Christine K. Jahnke is a Washington, D.C.-based speech coach who prepped Michelle Obama for her first international speech as First Lady before the International Olympic Committee in 2009.
Practicing beforehand, she noticed that "the First Lady's posture appeared a bit slumped in the shoulders," Jahnke writes in her new book, The Well-Spoken Woman, which draws upon her 20 years of experience helping both men and women to "stand and deliver," as she puts it.
The First Lady told Jahnke she'd been coached previously to "settle in" at the lectern by placing her hands and forearms on top of it. This was poor advice- particularly for the tall and statuesque Mrs. Obama- as it caused her shoulders to hunch forward, making her chest collapse, impairing the First Lady's abilty to project assertiveness visually and imparing her speaking voice as well.
The "champion stance" advocated by Jahnke is simple: It's based on rolling the shoulders backward so one's shoulder blades slide down the back of the body. This will automatically lift your heart and coax you to lift your chin and lengthen your neck as well, changing a cocoon-like stance into something much more open, strong, and assured looking. Even your mood may change noticeably as you present yourself in this new manner.
Speaking to eFinancialCareers, Jahnke said that women often come off as self-effacing. So, when seated during an interview, for instance, take care to notice how you take your seat. "Sit up, lean forward from the waist," just slightly, and drop the shoulders back," Jahnke says. (Do some backward shoulder rolls for practice to get the hang of it beforehand.)
Watch your hand signals
As for hands: "Never sit with one hand placed demurely on top of the other at the edge of the desk." Instead, "put both forearms on the table up to the elbow in a V-shape, with one hand on top of the other. Here your hands are in a great position to gesture when you want to," Jahnke says. But keep your hands quiet when you're in the act of listening-take care not to lace the fingers or fiddle with jewelry.
Monitor your sound
And don't forget to be aware of your speaking voice-its pace and pitches are particularly critical.
"The voice is the most overlooked, underappreciated tool you have available," says the speech coach. Most important are the following:
- In terms of pace, a conversational rate of about 150 words per minute is one many broadcasters use so most audiences are familiar with it. Don't speak too quickly out of nervousness.
- As for pitch, remember that a lower tone connotes more authority and expertise. "Slow down and lower your tone and all of the sudden whatever you say will sound more important," says Jahnke. Remember too, everything you say should not sound the same. The ideal voice mixes high and low tones.
- Remember to pause. It will give you time to think before you speak and it will give you a chance to breathe, which will go a long way toward reducing any nervousness.
Finally, don't be afraid to use the "I" word. Women in finance may know this already but it bears repeating: "In today's job market, if you're not ready to talk about your accomplishments in the first person you're at a great disadvantage," says the speech coach. It's fine to talk about teamwork, so long as you describe yourself-in no uncertain terms-as the take-charge professional who strategically positioned and lead that team.
"So many of the women I work with have this great discomfort with blowing their own horn," says Jahnke, but it only gets in their way. She points to former Bank of America executive Sallie Krawcheck as an example of a woman who is willing to speak her mind. "She's willing to add a women's perspective, which is not always valued, but if women don't do that, things are never going to change" for women on Wall Street, and women worldwide.