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Avoiding Job Interviews? Follow these tips from actors to put yourself out there and land the job

Avoiding Job Interviews? Follow these tips from actors to put yourself out there and land the job

Actors have job interviews nearly every day—they just call them auditions. We can learn a thing or two from the audition process to help make job interviews a bit more bearable. 

Whether you’ve just graduated or are returning to the job market after some time, job interviews can be harrowing. We all know people who’ve stayed in jobs they don’t like just to avoid the interview process altogether. But when the time comes, it’s essential to put yourself out there. And no one has more experience with that than actors.

Actors have practiced and perfected the art of owning the room and rolling with the punches. They are experts at dealing with rejection. Acting is perhaps the only profession where you interview for jobs more than you do the actual work. What can we learn from the process of auditioning, which some actors do hundreds of times a year?

How do deal with performance anxiety in interviews

Like all things, the more you interview the easier it gets. Still, very few of us relish the opportunity to walk into a room and feel judged for our experience and capabilities.

There’s plenty of articles out there with tips and tricks to help you ace your interview, but very few prepare you for the onslaught of in-the-moment self-doubt that can spiral out of control and cause you to say the wrong thing.

Actors train so they can get out of their heads and into their bodies. Practice embodied cognition—feel your feet on the floor and make eye contact. Whether or not you meditate, bring your attention to the sensation of your breath going in and out of your body.

All of these techniques will help you focus on the person in front of you and not the negative self-talk that may be spiraling in your mind.

How to prepare and practice for interviews

Many people think that actors are naturally natural but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. We’ve known actors to have some of the worst cases of social anxiety out there. The difference is that they spend hours rehearsing and preparing for moments that make them uneasy. In fact, the general rule of thumb is to rehearse one full hour for each page of text in a play. Imagine if we put that type of preparation into our most important interactions!

First, set an intention or a goal for each interview—and make that objective about the company you are interviewing with or even the interviewer. Helping the company reach their goal, or making the interviewer feel inspired will reframe the interview experience and take the focus off of you, which relieves pressure.

Next, choose 2-3 questions you will likely be asked and prepare answers for them. Make a list of bullet points for each answer rather than scripting—then spend 20-30 minutes practicing these responses. Interviewing is improv, after all!

The best part is, you will likely use these responses in one way or another at your next interview. Practicing for the specificity of one interview carries over into all other opportunities to talk about your experience and skills.

How to make a connection with the interviewer

First, be strategic with setting up the logistics of your interview (sometimes, timing really is everything). And, of course, be extremely courteous with everyone you interact with, from the scheduler to the person at the front desk when you check in. But what do you do if you walk into a cold room, or if the team has just returned from lunch and the food coma hasn’t worn off?

Actors know how to stay the course. When you perform a play eight times a week, you get used to the subtle fluctuations between audiences and learn not to get derailed by an audience who laughs one night and is silent the next. It’s best to not beat yourself up (or the interviewers!) for a less than ideal vibe in the room. Bring yourself to the present moment and deal with what is in front of you, not how you wish the room would respond.

If you are being interviewed by a panel, pick the person who is the warmest of the bunch and put your focus on them while still acknowledging everyone in the room. Another technique is to mirror the energy of the room without sacrificing positivity. If the level of energy you are getting is a 5 out of 10, match that energy but remain connected and present. This may allow the interviewers to come towards you, rather than you trying to fill the gap, which can make you feel depleted.

Free Your Voice (and the rest will follow): This Independence Day, liberate your voice.

Free Your Voice (and the rest will follow): This Independence Day, liberate your voice.

This July 4th, let’s talk about freedom of speech. Are you using your voice to get what you want, or is your voice holding you back? Follow these tips to free your voice. 

Our tagline at Bespoken is Own Your Voice”. For some, that means knowing what you want to say. For someone else, it means practicing how to say it. It can mean not feeling censored or oppressed, or feeling heard and vindicated. Knowing how to use your voice and own it is essential to public speaking and having effective communication skills. Is your voice serving you or undermining you? When communicating, is your voice is in sync with your thoughts and feelings, or are you swimming upstream? It may be time to free your voice.

