Lillian Bjorseth: Why women leaders need to speak up to be heard

Filed under Women

By Lillian Bjorseth

Guest Columnist

Lillian Bjorseth offers advice to women on getting their message across

Communication consultant Lillian Bjorseth offers advice to women leaders on getting their message across. Photo courtesy of Duoforce Enterprises.

Women, it’s not enough to know what you know. You have to sound as if you know what you know.

Have you ever been in a meeting and made a really good point, yet people keep right on talking? Shortly thereafter, a man makes the same point and he is lauded for his great contribution. And you think to yourself, “That was my point!”

It’s time to “stand up” and take credit for your contributions. It means being more assertive and possibly even unlearning some of the things your mother taught you in good faith.

Don’t be afraid to kick up your volume a notch or two in a meeting, especially when people are speaking simultaneously or another starts the second someone has finished.

Lower your pitch. While society equates authority with a lower pitch, most women are born with a higher-pitched voice. You can practice lowering it whenever you are alone. A good tip before answering the phone is to say, “low, low” and then “hello” into the receiver. It avoids that higher-pitched “hi” or “hello” that often happens when it is the first word said. Your first words leave a lasting impression.

Vary your tone. Add interest by emphasizing different words to get your meaning across. One of my favorite exercises when teaching presentation skills involves giving a sentence different meanings simply by emphasizing different words. This also is an important skill if you spend a lot of time on conference calls, where body language is absent.

Similarly, watch your inflection, which involves varying your pitch to achieve your purpose. It’s often common to raise your pitch on the last word when you are asking a question. “Are you going home?” Keep your pitch the same or lower it when asking questions. Pitches that are higher than normal indicate nervousness or fear. That’s not what you want to convey in a meeting. Someone may take advantage you and try to push you into a corner if you seem nervous.

Keep your rate at an even keel. Speaking too quickly also can indicate nervousness and make it more difficult for others to follow your logic. Speaking too slowly might suggest lack of knowledge or concern about being inaccurate, and it is guaranteed to make “type A”  personalities want to finish your sentences.

Get used to interrupting and interruptions. As women, you may have been taught that it is impolite to interrupt and wait until someone is finished speaking. While that’s generally true, it is not always the way the business world works. Choose your situations wisely. If two of you start speaking simultaneously, crank up the volume and keep speaking. Men usually think they will get the stage because they speak louder.

Be well prepared, professional and get credit for what you know.

Lillian Bjorseth of Lisle is a speaker, trainer, coach and author specializing in communication and face-to-face networking. Contact her at This article first appeared in a Duoforce Enterprises newsletter and is posted here with permission.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login