This year’s ALA Conference in Asheville featured a special event (co-sponsored by the Dallas Market Center and Swarovski Lighting) for its relatively new Women in Lighting group. Special guest Sharon Delaney McCloud – an Emmy Award-winning, 20-year TV news journalist covering North Carolina before she started a new career in digital marketing as Partner and VP/Professional Development for the Walk West agency in Raleigh – led the educational session.
According to McCloud, developing Executive Presence is important for women in business who want to be taken seriously. “Leadership roles are given to those who look and act the part,” she said, adding, “Presence alone won’t get you promoted, but its absence will impede your progress.”
Citing such statistics as only 24 people on the Fortune 500 list of top CEOs are women and a mere 21 percent of Fortune 500 company board seats and executive officer positions are held by females, McCloud gave the audience plenty to think about. Furthermore, she stated that educational qualifications are not necessarily the deciding factor when appointing executive management as 57 percent of all college graduates are female as are 63 percent of those who earn Master’s degrees. It all comes down to Executive Presence.
Communication involves both verbal and non-verbal attributes and requires strong speaking skills as well as the ability to command a room and read an audience.
And while 2018 has been a banner year for women getting recognized for their intellectual merits, Appearance plays a part in a female’s career success. “Yes, it matters,” McCloud remarked. “Appearance” is not defined as beauty, but rather exhibiting good grooming and a polished look devoid of distracting tattoos and piercings.
“Read, study, and learn continuously,” McCloud advised the audience when it comes to standing out in your field. “Be prepared, speak up, and be present. Look for opportunities and aim to be an expert thought leader,” she commented. One of the ways McCloud suggested lighting retailers accomplish this is to write blogs about lighting design and techniques for the public to read on the company’s website.
When it comes to taking part in formal meetings, she told the crowd to raise the volume. “As women, [biologically] our voices don’t have as much resonance as a man’s does. If we were to measure volume as 1 to 10 with 10 being the loudest, I suggest speaking at an 8. People will stop listening if they can’t hear you,” she warned. Above all else, “stay on point.”
McCloud credited the 24th U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice with the following advice: “Amplify other women’s ideas.” If, during a formal meeting, a woman’s sound idea isn’t given a second thought while a man who echoes that same suggestion in the meeting is widely applauded, Rice reportedly devised a strategy. Before the meeting, she would ask other women who were slated to attend the meeting to emphasize her idea(s) by repeating them and giving proper attribution. Hearing the same thought twice gives the notion more credence.
When speaking, do not use words that “weaken” your message, McCloud said. “Avoid [filler] words such as “sort of” or “kind of” and “just.” If you need help honing your speech, she recommended the app Like So. “It listens to your speech, looks for filler words, and gives you a grade,” she explained. There are also “alert” functions that remind one to practice the speech days ahead of time.
Like it or not, visual impressions mean a lot – and it doesn’t stop with the first introduction. “This is how people perceive you: 53 percent is body language, 38 percent is your vocal delivery, and 7 percent is the content of your message/your words.”
McCloud’s advice is to continually be aware of your body language: “Stand and sit tall. Move with purpose,” she noted. “Gestures should be kept in the area ranging from your shoulders to your hips.”
For sharpening your vocal delivery, “use your phone to record yourself and practice your elevator speech until it becomes natural,” she suggested. Keep the 3 Ps in mind – Prepare, Practice, and (be) Present.