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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:

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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 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?

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.

Be the Change You Wish to See in 2016

Be the Change You Wish to See in 2016

Bespoken’s Guide to Making (Lasting) Change in the New Year

You may be hoping that the New Year brings a New You—but we all know it’s never quite that easy. Change is scary. At least that’s how it can feel. Change takes time and is also constant—but it’s the big changes that shake us up and move us out of our comfort zones. And here’s the thing—change is hard, but it doesn’t have to be! Bespoken invites you to #BEthechange you wish to see in 2016 with these steps:

Acknowledge it

“Step out of your comfort zone,” is a phrase we often hear.  Turn and face the strange ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.  And yes, it is going to be uncomfortable.  Acknowledge the excitement, anxiety and fear that naturally come when you do something completely new and unfamiliar. The simple act of embracing these feelings will not only give you strength to persevere, but also empower you to ask for support when you need it.

Look back to go forward

It’s not about the New You—it’s about the You that got you to where you are today. Replace judgment with curiosity and a sense of humor as you take a trip down the memory lane of 2015. You need to know where you’ve been to know where you want to go.

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Maya Angelou

Set an intention

For many of us, resolutions can become a list of semi-vague do’s and don’ts—eat better, drink less, wake up earlier, watch less TV—leading to inevitable (and destructive) disappointment and self-beratement. Instead, set an intention for yourself and for the year. It should be universal and specific at the same time. Make it positive and affirmative. It should feel silly, exciting and new—but most importantly it should speak to you on a deeply personal level!

Make a plan

You know where you’re going, but getting there may be unclear and overwhelming. Put a plan in place to help you succeed, led by the intention you set for yourself. You can write it down, throw it away and start again as many times as you want. Do a practice run over a weekend to anticipate roadblocks and challenges. Refine it. Make it work for you. Include a fail-safe to ensure you know how to pick yourself back up when you (inevitably) fall down.

Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. George Bernard Shaw

Change your mindset

There is no right or wrong when you are venturing into the unknown. Let fear turn to curiosity as you observe your own reactions to change. This is a new and exciting experiment! Listen to yourself and observe what happens to your body in new situations. If you have a tendency to retreat, structure in alone time at the end of the day. If you have physical signs of anxiety, remind yourself that it is your body’s natural reaction to the strenuous process of change.

Share your experience

Start a blog. Share on social media. Acknowledge what you’re going through in conversations. Meditate alone or in a group (Headspace is a great way to start). Be a source of strength and support for someone going through something similar. The more you share your experience, the less alone you will feel. Slowly but surely you will realize that your experience is, in many ways, a shared one.

How can you know what you’re capable of if you don’t embrace the unknown? Esmeralda Santiago

Shake up your routine

As creatures of habit, it can feel like a shock to integrate big changes all at once. Start impossibly small. Wake up half an hour early. Set one goal for each morning and complete it. Think of one thing you’ve always told yourself you could not do and do it. Take yourself on a date. Surprise yourself. And don’t forget to fail—it’s the only surefire way to move forward.

Go outside-in

Making a physical change literally alters the way the world sees you which in turn alters the way you see the world. It doesn’t have to be drastic or big—dye your hair! buy a new hat! change your glasses!—but it should feel monumental to you. And remember to stay active—physical activity gets you out of your head and into your body.

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. John F. Kennedy

Be your own best friend

We all do it. We apologize. We beat ourselves up. Sometimes our internal critic is so vocal and self-assured that it can take quite some time to unravel the habit of believing every word it says to be true. #UNapologize yourself. Literally take care of yourself—that means not beating yourself up for beating yourself up either. Defend yourself the way you would your best friend. When you tell yourself you can’t do something, refuse to take it as a given. Practice sticking up for yourself, whenever you get the chance.

Change it up

Treat your process as a living document rather than a rule book with consequences. Be a willing participant in your journey. Make changes constantly. Make it work for you—not for anyone else. Remember that you are in control of the expectations you set for yourself! Work in little victories. Celebrate each win. Return to your intention. And if you fall, which you will, get back up again and keep moving forward.


Bespoken is a coaching firm based in New York dedicated to empowering professionals and entrepreneurs to speak with conviction and communicate with confidence through customized 1×1 and small group coaching. We believe everyone has an innate ability to communicate purposefully and powerfully. www.bespokenpartners.com.

#UNapologize Yourself: How To Put Yourself Out There

#UNapologize Yourself: How To Put Yourself Out There

We’re all guilty of it: Apologizing. The onslaught of chatter about Impostor Syndromevocal fry and pay gaps may have us thinking it’s a female problem, but we all do it. We backpedal. We trip over and lose our words. The internet has made creativity immediate and accessible but it has spread an almost contagious blanket of near-constant self-doubt. We apologize for everything—but mostly we apologize for ourselves.

Start listening for it. Watch it happen. It’s like a jealous best friend who can’t stand to see you happy. That great idea you just had? It’s been done, and better, she says. Good grief. You would never encourage a best bud to hang out with a friend like that, so why would you?

It’s a process: UNapologizing yourself. It takes time and courage. But the next time you have a glimmer of a dream in the corner of your eye and a voice inside tells you why you can’t achieve it, ask yourself—Why not? Follow it through. If it’s something you can’t immediately change—resources, safety or skill—you have work to do. If the answer comes in the form of an apology—Seriously, you think that’s a good idea? You’re just crazy. You’ll mess it up—it’s time to UNapologize yourself.

The work of UNapologizing starts and ends with awareness. Awareness of your body and of your voice. Awareness of your strengths and weaknesses. Awareness of yourself in time, space, content and form. Awareness of what you want to say and the impression you want to make. Awareness of who you are and what you have to offer and refusing to apologize for it!

Apologizing is easy, but only because it’s so familiar. For some of us it’s an impulse we can’t even see. For others it’s a habit we can’t seem to shake. For me it’s always been fear of fear itself. Anyone who’s ever had a bad experience public speaking knows that nerves breed nerves, and bad experiences lead to more bad experiences. But actors have nerves too. The exact rush that keeps an actor coming back for more can be paralyzing and crippling. Olivier had itGandhi had it. Even Hugh Grant has it. To combat the fear of feeling powerless an actor practices committing. They rehearse in a safe space so that they understand what they’re saying, where they’re going and why they’re there. Once they are confident in their choices, they can tell a story, get out of their own way and make a connection an audience will never forget.

It’s not about becoming someone else—that’s not what actors do, after all—it’s about harnessing all that you are and refusing to apologize for it. But it’s up to you to make the choice to UNapologize yourself. And when you do that, you trick your mind into believing everything you say to be true. Because it is, you just didn’t know it yet. And when you believe it, others will too. In UNapologizing, you stood up for yourself. You did something proactive in the face of fear instead of letting the big bad happen to you. And it felt real good. Maybe you’ll do it again sometime. That’s how it all starts.

Putting yourself out there is scary. UNapologizing is scary. But only because we’re out of practice. Once you become aware of it, you start to understand it and only then can you get underneath it, make it yours and ultimately use it. As Lady Gaga said: “Slowly but surely I remembered who I am.”