knew someone with that last name from a previous job…so no.
Ultimately, we settled on a word that has a deeper significance and represents something we want to be known for – in the way we relate to one another, and in the way we relate to the world at large.
The word is latin, and is a gerund of the verb “to love.”
There is still work to be done to fully become Amandis. The decision to change our name is not without a significant investment of money and time (to navigate the bureaucratic maze of legal documentation) for me and my partner. But we wholeheartedly believe that it’s worth it.
At the beginning of this journey I feared I would have to give part of myself up, or quiet my instincts about what I desire for my family. That couldn’t be further from my experience. Now, I am more clear about who I am and the future I am creating as a married person in an equal partnership. And remarkably, as Malika Amandi, I have become more myself than I’ve ever been.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word expert as “a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area.”
Part of The Center for Women’s Voice mission is to give women the tools they need to stop flying under the radar in male driven industries, so that they can contribute at the highest level.
Many of the women I work with strive to become experts in their field. They want to be known as a thought leader – someone whose ideas are respected and sought out.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s call this Reaching Expert Status.
The funny thing about Reaching Expert Status is that it’s largely subjective. What defines the moment that you go from highly skilled and highly competent to expert? Different people will give you different answers. I believe it’s the moment when you can confidently say that you know what you’re talking about in a given area. Maybe you know what you’re talking about because you’ve studied said subject in school for many, many, years. Maybe it’s because you have a lot of professional experience. Maybe it’s a combination of the two.
Reaching Expert Status can feel elusive and unobtainable. Often there are systemic factors at play limiting career growth (hello sexism, racism and every other ism), but sometimes…sometimes…we are the ones holding ourselves back from becoming experts. Owning what you know can be uncomfortable and counter-cultural, but consider who wins when you don’t step into your authority.
The patriarchy wins. The mansplainers. The people who claim that it’s impossible to find any qualified women to hire for their conference/writers room/board of directors/tenured faculty/whatever.
Seriously. Let’s put an end to this.
If you feel like you don’t have what it takes to Reach Expert Status, here are a few myths that might change your mind.
Myth #1: It’s Binary It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that achieving Expert Status is a binary paradigm. It isn’t. There isn’t a finite point in time when you change from being “really good at X” to “official expert”. Perhaps there’s a specific moment when you realize this, but the process is a continuum.
You are going to continue to evolve and grow. Owning the fact that you’re an expert, doesn’t mean you won’t keep refining, sharpening, and expending your skills.
There may be an exact day when you receive a PhD, or pass the bar, or board exams, or whatever – but those are all external milestones affirming something that is already true. You know your stuff.
Myth #2: It’s out of your hands Speaking of external milestones…many women believe that they are not an expert in their field until someone else recognizes them as such. I disagree.
YOU are the authority on what you know and how valuable that knowledge is. Others will take notice based on the way you present yourself and the way you regard your own contributions. They may have their own opinions and that’s okay.
If you are waiting for someone to notice you, you may be waiting for a long time.
Myth #3: t’s arrogant to call yourself an expert The Oxford English Dictionary defines arrogance as “having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.”
The key here is “exaggerated.” Be honest about the impact you’ve made and what you’re capable of.
Do you have a PhD or masters degree? Have you worked in your field for the better part of a decade? Multiple decades? Have you mentored or trained other people? Have you received professional awards? Do you get paid for your opinion (about anything)? Do other people seek out your perspective via interviews, panel invitations, guest speaking opportunities? If any of these things are true, then owning your expertise is a completely accurate expression of your skills.
Do not hide your light under a bushel. Downplaying your accomplishments will not serve you or the world you want to live in.
Myth #4: Labels don’t mean anything anyway This is what we tell ourselves to justify whatever ambiguous or unpleasant situation we’re in at the moment. In my experience, this line of thinking indicates that I am settling in some way.
You don’t have to like labels, but it’s naive to pretend that they don’t contribute to the way we’re perceived and the way we perceive others. Labels are important, even as a reference point for ourselves.