Here, I share my own story in finding, freeing and, eventually, owning my voice. It’s a constant journey and I learn every day. I hope it is helpful in your own process towards vocal liberation.

Finding My Voice

As a kid, I had crippling social anxiety. I had plenty of close friends but in groups, I would clam up and couldn’t be myself. But as a theater kid, I could be whoever I wanted to be onstage.  I could play a role. There were rules we all had to follow, and they even told me what words to say. It was heavenly.

Even when I started directing theater, I played the role of theater director. The problem was that between shows, I lost my identity. That meant that I rarely took breaks between shows, often double booking myself and working 14-16 hour days all the time. In a rehearsal room, I knew who I was, but I lost my sense of self once I got out of my comfort zone. Being interviewed by the press or meeting with producers was harrowing. I didn’t own my voice and I didn’t know how to find it.

I was hiding behind my role as a theater director. It was time to leave my comfort zone and take a conscious break from theater. What happened after surprised me. Instead of going back to theater, my lifelong love, I became an entrepreneur instead. I found my voice through helping others free theirs. Helping others helped me help myself.

Freeing My Voice

We weren’t taught how to interact with others. We think it should come naturally, but for me, I needed a technique to help me connect with others in a meaningful and authentic way.

Inside Out

Before I could look outside of myself and connect with others, I had to look inward.  I needed to practice vulnerability and connection. For the first time, I started meditating and spending time alone. My father was a lifelong meditator, and we had dabbled in it in acting school, but I always thought I was supposed to turn off my thoughts before being able to “do it right”. Since that was impossible, I always felt like a failure. I started using Headspace, an app which taught me that meditation is not about getting rid of thoughts. There is no “doing it right”. Instead, it’s about not judging yourself for having the thoughts in the first place. That is the practice.

I read The Artist’s Way and took myself on dates alone. For the first time ever, I was asking myself what I wanted to do and I would do it. And yes, sometimes that meant being lazy and not doing anything. I started writing in the morning, which was cringeworthy at first, but helped me hear myself for the first time. My wants, needs and goals became clearer once I was able to listen amidst all the noise.

Outside In

Once I was able to listen to myself without judgment (a constant struggle to this day), I could begin to look outward. In safe situations, I practiced connecting and letting down my guard. I practiced vulnerability by not filling the silences and by allowing myself to be quiet with others. It was extremely uncomfortable but I slowly got more comfortable in the discomfort. I made big physical changes, like dying my hair platinum and changing my wardrobe. Embracing Embodied Cognition made me feel more confident because I would appear more confident which would in turn made me feel more confident.

Owning My Voice

Communication is a muscle and like any skill, the more you do it the easier it gets. Before now I had been avoiding situations that made me feel uncomfortable. I was always terrified that I would spark a panic attack, and when you constantly live in a place of fear it’s impossible to be present and connect with others. I started going to networking events nearly nightly, which happened to coincide with Jackie and I starting this company. The simple act of taking ownership over my fears helped me to move through them, instead of constantly avoiding them.

This Independence Day, I hope you begin the journey towards vocal liberation. Your process for finding, freeing and owning your voice will differ from mine but we all start from the same place: Acknowledging that we are not alone and recognizing that there is something we can do to take ownership over the way we interact in the world.

Small Talk: Follow these tips to transform any interaction from dreaded to productive

Small Talk: Follow these tips to transform any interaction from dreaded to productive

We dread small talk but we don’t have to. Transform small talk into a welcome opportunity with these tips.

You dial into a conference call right on time. It’s just you and another person on the line, and you’re waiting for two more. Your anxiety rises, and you bring up the weather to fill the silence.  “Is it spring yet in Chicago? Here in New York…” it feels fake and forced. Despite your best intentions, you feel trapped by small talk. That’s no way to start any interaction!

Most people despise small talk but I think it gets a bad rap. We don’t want to feel inauthentic. We are not comfortable with silence. We feel pressure to make the interaction work, when in reality, that’s a two person job. How can we feel more in control of these interactions without avoiding them all together?

For introverts especially, it’s essential to transform small talk from a dreaded nuisance to an opportunity to begin a new relationship—even if it’s one that only lasts for 30 seconds.

