About half the women we train struggle to sound as authoritative as they would like – when presenting or being interviewed by a journalist, or on camera. It is often something that is relatively easily improved, if not fixed.
Here are my top tips for appearing more authoritative
1. Prepare mentally
One of the very obvious patterns we see as trainers is that people find public speaking or being interviewed so uncomfortable, they really don’t want to think about it until they absolutely have to. If this is the case, my first suggestion (of course) would be to find someone to pay for training with The Media Coach. We really can help. Failing that, be aware that, like an exam or a job interview you cannot give it your best shot without thinking about it. By preparing mentally I mean articulate, to yourself, how you want to come across. I know this sounds self-obsessed, but it really works. Identify the version of you that you want your audience to see. ‘Confident’ is not necessarily the most useful adjective here – I prefer words like warm or kind, definite or flexible, trustworthy, knowledgeable, in control, etc. It would be really useful to remember a time when you felt all those things on your list and as NLP practitioners would say ‘hear what you heard, see what you saw, feel what you felt’. In other words, tell your subconscious as clearly as possible – ‘that’s it’! That is the person I want to be when I stand up. If you can’t find a version of yourself, find a role model. Practise thinking yourself into this ‘mood’ or ‘mind-set’.
2. Body language
You want your body language to communicate the image of you that you have identified in step one. This usually means shoulders back, chin parallel to the floor (not tipped up or down) and then consciously relax a little. Breathe. Shake your shoulders out without losing the frame. Again, stepping into a controversial area one easy thing to try is the power-pose. Some believe that simply standing for a minute or two in a powerful pose – hands on hips, legs apart – can trick your brain into feeling more powerful. Others think this is bunkum. But it costs nothing except a couple of minutes to try. And, at the very least, those two minutes might give you time to remind yourself of the sort of person you want to project. One word of warning please do this in private or in a safe environment. Power-posing in public is guaranteed to lead to ridicule as it did for Sajid Javid last year.
I know I have said this many times before, including in a recent blog post. But I cannot leave it out. Authoritative, confident people do things in their own time and are not overly influenced by the excitement or energy of others. You can control a room with silence. But baby steps first, take a breath, pause, gather your thoughts and you will sound more authoritative.
4. Slow down
Obviously, closely related to the pause but not the same. Many people and in particular women speak too fast (myself included). What stems initially from insecurity, fear of boring others or a desire not be bored yourself, becomes a bad habit that is difficult to shake. The ideal is to be able to consciously vary the pace you speak, slowing down when you need the thinking time, or you are trying to land a point but speeding up when it is unimportant detail. But the first step is to get control of the speed. I spend quite a lot of my coaching time finding ways to help people to speak more slowly.
5. People pleasing
Not exclusively a female trait but seen more often in young women than in other groups. It can take various forms but often involves too much smiling or an unconscious verbal agreement with the other person talking: as in ‘yes/sure/absolutely’ etc. When coaching some people, I will often try asking them to act really irritated, grumpy or annoyed. When they do, and we record and playback, what we get is a million miles from grumpy, but it just sounds a bit more definite and authoritative. It is difficult to gauge this for yourself without the help of either an audio or video recording.
6. Lower voice
Margaret Thatcher famously had coaching to lower her voice – you can judge for yourself from this video if you think it was an improvement. Personally, there are a lot of other things I would change (for example she is too slow) but it does show what can be done.
One of the most useful bits of self-help advice I ever had was ‘be careful what you say when you talk to yourself’. Negative self-chatter is stressful and life-sapping. Having high standards, being critical of yourself is one thing, but constant self-sabotage is very common and hugely damaging. I once made a terrible mistake in a public speaking competition – as MC I forgot to introduce the person who was to give the vote of thanks. I was, at the time, absolutely mortified. However, I had a great boyfriend who said: let’s be clear you got up and had a go when most people wouldn’t. You can hold your head up high. Speak kindly and encouragingly when you talk to yourself.
My own view is that putting a bit of effort into conquering a fear of public speaking and moulding your communication style can pay huge dividends in life. I often hear from former clients and I remember one young woman terrified of public speaking who made huge progress on one of our courses. Two years later she wrote to thank me and tell me she had become an ‘ambassador’ for one policy initiative in the UN, had completely changed her job and her life and now routinely did large policy presentations. The word empowering is overused but being able to speak confidently in public is genuinely empowering.