Whether or not you acknowledge yourself as an expert influences everything from negotiating a salary to setting boundaries about how you spend your time at work.
Myth #5: It’s a destination, and I’m just not “there” yet This myth is more sneaky version of Myth #1. It’s true, there are certain fields that require a specific credential – it’s unlikely that you will become an expert in neurosurgery without following the prescribed path laid out for neurosurgeons. But could you imagine a new neurosurgeon saying “oh, I’m just starting out – I’m not an expert yet.” Nope.
By the virtue of the time she’s put it in, she gets to claim that status. That doesn’t mean she knows everything there ever was to know about neurosurgery. She will continue to grow and develop her expertise over time. And that’s okay.
Reaching Expert Status isn’t a destination, it’s a designation along the way.
Go for it already If you’re waiting until you become an expert to do the thing you really want to do in the world, I urge you to stop waiting. The external validation that you want may come late, or it may not come at all. In the mean time, the world is missing out on the important work that you’re meant to do. YOU are missing out on the fulfillment and growth from pursuing that work. The becoming is in the doing. In my expert opinion, you’re ready now.
On Saturday morning I heard fireworks outside. I’ve gotten very used to fireworks, but 8:30 am fireworks seemed odd. I knew something had happened. I turned on the news and heard The News. The election was called for Biden.
My partner was on a work call at the time so I took in the information alone. I went on instagram – and shared my unsorted feelings with the internet. Then, I called my mom. As soon as I heard her voice, I fell apart gasping and crying. She asked me what was wrong and I said “I’m just overwhelmed…and relieved.”
Some people reacted to the news with celebratory shouts, dancing in the streets, and honking their car horns. Other people – like me, reacted with tears, heaves, and shaking.
Have you seen the movie Captain Phillips? Tom Hanks plays the stoic captain of a cargo ship that’s overtaken by pirates who take him hostage and kill his shipmates. Throughout the film Captain Phillips is calm, pragmatic, cooperative. In the final swell of the film, the pirates are executed and Philips is abruptly extracted from the ship.
In a very powerful portrayal by Hanks, the next scene reveals Phillips in a holding room, sobbing uncontrollably. The response to moving out of sustained survival mode isn’t joy. It’s shock at the absence of immediate danger.
I didn’t realize how much I had been holding in over the past week, and over the past four years. Staying outside of your feelings is a survival tactic in and of itself. I know this – I just didn’t know that I was doing it.
So, on Monday morning, I am still in process – as are many of us.
I launched The Center for Women’s Voice in the wake of the 2016 election and the disappointment, frustration and urgency it stirred up in me. I was particularly moved by these words from Hillary Clinton’s concession speech:
“And to all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance an opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams”
Four years ago exactly I shared Clinton’s quote on social media along with the following reflection:
This is the exhortation that I take to heart the most today. I’m not a little girl, but the little girl inside of me has had this thought in the form of a question for too long. At the age of 9 years old I wrote in my journal, “I’m black, I’m fat, I wear glasses, and I’m a girl…that’s four counts against me.” I have no recollection of what inspired that thought, but it was a statement of observation and not sorrow.
WE HAVE TO CHANGE THE NARRATIVE FOR THIS GENERATION OF WOMEN.
Women and men have to both agree and advocate that women and women’s rights are worth protecting. Women and men have to both agree that sexual assault and predatory behavior towards anyone is unacceptable. Women and men have to both agree and communicate to our daughters, wives, partners, nieces, children, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, cousins, selves, that women are as valuable as men. No matter what.
How can we be unified when half of the population is not respected?
On Saturday, Kamala Harris said in her acceptance speech:
“…while I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last. Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities. And to the children of our country, regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message: Dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourself in a way that others might not see you, simply because they’ve never seen it before.”
This message has more teeth now than it ever has before.
I am still in process, but I know we are in a better place than we were a week ago, and four years ago.