Here are tips to avoid feeling inauthentic when faced with small talk:

Think Up Topics

Whether you’re heading into a networking event or a wedding, it’s likely you’ll be chatting with someone new. Think of a few relevant topics you can bring up if you feel cornered in an interaction. What new TV shows are you watching, or are you taking a trip sometime soon? People love to talk about themselves so ask questions and go beyond the weather.

“It’s Not You…”

We feel pressure to perform in small talk situations. Reframe the experience and make it all about the person you’re talking to. Focus on making them feel comfortable. Make eye contact and remember their name.  Remember that if you’re uncomfortable so are they. Practice getting more comfortable with being uncomfortable and less afraid of silence.

Make an Exit

The interaction will not last forever (promise!) and it’s okay for you to decide that it is over. Rather than making up an excuse to go to the other side of the room—and then avoiding that person until the end of the night—make a solid exit. “It’s been nice talking to you—I hope you enjoy the rest of the event” is acceptable and respectable when the time has come. It shows you value the interaction and the time spent together and gives you an out as well.

Why doing theater makes you a better communicator and a stronger leader

Why doing theater makes you a better communicator and a stronger leader

Photo: Neil Magnuson and Harold Lehmann in The Resurrection of George (photo by Katie Kline)

At Bespoken, we come from the theater. Learn how theatrical experience makes you a stronger communicator, a better listener and a more effective leader. 

Before Bespoken, Jackie and I devoted most of our time to bringing theater to non-traditional places and voices. I spent years directing plays in basements of bars in Brooklyn. Jackie spent her time helping non-profits and students amplify their voices through the arts.

Theater is a great way to practice thinking on your feet and making a connection. It flexes the muscles of public speaking, storytelling, and intuition. Whether or not you intend to ever take the stage, experience in the theater makes you a stronger communicator. It can even make you a better leader.

“Great stories happen to those who can tell them.” – Ira Glass

Storytelling is the most effective way to get ideas out into the world. And scientific evidence backs this up. Paul Zak’s research proved that when the brain produces oxytocin (which happens when we hear stories), people are more “trustworthy, generous, charitable, and compassionate.” Research shows that after a presentation, 63% of the audience remembers stories while only 5% remember statistics. Playwrights constantly edit their stories to make them more efficient and actors then have a daily audience on which to test it out and pivot in order to make their storytelling more effective.  Takeaway: Theater is the quickest way to hone your storytelling skills on the page and on the stage, giving you immediate feedback from a live audience—and invaluable resource.

“At times you have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of you intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.” – Alan Alda

If an actor has one job, it is to explore and exert empathy. In rehearsal, actors examine and uncover a character’s intentions, backgrounds, motivations and objectives. And if it’s not immediately clear in the text, they use their imagination to dream it up. Understanding a character (even an unlikeable one) and portraying them truthfully onstage is no small feat. The magic of live theater means that actors continue to explore the limits of their own empathy with an audience in the room every single night. And because anything can change at a moment’s notice we have to listen—to our fellow actors, to the audience, to ourselves. The fate of the play depends on it. Takeaway: Practice active listening and being in someone else’s shoes to build intuition, a necessary skill for any leader.   

“Please use your voice. Refuse to be silenced. Make the work. Turn your rage into action. Find your inspiration. Find your resistance and resilience. Hold it close. Get loud.” — Leigh Silverman

In theater school, we train our voices and bodies to be receptive. Passionate emotion is available—not because it is forced but because the actor knows how to access it in a truthful way. We build our voices to be able to fill a 500-seat theater and work our bodies to be malleable, depending on a character’s needs. We know how to be heard, and how to make a point as effectively as possible. Takeaway: Work with a vocal coach or take a movement workshop to flex these muscles, grow your voice and own any room you walk into.  

“No mistakes can be made during rehearsals, only progress toward what works best.” — Jim Jarmusch

Actors practice practicing—that’s all rehearsal is. Rehearsal is where preparation meets collaboration. Actors rehearse to be truthful, so that when they get onstage (the least natural environment of all) nothing can go wrong. They have prepared for every possible scenario, and a good director makes sure of it. Takeaway: The technique of preparation and the discipline of rehearsal are transferable skills, whether you are practicing for a keynote speech, preparing for a team meeting or having a challenging conversation with an employee. 

