Post by Jane K. Stimmler, contributing Women On Business writer
When I was giving a workshop to a group of women leaders in the field of education a couple of years ago, we reached the segment on self-promotion. Each participant took time to prepare her 2 minute “elevator speech” and when volunteers were called for, several women raised their hands. We had just covered the key issues for women in the area of communication, and I had stressed the need to focus on your message, keeping it short and to the point. The first volunteer began to speak – and speak – and speak – well, you get the idea. She veered way off course and went far beyond her allotment of time.
There seems to be disagreement among experts in the field about how many words women use in a day versus men – some studies show women using 20,000 words a day versus 7,000 for men, and other research says it’s about the same. But one thing is certain from my experience – when women talk too long in business settings, others (especially the men) turn off. The result of this is that women are often unable to get their voices heard and get credit for their good ideas. For the sake of your business success, it is vital to be a focused, strategic communicator!
In a business meeting, for example, don’t let yourself get bogged down in minutia. Women frequently process their thoughts out loud before coming to a conclusion. This can be interpreted as rambling – especially by the opposite sex, and it devalues the message. It’s important to make clear statements about how what you’re saying fits in with the discussion, and not get caught up in details to the exclusion of the broader strategy. Make it clear that you have the big picture in mind, and use the ‘who-does-what’ details to support the strategy, not drive it. Instead of talking about a vision for the future, or the impact of a project, women often talk about the specific steps needed to solve a problem or drive an initiative forward. While this is a practical approach and the details will need to be thought-out to move the project ahead, don’t allow yourself to be pegged as simply an “implementer.”
Here is a tip from the book Breaking Into the Boys’ Club.
It’s sometimes difficult to assess your own style. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to find out if you stay on message:
- Do people tell you they don’t understand what you’re getting at?
- Has feedback you’ve received shown you that you are frequently misunderstood?
- Do you often notice that you’ve forgotten the point you were trying to make?
- Do you find yourself rambling when you speak?
- Do people finish your sentences?
If you find that your message delivery needs improvement, try using notes to keep yourself on message, using the power of silence more effectively, and pausing to check periodically that you are being understood.
Have you found yourself veering off course in business conversation? What stories and advice do you have?