I’m grateful for the work that I get to do alongside women who are changing the narratives in their lives and in the world.
I am grateful to you for supporting The Center for Women’s Voice in this vision.
Candice, a client of mine, was leading a work retreat with a collaborator, John. Candice came into the multi-day session with clear goals, but it turned out that John needed something else, and took up all the space. Initially Candice was willing to be flexible to support her colleague, but as the retreat went on, she became a de-facto facilitator for John’s process. He was taking up all of the space, and Candice’s needs fell to the wayside.
Halfway through the retreat, Candice knew that she wasn’t moving the needle on the collective objectives that she was responsible for, but it felt like it was too late to change anything, she’d just have to pick up the pieces later at the office. She felt confused and resentful about the whole experience.
Can you relate to this scenario?
The Shit Show
You are in charge. You are responsible for setting the tone. You have a vision for how this meeting/retreat/shoot/product launch will go. Then, as time passes, things are not going according to plan.
Not only aren’t things going to plan, but they seem to be gaining momentum in a completely different direction.
You may believe that you’ve failed. The event isn’t even over yet, but it might as well be, because who can stop this train now?
You’re living the situation as it unfolds, but you’re also looking at it from the outside as if it’s a historical reenactment with a fixed ending.
So maybe you check out all together. Or maybe you just go with the flow. The flow isn’t headed anywhere you want to go, but at least you’re moving…and you can recover and analyze lessons learned when it’s all over. Right?
The Downside of Going With The Flow
Going along with something that isn’t working for you is one of the worst feelings in the world. If you are having this thought during the meeting/retreat/shoot/product launch that you are running – there is still time to speak up.
Sure, you might say something and things continue down the same disastrous path, but what if you say something and THEY DON’T? You might actually have the ability to change the course of this event. The question is, Are You Willing to Disrupt the Flow?
Once you’re aware of the issue internally, you can say it out loud. Yes, it will probably be awkward.
In Candice’s situation this could have looked something like, “Hey John, I want to check in about our workflow so far. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about X. We need to figure out Y and Z before we leave, so I’m going to switch gears to move the conversation in a different direction.”
This type of interruption creates an important shift: Candice is no longer leaving the trajectory of the retreat up to chance. John may accept the re-direct, or he may pushback, but now there is an expressed awareness of the dynamic. The disaster is not just idea in Candice’s head – it can be managed out in the open.
Next Level Leadership
Getting the right people in the room, setting the agenda for a meeting, designing a winning event, establishing the purpose of the gathering – these are all key factors leaders need to consider. But using your voice as a leader is also about the way you respond when shit hits the fan.
Do you have the courage to be honest with yourself about your vision in light of the reality taking place before you? Will you take responsibility for addressing the gap between these two stories? This is next level leadership badassery.
Events, conversational dynamics, brainstorming sessions – can all take on a life of their own. That is not a result of poor leadership, it is a result of life. If you are aware that things are going off the rails, then you are on the precipice of Major Leadership Moment. Take the risk to talk about what’s happening in real time and assert the desired outcome. Even if things don’t change, you will earn credibility and trust by acknowledging the situation.
Recently I walked among the ginormous creatures that make up Sequoia National Forest.
Naturally, communing with large trees got me thinking about my Voice.
I made several observations.
1. There is a connection between gravitas and size. Undeniably.
2. All of the officially identified trees with plaques that I saw, are named after men or masculine concepts (“Patriarch” for example). Sigh.
3. The trees take up so much space, and there is still room for all of them.
4. Size can be intimidating, powerful, beautiful and awe-inspiring at the same time.
5. The trees are not striving or shrinking – they are exactly the size they are, growing steadily, and the size they are happens to be quite large.
As women, we are conditioned to not take up space. Don’t take up too much space in the chair, don’t take up too much space in the conversation, don’t take up too much space in the relationship.
Just enough space is very hard to accomplish. And hard to define. So instead, we hedge our bets and go for less all around to avoid the label of being “too” anything.