“The only safe thing is to take a chance.” — Mike Nichols

The first rule of improv is to say “Yes”. Another improv rule is to make statements, not ask questions. Improv is about getting comfortable not knowing what comes next. It’s a safe space to practice being in charge while also being collaborative and positive. Improv helps you improve communication, self-confidence and projecting yourself as a leader. It’s why improv classes for professionals have been so popular in the past few years. Takeaway: If you have trouble thinking on your feet or speaking off-the-cuff in meetings, throw yourself in the deep-end and take an improv class. 

So, flex your theatrical muscles, even if you never intend to take the stage. Take an improv class, write a screenplay, or work with a coach. And let us know how it goes!

Money Talks: How to communicate your value in financial conversations

Money Talks: How to communicate your value in financial conversations

When it comes to conversations about money, are you positioning yourself for success (or are you avoiding the topic altogether)? 

Did you know that nearly half of all Americans say that personal finance is the most challenging topic to talk about? We avoid talking about money even more than we avoid talking about death, politics and religion. A recent Bustle survey of more than 1,000 millennial women found that more than 50% never discuss personal finances with friends, even though 28% feel stressed out about money every single day. Something’s gotta give.

When a recent episode of the podcast Death Sex and Money turned to personal finance, the conversation got awkward and heated. Sallie Krawcheck, the founder of Ellevest, has spent her life in conversations about money and host Anna Sale is one of the greatest interviewers out there. How can we embark on these conversations in a way that feels productive and safe when there’s so much risk involved?

We know that we’re avoiding conversations about money with our bosses, partners and clients. But are we also avoiding conversations about money with ourselves? Is there such a deep-seated fear of our financial futures that we avoid thinking about it entirely? As communication coaches, we see this avoidance when it comes to speaking in public. In fact, 74% of us are terrified of public speaking, and most of us fear it more than death (sound familiar?).

The Gender Gap 

I recently co-hosted a webinar about communicating your value with Savvy Ladies, an organization that provides invaluable personal finance education for women. It got me thinking about the connection between communication and success. According to Gloria Steinem, “Nothing changes the gender equation more significantly than women’s economic freedom”, but how can we set ourselves up for financial success if we can’t communicate our worth?

We recently commemorated #EqualPayDay but women still early 80 cents to the dollar that men make. And that’s only for white women–women of color earn significantly less. At the rate of change between 1960 and 2015, women are expected to reach pay equity with men in 2059. Well, we’re not going to wait that long!

To fill the gap, we need tools to help us have these conversations with each other (and ourselves). We need tools to communicate confidently and ask for what we want! Especially because women experience unconscious bias (check out my recent article on women and executive presence in the workplace). Whether you are an entrepreneur pitching your services to a client, a freelancer valuing your time, or a professional asking for a raise, follow these steps to prepare and practice for conversations about money.

Articulate Your Goal

If there was a newspaper headline for the conversation, what would it say? Craft one for yourself and return to it as you wait for the conversation to happen. Be deliberate and picky with the words you choose. Make it personal and specific!

Before the conversation, identify unconscious behaviors like qualifiers (Kind of, Just, I think), filler (You know, Uh, Um) and apologies (I’m sorry, uptalk). Unconscious behaviors create gray areas which can cause you to come off as less confident than you are, and no one needs that!

Take Up More Space

If your default posture is hunched, you’re likely to go further in that direction in challenging conversations. Instead, practice opening your body language–uncross your arms and legs, find your center and lead from the chest.

Literally take up more space with the sound of your voice. Don’t rush, and imagine the sound of your voice hitting the walls. And wear shoes that make you feel powerful! Embracing Embodied Cognition makes you feel and appear more confident.

Connect Don’t Convince 

Talking about money is hard because it makes us vulnerable–we have something to lose and that’s never fun. It’s likely that the person you’re talking to feels vulnerable too. Instead of trying to convince them to give you that raise, focus on making a connection instead. Maintain eye contact–even if they divert their eyes, remain present with them.

Eye contact also releases a chemical called phenylethylamine which simulates being in love. The person you are speaking to will automatically feel a personal connection to you. When talking about money, that’s a win-win.

Code-switching: Connect with Your Audience

Code-switching: Connect with Your Audience

What Is Code-Switching?

