This is what I presented live to the Impact Hub Ottawa last week. We coaches were asked to explain what we can offer the members in ‘about a minute’. Stories and metaphor can help you get out of your own head and elevate your message at the same time, but it takes courage. I had the late great Irish poet, John O’Donohue help me out. It might have cost me 13 extra seconds, but he’s alway worth it.
Sometimes it’s not the moments before a presentation, podcast, or speech when the stress hits you. Sometimes it’s after it’s all done that anxiety hits hardest: Was I rambling? Did I make sense? Did I really say that?
If you’ve been asked to be a guest on a podcast, even though it seems like it’ll just be a nice conversation, it’s still wise to be prepared. It can reduce stress both before and after your engagement.
I was recently a guest on the Don’t Be a Jerk at Work Podcast, hosted by the fabulous Tara Kemes and Sandy Gunn.
I *might* have some regrets.
I prepared for it. I had been given most of the questions ahead of time, which was really helpful. (Thanks Tara and Sandy!) I had a number of stories queued up and main messages I wanted to convey. Here is what my prep looked like:
Because of this prep, I had an absolute blast. I told a story off the top that I actually hadn’t planned on telling. (On re-listen, I can almost hear the gears turning in my head as I’m deciding whether or not to tell it.) But it worked out and it got me through the most stressful part of any interview: the first three minutes.
I practiced what I do for my clients: I prepared so that I could be myself. I had a great time. Still, I had some post-game regret about that story I hadn’t planned to tell. For me, there is always post-game regret, but I handle it better than I used to. Preparation takes care of a lot of it, but there are always things I think I could have said better, there are things I wish I’d said, and things I wish I didn’t say.
But now I don’t dwell on those. I learn from them, and I move on. In fact, that story is one of the best parts of this interview, but there are some pieces I’ll shift on next telling.
Like burning my hand on a stove element: I pull my hand away and learn my lessons. I don’t keep my hand on the burner anymore. Nothing is perfect. That will always be the case in conversations like podcast or panels.
Preparation helps. Learn your lessons. Don’t keep your hand on the burner.
It’s better to say something imperfectly than stay silent. This world needs you.
Get in touch if you’d like help preparing to be a guest for an upcoming podcast or panel.
Prepare to be yourself.
Last month, Chrystia Freeland’s personal story elevated this announcement. Have a look for yourself. It turned an otherwise run-of-the-mill speech (that we all knew was coming) into an opportunity to connect emotionally with the listener. Well done, Deputy Prime Minister.
Add a story to your presentation. It makes all the difference.
A group of people who know me pretty well threw this together. My heart exploded. Never underestimate the power of words. You can make your own here.
I ask my clients to be brave in many ways every day. Here’s where I dare to practice what I preach, and just put it out there. Imperfection for the win!
This is a story I put together for my storytelling group with Adele Fedorak. Such a great way to practice and deliver stories, and Adele is magical. Brace yourself for this one, though. I had to.
Sarra Ismail and I have put together an important new workshop to help people feel more confident pronouncing unfamiliar names.
If you have a name that your colleagues struggle with, we’d be grateful to have a recording of it as a teaching tool for our workshop!
Book a time here for a quick Zoom meeting with Mary so she can get your name right!
Where is your accent from?
Where are you from?
These are questions that can affect people in different ways. For some, it’s a welcome invitation to share information about their rich life experience. But for others—especially those who have been here for years—they are questions they’ve been asked so often that they instantly feel deflated. For yet others, it’s like a smack in the face, making them feel that they don’t belong in this country. I’ve heard from a lot of the latter. Sometimes it’s what brings them to me. They want to sound like they were born and raised in English Canada, just so they can stop getting the questions.
My job is to point out that they are not flawed. This country is.
Fight the urge to ask the question. You can’t know its impact. Where your conversation partner is from is something they may bring up if it’s relevant to the conversation and if they want to share it with you. Until then, think of other things to ask. You know, like those things you ask people who sound the same as you.
I did this video about 30 times. Some versions were hilariously bad. If I gave you my first version, there would have been zero jokes. The humour makes it. I like jokes. I tell jokes. It took me 30 tries to find myself in this 45 second video. Practice really does help. You don’t need to be perfect, you just have to convey who you are. This is me.
I’d be happy to help you be you. Let me know if I can help.
Hey, if anyone out there has a sound or a word or a line or a poem or a speech that’s in you but giving you trouble and you think a speech pathologist can help, find one! I mean, it doesn’t have to be me. This woman, this Amanda Gorman, this spark of joy, this force, couldn’t say the “R” sound a couple of years ago. I’m so glad she figured that out, or she might have hesitated to say yes to the invitation to recite her incredible poem. Here’s an interview about it. Careful, you’re gonna fall in love with her.