Our culture requires us to make this trade-off all the time.
If your body is large, kindly work like hell to make it smaller. If your voice is big, we need you to bring it down several notches. If you’ve got big ideas for your life (or your workplace), you’d better keep them to yourself.
If you want nice things, you’d better scrimp and save (instead of making more money). If you want to be in a relationship, it’s best to wait for someone to pursue you. If you want to change your life, you should get approval from everyone you know first.
To maintain the status quo, please contract yourself, tread water, and fade into the background.
What if we lived in a world that encouraged us to be less like objects to control and more like Sequoia trees?
Be the size that you are; there’s no such thing as “too big.”
Grow at your own pace.
There is plenty of space for all of us.
You can be powerful and beautiful at the same time.
Things would be so different.
I am leaning into this tree with my hand extended in an attempt to absorb these ideas.
Maybe you’ve tried to level up through a management training program but found that it didn’t speak to your experience.
Maybe you work in an industry where the concept of a management training program is non existent.
Well, I have good news: You can cultivate your own leadership development practice.
I’ve guided women through this process, and I’ve seen that creating your own growth path is a powerful way to own your leadership. This process works in every industry, and I’ve coached women who work in entertainment, education, public policy, journalism, business, Silicon Valley, and the nonprofit sector.
The heart of my coaching is based upon The D.I.R.E.C.T. Approach, whichis a do-it-yourself technique that you can use and carry with you wherever you go.
The D.I.R.E.C.T. Approach
The first step toward owning your leadership is defining your position. What are you in charge of? Be as specific as possible to clearly identify what you’re responsible for—and what you aren’t! Really drill down with your inquiry: What’s the scope of your role? What can you do in your position that no one else can do? What is your domain?
Next, bring your role into conversation with who you are. What do you offer to make this position uniquely yours? What do you want to be known for? What are your strengths, and where are areas you could grow? Whose leadership do you respect and admire?
Research and Reflect
Think back to the exceptional leaders you’ve known or worked with – not just in a professional setting. What set them apart? What are the behaviors and actions they took? Maybe someone inspired you by handling a tough conversation with honesty and integrity. Maybe someone delegated tasks with confidence (instead of shouldering others’ responsibilities). Also consider the less-than exceptional or downright terrible leaders you’ve interacted with and ask the same questions. Become a student of leadership and mine your own experiences for lessons and principles.
Now that you’re a student of leadership, get involved! Take workshops and seminars that interest you. If you’re having trouble finding a workshop that sparks your curiosity, consider searching in other industries—leadership and management skills often translate beyond specific fields. Conflict resolution, negotiation skills, management techniques, are all areas you could investigate to start raising your leadership know-how.
If you’re not getting leadership experiences through your work, or you’re in a freelance industry where opportunities come around on a contract basis (hello filmmakers!), then start putting yourself in contexts where you are leading and managing others. Volunteer to lead a committee for your alumni group, dive into spearheading that fundraiser for your kid’s school. Or initiate an endeavor of your own. I’m not advocating for taking on free work just for the sake of it, but if you have an opportunity to strengthen your skills and raise your comfort level with being in charge—then take it.
When you’ve named the specific traits and behaviors you want to be known for as a leader, commit to living those values each day. Get clarity on your values and identify which ones you’re ready to commit to deeply.
There’s a temptation to be vague or to implement all your values at once. But the more specific you can be at the outset, the better you’ll be able to live your more important values and pivot as needed. Consider what the value means to you and what behaviors will embody that value. Put your values into writing, and keep them somewhere where you can see them every day.
Talk (to Yourself)
The voice in your head is as important as the voice you use to speak out loud. When you are in a high pressure situation, you want your inner voice to support you—not sabotage you. Which of these messages sounds more familiar: “Yeah, I’ve got this!” or “I’m in over my head; I don’t belong here.”? It’s up to you to foster the supportive voice you want before you’re in the heat of the moment. Work on developing your mindset through meditation, a spiritual practice, mantras, inspiring podcasts and literature, or whatever form of mental hygiene connects for you. If you’re not sure what connects, start experimenting.