Linguists traditionally define code-switching as, “the practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation.”  A more contemporarily relevant definition factors in race and identity.  For example, the minds at NPR’s aptly named Code Switch blog offer this framing, “Many of us subtly, reflexively change the way we express ourselves all the time. We’re hop-scotching between different cultural and linguistic spaces and different parts of our own identities — sometimes within a single interaction.”  

President Obama was often cited for his ability to code-switch effectively and flawlessly.  He’d put his audience at ease, making them feel he was just like them by the way he spoke to them.  Without undermining his undeniable position of authority in the exchange.  This video from 2009 shows then President-elect Obama at Ben’s Chili Bowl, a famous eatery in a historically African-American section of Washington D.C.  When the cashier asks President Obama if he needs change from his purchase, Obama replies, “nah, we straight.”  I think it’s fair to say, had President Obama been purchasing refreshment at a restaurant located in a predominantly white neighborhood he may have answered differently.

How can code-switching help me connect with an audience?

One of the most important questions to ask yourself when prepping for a public speaking opportunity is, “Who is my audience?”  A clear understanding of your audience is important for a number of reasons.  Not least of which is so you can decide how you should talk to them.  For example, the language and tone I would use when presenting to a group of high school seniors preparing for college interviews would differ markedly from a workshop with high level corporate executives about to speak to investors. With the group of high school students I may find myself peppering my talk with informal qualifiers such as, “Totally” and “Amazing”.  While in a more formal and corporate setting, my grammar would understandably be more formal and precise.  Yet the underlying similarity in both these situations is it’s still my voice. I’m still me.

Using code-switching to your benefit

I like the reasons Somali author, Roda Osman ascribes to code-switching.  She says, “I regularly use code switching for three reasons: lizard brain, fitting in and getting something.”  Lizard brain she defines as something the brain does automatically.  I think the latter two reasons are the most powerful because they involve deliberate choice.  At Bespoken we often say “your power is your choice” and I think it is doubly true when it comes to choosing the words you’ll use to connect with your audience.  The next time you find yourself preparing to speak publicly take the time to reflect on the language you want to use.  It’s another powerful communication tool to have in your back pocket.

Office Politics: Talking about the election at work

Office Politics: Talking about the election at work

Is it still possible to keep politics out of the office? 

Your co-worker has had a skip in her step the past few weeks. You’ve disagreed over the years but you’ve agreed on one thing—to not talk politics at work. A client references the election, your co-worker smirks and your blood boils. You won’t make it four more days (let alone four years) in this environment.

The far-reaching implications of this particular election make it difficult to not talk politics in professional communication. It’s never been riskier (or more unavoidable) to talk about an election. More than a quarter of working Americans reported at least one negative outcome as a result of political discussions at work during this election season.

According to a VitalSmarts survey, 9 out of 10 people feel the 2016 elections are more polarizing and controversial than the 2012 elections and 1 in 4 say they’ve had a political discussion hurt a relationship. Ouch.

Talking politics at work right now is like walking into a minefield. It may be unavoidable, but these tips will optimize your chance of coming out unscathed:

Set the stage

Be intentional in setting up the conversation. Acknowledge the problem and invite your co-worker to have a discussion about it. Schedule it at a mutually convenient time (that may mean scheduling it in the future to let emotions settle). Set some parameters, which may include having another co-worker act as mediator.

Agree on ground rules

It’s your conversation and you should set some rules together. Discuss your desired outcome. Take breaks every 20 minutes. Decide to make eye contact. Pick a neutral space.  This helps build a productive environment before you start talking about the tough stuff.

Implement tools

We need tools when discussing politics in any situation and this is especially true at work. According to Harvard Business Review, with these four simple tools you are 5 times more likely to be seen as diplomatic, 4 times more likely to be seen as likable, 140% more persuasive and 180% more likely to maintain relationships with others: 1. Focus on learning and be curious about their perspective, 2. Ask for permission to have the conversation, 3. Over-communicate your respect for the other person and 4. Focus on common ground by looking for areas of agreement.

Share these tips with your co-worker so you are starting from the same place.  Let us know how it goes!

