National Small Business Week
This is National Small Business Week and I was fortunate to be invited to a Chase-sponsored networking event in White Plains, NY this week honoring Small Businesses. It was a breakfast event at Sams of Gedney Way, a popular local restaurant, and featured Gilda Bonanno, a well-known speaker. The theme of the event was Women Empowering Each Other and the topic of the presentation was “Developing Leadership Presence: Confidence, Competence and Composure”.
After introductions and a Continental Breakfast of assorted pastries, rolls, quiche and fresh fruit, we settled down to listen to Gilda’s thoughts on how to speak confidently and exude leadership. Gilda is an engaging speaker who offers numerous practical examples and makes her points relevant for all situations. The attendees included lawyers, entrepreneurs, executives, customer-care employees, accountants and HR personnel among others. The presentation included advice and pointers that were useful across the board. Here are some of the highlights that stayed with me and which you may find useful as well:
The overarching message about Leadership Presence was to grasp the importance of perception as well as our mastery of the subject matter and ability to execute. The entire package mattered. Expertise delivered poorly was just as bad as a commanding personality that delivered platitudes.
Some sure-fire ways to develop Confidence were to eliminate negative self-talk and replace with positive phrases. “I got this” or “I am prepared” or "I’ve done this before”.
Delivery and Voice mattered. A great example was shared of an account rep who was top-notch, knew her subject matter and was prepared and yet never got the account. The client always asked for another rep. It turned out that her talking pattern involved something called ‘uptalk’ – ending all sentences with a question – which left the client with the impression that she was not mature enough or professional enough to be given the account.
Competence was the second pillar of the presentation. Besides the obvious suggestion to become an expert on your subject matter – “know your stuff” – it was critical to prepare and rehearse for presentations, discussions, negotiations, sales calls or meetings. Winging it inevitably resulted in rambling or worse, a talk filled with filler words such as ‘um’, ‘sort of’, ‘kinda’, ‘you know’. Gilda stressed the importance of listening back to your own speech to catch your own filler words. Playing back a voicemail to yourself or a recording on your cell phone is an easy way to test how you actually sound and what others hear. It may also let you know if you are speaking too fast or if your tone or pitch needs to be modulated.
My biggest takeaway from the morning was learning about the insidious way we use minimizing language in our everyday speech. We were encouraged to watch out for the gross overuse of the word ‘just’ in our language. “I just want to ask a question”. “I just wanted to say”. “I just want you to know”. The word ‘just’ injects an unconscious tentative note in each of those comments. Eliminating it makes each statement stronger. We are trying this at our office and have already caught ourselves numerous times!
Finally Composure: Who amongst us has not been nervous before a big presentation or meeting. The trick to developing composure is to visualize, be prepared, pause and think before reacting, and being authentic. It often helps to employ the simple technique of returning to a favorite color, pair of shoes, lucky pin or a well-fitting outfit to provide comfort and familiarity. Here’s a technique I learned several years ago before giving a presentation to a large group. To minimize opening jitters, I was instructed to learn the first 2 minutes by heart and deliver it almost on auto-pilot. Once the first couple of minutes are done, you inevitably settle into your routine and a rhythm.
So for all the Small Business Owners out there – kudos to keeping the doors open, providing employment to millions, juggling the diverse tasks each day and finding the fortitude to keep going. We salute you!