The D.I.R.E.C.T. Approach can help you create a leadership development practice that works for whatever industry or workplace you find yourself in. If you’d like more personalized support, working one-on-one with a coach is a great way to tackle your own unique challenges and values in leadership. Many women find it helpful to have a sounding board and emotional support system in place as they move through this journey. If you’d like to see what coaching is all about, sign up for a free discovery session by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hitting reply to this email.
You know your stuff, but something about standing up and speaking in front of a group makes you want to jump out of your skin.
You want to prepare, you want to feel calm—but how do you actually do that? They didn’t cover this in grad school…
Many intelligent, educated, and competent women dreadpresentations. They know they’re smart, so what’s going on?
The reality is that most people don’t learn public speaking skills in school. And without a process in place, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by nerves and lose sight of what you want to say or why you want to say it.
That’s why I created a streamlined process to help you prepare to speak in public with confidence, authority, and authenticity.
School’s in session! Welcome to Presentation Prep 101.
Presentation Prep 101
This is a 4-step, tactical process designed for women preparing for an upcoming presentation. If you’re not sure how to “get in the zone” for the task at hand, these steps will help you prepare in a meaningful way so that you feel ready when the day of your presentation arrives.
Presentation Prep 101 can be tailored depending on your timeline; it could be a four-week process, or something you do in the course of a few hours. Ideally, you’ll want to use this tool 1-2 weeks before your presentation. If you’re prepping for a high-stakes presentation before the company board or for a big sales pitch with a potential client, you’ll want to give yourself more time.
Step #1: Think Through Your Why
These days, there are so many ways we can communicate information. A live presentation in a room (or over Zoom) can seem like an archaic format, but it’s still incredibly common.
As you consider your own presentation, ask yourself, “Why is this information being shared in real time by a person? What’s the opportunity here?”
Your answer will be unique to your situation, but it will necessarily include a human element. Despite all of our newfangled technology, there’s still value in connecting a human voice, face, and body to an idea. That’s the real power of being “in the room.” It’s an opportunity to bring your humanity quite literally to the table. Your voice and physical presence are incredible mechanisms for sharing information. Let that knowledge empower you.
Also consider the “why” behind the content. Why is what you’re sharing so important? What’s at stake, and why are you choosing to give this presentation?
These questions offer a chance for you to discover the values at the heart of what you’re doing. Once you’ve articulated why your presentation matters, you can return to those words and ideas to ground you if nerves creep in.
Step #2: Technical Preparation
Think through your talking points and write them down. If you’re using slides, clarify your presentation content. Establish the one thing you want people to walk away knowing or thinking about. Then, work backwards strategically to weave that idea throughout the presentation.
Even if you aren’t doing a Q&A session, think about the questions you could be asked. What would you hate if someone asked you? Think of the worst questions you can imagine, frame your responses, and write them down. This helps you get inside the content from different angles and break through the pattern of your own assumptions. And, if that worst-case-scenario question does come up, you have an answer ready to go.
Step #3: Rehearse
Yep, that’s right. Rehearse your presentation out loud; role play with a colleague; practice by yourself, in the car, in the shower, anywhere. Speaking the words out loud might feel strange, and most people really don’t want to do it, but it’s super helpful.
I can sense you thinking, “I don’t actually have to rehearse out loud—I’ll just do it in my head.” Speaking out loud is non negotiable. You just.have.to.do.it.
Speaking out loud gives you a chance to work out the kinks that are guaranteed to be there. We tend to minimize the importance of transitions, so rehearsing keeps you attuned to everything you’re responsible for saying. Practice the small talk before you launch into the presentation. Practice the thank yous and graceful exit at the end. Maybe that slide doesn’t connect as seamlessly to the next as you thought. Maybe your talking points too closely mirror your slides. Every presentation will need a little tweaking, and rehearsing out loud is the best way to discover and fix those issues before the big day.