How to Communicate Through Grief: Election 2016 Edition

How to Communicate Through Grief: Election 2016 Edition

I was preparing a post on women’s voices. You won’t see it this week but I promise to post it in the next few weeks.

Let’s talk about grief.

We all react differently in tough times. And if you feel personally threatened, as so many people rightfully do after this ugly election, it’s dangerous and destructive to downplay any part of the process. Grief and trauma are complicated. They require time to process, heal and reflect. They require self-awareness and above all self-compassion.

Connected communication has been hard. I’m avoiding eye contact and going inside myself more than usual. It can become a downward spiral but luckily, my clients remind me of the importance of clear, compassionate communication, even after witnessing such a failure of such last week. I’m inspired by them.

Grief has been familiar territory to me this year. We lost my grandma, my father-in-law and multiple beloved relatives all to cancer, all within a few months. Each painful passing was followed by a thoroughly confusing time. This post is my attempt to break it down and make these times a bit more manageable.  Here are some tools for these hard times.

When in shock: Breathe

Telling someone to take a deep breath when grieving can send them straight to the next phase: Rage, so let’s be specific. Breathe in through your mouth and out through your nose to ground you (do the opposite for an energy boost). Practice ujjai pranayama and use the GIF below to guide you. Taking a deep breath re-oxygenates your blood and has the tendency to soothe the Central Nervous System. Even just focusing your attention on your breath can help you not to downward spiral or do anything you’ll regret.

When raging: Speak

Seeing red can lead to destructive behaviors and more downward spirals. Instead, release energy through sound. Vocalize, sing, speak, scream. Do karaoke, go to an open mic, take a self-defense class, or sing in the shower. Avoid heated conversations and internet fights at all costs and instead, manufacture a release of energy through sound.

When grieving: Articulate

Start by writing out your thoughts in free form. Write a few paragraphs or a few pages without judgement. Throw out what doesn’t work, take what does and bring it forward into the next draft. Do that a few times. Organize your thoughts into a story. Consolidate your unique perspective into bullet points. Be ruthless with the plot points you include, with the words you choose to express your point of view and with the way you choose to tell your story of this moment in time. Consider your audience as well which will help you towards objectivity and inclusion (welcome traits when we feel scared and emotional).

I know we’re all in different places. I know we all come from different experiences but I hope you find these tools thoughtful, useful and helpful. I hope they are universal, actionable and specific. I hope they give you something to do. Let me know if they do. And know that I am with you.

Business Communication Skills for Women: UNapologize

Business Communication Skills for Women: UNapologize

Last week, Bespoken co-founder Leah Bonvissuto co-hosted a Twitter chat with New York Women in Communications, Inc. (follow them @NYWICI) to give women tips and tools to UNapologize, and other communication and presentation skills. You tuned in with questions and comments about the challenges of effective communication in a male-driven workplace and we hope the chat gave you more ownership over how you communicate. If you missed it, check out the recap here, and here are some takeaways:

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-7-15-10-pm screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-7-28-06-pm screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-7-28-15-pm screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-7-28-28-pm screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-7-29-30-pm screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-7-30-02-pm

FOX_0187Inspired to help people own their voice and be heard, Bespoken was founded in 2014 by Leah Bonvissuto and Jackie Miller. Friends who met in acting school a decade before, Leah and Jackie channel years of professional theater experience into developing techniques to help people speak their story with power and precision.

Are you being heard? Putting amplification into practice.

Are you being heard? Putting amplification into practice.

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.

BeSpoken March 2016 © Julienne Schaer
Bespoken Co-Founder Leah Bonvissuto

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.

The Roadblock

A report by McKinsey and 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?

The Solution

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.

The Tools

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. Find more tips on deep breathing in our #BEprepared video series here.


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.

UNapologize yourself this Tuesday, September 20th. We’re co-hosting a Twitter chat with New York Women in Communications, Inc. about how too many of us apologize way too often. Follow @BespokenNY and #nywiciChat for tips!



FOX_0187Inspired to help people own their voice and be heard, Bespoken was founded in 2014 by Leah Bonvissuto and Jackie Miller. Friends who met in acting school a decade before, Leah and Jackie channel years of professional theater experience into developing techniques to help people speak their story with power and precision.