“Just be you?!”

If you were the gambling type, which panelist would you bet has NOT had to struggle with ‘being themselves’ at work? Go ahead, put your money down.

One of these panelists didn’t have to struggle to ‘just be themselves’ in their leadership position.

I watched a recording of a panel discussion on leadership and one of the women said: “My biggest challenge when I began my current position was ‘being myself’. I had big shoes to fill and I thought that I needed to be someone else to get the job done.”

I replayed the video several times over and watched each of the panelist’s reaction to her statement. Every single person on the panel gave a slow, knowing nod.

Except for one.

Panelist #6 was the outlier. The only straight white male on the panel didn’t nod in that knowing way. I’m not saying that every straight white male finds it easy to ‘be himself’ at work, but if I had to put money on it, I’d put it on #6. (Did you?)

It’s easier for some people to ‘be themselves’ at work because how they look and how they sound have traditionally been associated with ‘leadership’. If you don’t find yourself represented by the drawing of panelist #6, don’t be surprised if you have found it hard to just ‘be yourself’ at work. If you feel nervous speaking in front of a crowd, this is also a reason for it. You simply haven’t seen and heard as many examples of people in leadership positions who look like you and sound like you. (You may not have consciously noticed that, but your brain has.) As the woman panelist said, she thought she needed to be someone else to get the job done. It’s hard to speak from a place of authenticity when you’re contorting yourself to seem like someone you’re not.

But what is to be done about it? Well, every time you step up to lead a group of people, someone in that group sees you being a leader, and hears your voice as a leader. That alone will start to change what leadership looks like and sounds like to them.

And the more often you step up and speak out as yourself, the more familiar you’ll get with that expression of leadership and what it feels like to you: as authentic, deep-down, true-to-yourself you. Over time, with repetition, it will start to feel natural. Your brain’s pathways will become well traveled and your body will feel at home there.

So please please please step up and speak out, even if it doesn’t feel like ‘you’ at first. Change takes time and practice, and the time for this change has come.

Highlights from a Great Speaker

Sometimes insomnia pays off. I had the honour of watching Jacinda Ardern’s farewell to the New Zealand Parliament live last night. It was a great speech. She was a great leader. Here are some highlights from this lover of good speeches.

Of course, she told stories. She wove in powerful, well-chosen ones: 
After the attack at Christchurch, she met with members of the Muslim community. She recognized one from his picture in that morning’s newspaper, where his face had been covered in blood from the aftermath of the attack. As he stood to speak to her just hours later, she didn’t know what to expect:
“He thanked us. Here was someone who had been through the most horrific experience I can imagine, and he thanked New Zealand and expressed gratitude for his home…
The most significant task for us all as a nation is…to deserve their thanks.”

There was great writing, delivered genuinely:
“Politics has never been a tick list for me. It’s always been about progress. Sometimes you can measure it, and sometimes you can’t. 
…There will be no list of the lives saved because of the banning of military-style semi-automatic weapons.”

Naturally, she had many people to thank. Unlike boring Oscar acceptance speeches that rush to get everyone in, Ardern included tightly-written lines to give meaning: “To Holly, who has the biggest heart but the sharpest mind.” Adding, with a cracking voice: “Your dad would be so proud of you.”

And obviously, a kicker closing:
“I cannot determine what will define my time in this place, but I do hope I’ve demonstrated something else entirely: 
That you can be anxious, sensitive, kind, and wear your heart on your sleeve.
You can be a mother. Or not.
You can be an ex-Mormon. Or not.
You can be a nerd, a cryer, a hugger.
You can be all of these things.
And not only can you be here…
You can lead.
Just like me.”

But most impressive—and what replays of the speech likely won’t show but at 3am I had nothing better to do than to watch—was what happened after. She took a sip of water and stood there awkwardly for a moment. I saw the nerd she described herself as. Then, a line started to form, what seemed to be almost every member of Parliament lining up to send her off. It looked like Easter Sunday communion at Notre Dame Basilica, only instead of the body of Christ they were there for a hug from Jacinda.
The Māori members sang to pass the time as each said their goodbye. She took a quick moment with every one. Some hugs were longer than others. You could feel the memories well up in the longer ones.
Indeed, you can be a hugger, and you can lead.
And, as it turns out, you can leave.


What to do with EMOTION:

Dr. Jennifer Fraser, author of The Bullied Brain, testified to a House of Commons committee in what I consider an Olympic-level performance. She not only had to talk about child abuse and suicide from a very personal place, but she had to keep it together to deliver her message in the limited time the committee gave her. I had the honour of coaching her to help her let the emotion surface—as it should—but then continue on. We both agree, no one could do this alone. I think her performance is athletic. In order to nail the landing, she had to control her body’s response, including her breathing pattern. Here she talks about working with me and the role of emotion in public speaking:

You vs. Barack

How do you compare to the former President?
The following text is the beginning of Barack Obama’s second inaugural speech. I first published this almost ten years ago. It was a great lesson then, and still is.
Find yourself a timer, press start, and read. Read it as if you’re in front of the hundreds of thousands in Washington, D.C. (*Actual hundreds of thousands, not in Trump numbers.)

“Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens. Each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution, we affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional, what makes us America, is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Now, press STOP.
It took Barack Obama 70 seconds to say that. 
How long did it take you? 

People think he’s a good, even great speaker. They even applauded. A lot!

Auditory processing is hard. Giving your listeners time to process one thought is more important than trying to express two or three thoughts in the same amount of time. If you don’t pause to let them process your message, they’ll come away with nothing.

So the next time you find yourself speaking in front of hundreds of thousands of adoring followers, be sure to pause. Long and often. But even if you only have a handful of listeners, my bet is that you could pause longer and more often. Your message, and its weight, will be better received if you do.

Listen to Obama here:

StoryFinding Workshop

Yes, okay! Storytelling is important! You get it! But how do you FIND the stories to tell—the stories that will elevate your message—and how do you share them for the greatest impact? Can we guarantee that after this workshop you’ll elevate your presentations and be a more engaging conversationalist? Actually, ya, pretty much.

This is for you if you’re interested in: 

Strategies to find your stories 

How to know if you have a good story

The best way to make your story better

Bonus: 45 minute 1-1 coaching session to be scheduled within the next 4 weeks (value $250)

Click here to learn more about Adele and Mary.

To find out when the next StoryFinding workshop is, contact maryhoule@pronounced.ca

Mary in a minute

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 extra seconds, but he’s alway worth it.

Did I really say that?: Lessons in podcast prep

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.

A Story by Chrystia Freeland

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.

Brave Acts

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.