If you haven’t yet taken the seven minutes to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger’s speech addressing the attack on the U.S. Capitol, here’s your chance. It’s well written, well delivered, and a perfect example of someone with an accent—a very famous one—delivering a message with absolute clarity. His words are personal, powerful, and crystal clear.
Accent and clarity: not mutually exclusive!
The morning after the Vice-Presidential debates, “I’m speaking” is trending and for obvious reasons. (Along with memes about the fly, but that’s not covered here.)
Women across twitter are celebrating Kamala Harris’ reaction to being interrupted. Because we have all been there. “This is unfortunately the reality for many professional women.”
Regardless of who won or lost that debate (except that obviously she won), I’m interested in how I felt when Kamala demanded her right to keep speaking. Sure, part of me celebrated it. I admired her gumption, her assertiveness, but there was something else.
Once interrupted, Kamala Harris has two choices. She can either be the demure, accommodating woman everyone is comfortable with: the one who smooths things over, doesn’t ruffle feathers, keeps it all positive and civil. She can let Pence take over the conversation and have his say, even though it’s her time. She can be that peace-loving, non-confrontational woman who is rewarded by society.
Or she can assert herself and gain the floor back.
Those are her only two choices. Because he interrupted her. A lot.
Well, Kamala Harris did not find herself in that chair last night by letting those around her take away her time. Would she prefer to simply be able to keep talking to make her point? Yes, of course. But Mike Pence took that option away from her at twice the rate it was done to him.
So she had to gain the floor back from him twice as often. She had to assert herself just to finish her point twice as often as he did. Having to ask for your turn doesn’t really look good on anyone. Think about it. “It’s MY turn!” may be necessary to regain the floor but it may come across negatively, even if our logical brain knows she’s doing what needs to be done. We can use our slow brain to see that she is just being assertive, that Kamala Harris is doing what she has to do to make her point, but our fast brain might judge. Mine did, even though I know better.
The Cost of Interruptions
Every conversation is going to have overlaps. Turn-taking is never perfect, and some of the best exchanges happen in those overlaps. But an imbalance in interruptions creates an impression, because interruptions have a cost. One cost to being interrupted is that regaining your turn could make you look rude or weak—man or woman. If you have to overtly request talking time, it explicitly points out that you have not been afforded respect. You have to tell your partner not to interrupt you, or assert “I’m speaking”. Even if our logical mind can appreciate that it was necessary, and even celebrate it, it’s not really a good look, no matter who you are. I once tried to instruct a group of women on how to graciously counter interruptions. It was a bit of a flop because it’s really an impossible task. “Let me finish”, “I’m speaking”, “It’s my turn,” are always going to leave a bit of a bad taste no matter how justified you are. It’s a reprimand and it highlights the fact that you weren’t respected. But if you’re continually interrupted, it has to be done. That’s the cost of regaining the floor and it’s worth it. Otherwise, you have no voice.
There are even more costs. Interruptions also take a speaker out of the game for a second. Whatever point you were in the middle of making, you have to momentarily abandon to deal with the meta-conversational task of gaining back the floor. On top of that you have to manage any emotion that might have surfaced after being interrupted, especially if you’re a woman of colour. In this debate, Kamala has to push that emotion down or risk looking—oh I don’t know—all that. Once regaining the floor, she then has to re-enter her initial thought that was interrupted. She has lost the flow, and the strength of her point will be greatly diminished, if she manages to find it again at all. And I think last night sometimes she didn’t. It was still a masterful performance, but imagine if she didn’t have to spend all those words defending her time.
The costs of interruptions are great. And Kamala Harris had to pay twice as much as Pence did.
If simply being the accomplished person that she is on the stage where she has earned a seat doesn’t afford her Mike Pence’s respect, then it’s either time to cut the other microphone when each speaker takes their turn, or for the moderator to step in and give Kamala Harris her time back, without her having to ask. (Update: that’s exactly what they did for the subsequent presidential debate.) We can argue about whether her demanding her turn is rude or assertive, but I say why does she have to demand it at all? Why should she be even be put in that position twice as often as her debating partner?
Kamala Harris obviously has lots of practice being assertive, but I suspect she would have preferred not to have had to muster those skills during the debate. She didn’t want to have to defend her time. She had a lot of other stuff to say. Important things. But she had no choice.
Mike Pence did that.
It happens to women too often, and we need to stop letting that fly. If a woman is speaking at the table—or in a Zoom room—how about next time just button it for half a minute and let a girl finish?
And when you see someone who isn’t getting her turn, don’t just stand by and watch. Step in on her behalf.
“Excuse me, she’s speaking” never looked bad on anyone.