You might also find it helpful to write a full script. You don’t need to memorize it, but the process of writing out the presentation is a great compliment to a full rehearsal.
Make sure you address any technical aspects during your rehearsal process. You’ll want to do at least one “dress rehearsal,” that’s as close to the real circumstances as possible. Wear the outfit you plan to wear and try to use the room you’ll be presenting in. In the online realm, figure out your background and lighting situation. Test things out with a friend for input. Do your earpods always freak out at the worst times? Find a different solution. If you don’t have access to those exact elements, visualize the conditions and keep them in mind as you conduct your dress rehearsal.
Step #4: The E.X.P.O.S.E. Tool
On the day of the presentation, use the E.X.P.O.S.E. Tool to connect with yourself and calm any jitters. Even when you’ve done all the preparation work, it can still feel daunting to “just be yourself” when you’re being watched or evaluated. This tool helps you show up as the most confident, authentic version of yourself.
Presentations can be nerve-wracking, but this preparation process will get you ready to embrace the power of your unique voice and presence.
You’re about to speak on a panel, give a presentation, enter an audition room, or go in for an interview.
You’re getting ready to enter a pressure-filled performative situation.
You want to succeed—give the most insightful answers, crush the presentation, book the role, land the job.
You want to show up as the very best version of yourself.
But how do you get there?
There’s a myth that says, “If I am not charismatic, or grounded, or if I get anxious, I can’t control it or change it. That’s just who I am.”
It’s not true.
There is a way to prepare for high-stakes performances that lets you bring the energy and show up authentically—but it’s not the way you might think.
Prepare to Be Yourself
Most people prepare for a big performative event the way they would for a big exam. They memorize their resume and facts about the company, review their slides ad nauseam, and go over their lines until the words become stale. They cram information into their brains, but they don’t actually prepare to show up.
I created the E.X.P.O.S.E. Tool to help you tap into your confidence and authenticity. In high-stakes situations, we often feel like we have to be someone we’re not. This tool will teach you to stay connected to who you actually are. Because that person has wonderful insights and experiences to share.
Use The E.X.P.O.S.E. Tool on the day of the big event or even 5-10 minutes before entering the room:
Notice your current situation. Take stock of where you are right now. What’s happening for you physically? Emotionally? Try not to judge whatever comes up, simply pay attention. If a practical need arises, like feeling hungry, thirsty or feeling your lips are chapped, it’s okay to handle it. Take a few moments to check in with where you are right now.
First, connect to your purpose. Why are you here? Why is this important to you? When nerves come up, remembering your “why” can remind you that this moment matters and encourage you to move forward.
Presence is also about your physicality. Take a moment to notice your posture. Is your body communicating how you feel about what you’re going to speak about? If you’re passionate about the subject, are you expressing that physically?
Anxiety or fear can create postures that close you off and increase your stress level. Are you hunched over? Shoulders down? Trying to be small? Try to expand your body; adjusting your physicality can actually change the way you’re feeling (for a deeper dive, the Alexander Technique is a great framework for inhabiting your body).
Openness (and Oxygen)
Get curious about the experience you’re about to have. Are you attached to a certain outcome, or could you be open to something else happening?
If you feel the impulse to control the situation, keep in mind that things could go differently than you hope—and that might be a good thing. There are possible outcomes you haven’t imagined yet.
Being open also means breathing freely and bringing enough oxygen into your lungs. Take a moment to check in with your breath. Stress often causes us to clench our abdominal muscles, which makes it harder to breathe deeply. Release your tummy and feel the air rush in. Right away, you may feel more comfortable and relaxed.
Take a minute to be radically encouraging to yourself. Be your own best cheerleader! If positive self-talk doesn’t come naturally, start with one of these prompts:
I love my work, and I’m excited to share what I’m doing.
I’m stoked to help people understand this issue that’s so important to me.
I revel in being seen and heard; I’m looking forward to sharing my ideas.
Go big with your self-talk—it’s just inside your brain after all! Tap into your truth (self-talk works best when you believe it) and pump it up a little bit. Reflecting on your “why” can also spark some positive conversation with yourself.
Empathy is a two-way street. If you’re feeling nervous, be empathetic towards yourself and remember that it’s okay to feel nervous; it means that you care. Accept the presence of any nerves and know that you can still take action that’s meaningful to you.
Extend empathy to your audience, too. You might be the 15th person they’ve interviewed or the 35th pitch they’ve seen today. If your audience seems low-energy, don’t assume they’re disinterested and try not to take it personally. Reminding yourself to consider others’ experiences can give you some distance and beneficial perspective.
The E.X.P.O.S.E. Tool is a great way to prepare for any important, public-facing event, and it’s a tool my clients revisit again and again.
When the stakes are really high, some women seek one-on-one support, accountability, and extra guidance. If you’re curious about how coaching can help you use your voice and own your value at work, email me at email@example.com to schedule a free discovery session.
Many of us have been told how important it is to make a “good impression” in an interview, and it is – But what do we internalize when we hear the word “good”?
I conjure up an image of a real Good Girl, someone who’s nice, friendly, warm, doesn’t intimidate anyone, laughs at jokes, anticipates needs, and makes everyone around her comfortable – basically a 1950s television housewife.
Do you know how many times I’ve interviewed for the job of a 1950s housewife? Exactly zero.
In another life I auditioned…er interviewed…frequently for acting roles in television, film and theater. I would get a few pages of dialogue – sometimes a single line – to prepare in advance, a very sparse description of a character, and a 5 min time slot to read in front of the casting director. Often that 5 min slot lasted about 45 seconds. Sounds brutal right? There’s no time to waste “getting ready” or “warming up” into the character. It’s essential that you walk into the room (or log on to the zoom call!) the way you want to be seen.
This principal applies to myriad high stakes performative situations, like a job interview.
Clarity is key Before you go into a default nice mode for an interview, get very clear on what the job you’re applying for requires.
A client of mine, Sydney, was among a small handful of candidates to become a head of school for an elite private boarding school. She was selected through a national search, and had already gone through multiple steps to be considered for the position. One of the last hoops included a zoom interview with multiple board and faculty members. During the interview she felt like she made a strong connection with everyone – she vigorously engaged in the intellectual discourse, expounded on her educational theories, answered every question quickly, and remained positive throughout. Shockingly, she didn’t make it to the next round of the process. Before we met, Sydney went through this disappointing cycle with multiple schools. She’d have a great application, good recommendations, a promising initial phone call with a recruiter, a “successful” committee interview, and then nothing.
Be honest with yourself In our work together, Sydney wanted to get to the bottom of why she wasn’t progressing in these candidate searches. After one recorded one mock interview, the reason emerged and was painfully clear.
Sydney was too nice.
“I feel like I’ve been operating from the completely wrong paradigm” she said. She said she felt like she was watching herself on a date. “Why was I laughing and smiling so much?” She could see that the bubbly and fun persona she presented in the interview was confusing given the job she was applying for.
Embrace the many dimensions of your personality While that persona had helped her build rapport with students and parents in her current role as a teacher and administrator, it did not showcase the leadership skills and gravitas she would need to run an entire school.
Did Sydney believe that she could handle a school-wide crisis, unite a disjointed faculty, go head-to-head with parents and board members on difficult issues? Absolutely. But the way she presented herself in interviews made it nearly impossible for others to see her that way. Instead of focusing on likability and pleasantness, Sydney needed to channel her authoritative presence.
You have the agency to align the image of yourself in your head with the image that you present to the world. What are the qualities required for the role that you want? Don’t put the pressure on your interviewer to imagine something that isn’t present. Consider the qualities inherent in the position that you want ahead of time, and practice harnessing them so you can bring them into the room with you once you land that interview.