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Finding Your Voice: Speaking Opportunities Propel Careers

Every speaker has had to embark on a journey to get to the stage, with stumbling blocks, lessons learned and standout moments created along the way. It’s those stories of resilience, growth and ongoing development that separate veteran speakers from those who aren’t comfortable speaking up. It’s what turns role models into real models.

When programming panels, organizers need to curate for diversity of gender, race, age, and thought. Who wants to hear from people that all look and sound the same? They also need to lead with subject matter experts, not relying solely on credentials or big titles. By leveraging our networks, we can help them secure a diverse lineup of speakers, and find a place for our own voices to be heard.

Last week during virtual Cannes Lions, The Female Quotient hosted a panel, “Find Your Voice.” We heard that not only do speaking opportunities have a major impact on one’s career, it also makes good business sense. McKinsey & Company’s research has shown us that diversity correlates with better financial performance and inclusive events help companies attract the brightest talent. 

Watch the panel here. These are the highlights:

Taking the first step

The foundation for confidence has to come from within, but it’s also incredibly helpful when it’s nurtured at work. Nicola Mendelsohn, VP, EMEA at Facebook, shared how important it is for leaders to encourage a healthy environment where employees feel empowered to speak up.

When a leader runs a meeting, she said alternating agenda owners helps ensure different voices with varying opinions are being heard.

“You don’t have to go straight to the big stage,” Mendelsohn said, one can strengthen your speaking skills internally first. “You might do it at a team meeting or a company town hall. Everybody has that desire to be perfect, but like anything else, public speaking is a muscle you need to develop.”

Jenn Renoe, Associate Media Director at Publicis Health Media found her voice at the racetrack.

“As an intern, I would go down into the Winner’s Circle after every race and announce the winner and be on camera in front of 50,000 people in attendance, and broadcast to racetracks around the world…and that’s where I really learned, oh wow, I can do this.”  

Touching on imposter syndrome, Renoe stressed, “You can’t be what you can’t see. I’m very vocal about who I am. I’m a transgender woman, and we have voices that deserve to be elevated. By day, I’m an associate media director. By night, I do public speaking and advocacy work, I podcast, I do standup comedy, anything I can do to put myself out there, so people can see me, know me.”

What expertise do you offer?

Before you build a speaking profile, “There has to be some substance. Spend some time inwardly. What is it that you want to tell the world? What is important that only you can say in the way you say it?” asked Daisy Auger-Dominguez, Chief People Officer at VICE Media Group.

Find subject matter that you’re an expert on, something that you spend a lot of time researching on your own because that’s the topic where words will roll off your tongue effortlessly. Do you get fired up talking about female-founded businesses? Do your friends approach you for financial advice when looking to invest? Are you passionate about employers providing childcare in the workplace? 

Danielle Kayembe of FQ Impact suggests creating a portfolio life. “Focus on one thing and then later you can do something else. I envision an umbrella that defines my areas of interest: advocating for women, innovation and impact. I carve out my own specific space, and I’m never in competition with others because this is my unique area.”

Insist on hearing from diverse voices

While writing her book on diversity and inclusion, Auger-Dominguez interviewed entrepreneur and activist Freada Kapor and shared that when Kapor is invited to speak she always asks, “What’s the composition of the panel?” If it’s all-white she does not participate, or she recommends a woman of color. 

This is an important call to action for all of us that are invited to speak. What are the voices that are not included? Let’s make sure they’re present. We have the influence and the responsibility to help shape what panels look like. 

To assist event programmers in this process, The Female Quotient, in collaboration with Facebook, launched the Speaker Equity Assessor to help increase diverse representation at conferences. The tool analyzes a conference’s speakers and provides high-level insights to help organizations select more diverse panelists who will better represent those watching and listening. 

When visible role models are predominantly male or predominantly white, the absence of diversity in leadership becomes normalized, and fewer women and people of color choose to speak. It limits the quality and range of vital discussions. 

Diverse voices need to be invited to all panels, not just those discussing DEI or LGBTQ initiatives. Said Renoe, “Trans is an adjective, it doesn’t define me. I’m a woman. We belong in all spaces, not just queer. Include us in conversations.” 

Be #SpeakerReady

If you want to be a public speaker, a website where you can direct people is really important, as well as a solid LinkedIn profile. It’s your CV captured in a beautiful package, an expression of who you are and what you can give to the world. 

“When people find me on Instagram on Linkedin [after a speaking appearance], it tells me I had a strong impact,” Renoe said. “ How can you leverage that for future opportunities? Get feedback on your speaking.” 

If you don’t have the resources for a speaking coach just yet, practice with your phone camera or do a mock Zoom panel where you’re the only audience member. Watch your body language, your tone, your hand gestures, your eyes as you talk. Be your own coach.

Lacking video footage of yourself speaking publicly to share with event organizers? It’s easy to create a Facebook Reel, a short video clip speaking about something you’re passionate about. Then, post it to LinkedIn or your website. 

The importance of networking cannot be overstated

Auger-Dominguez said to think of networks as communities, and to have networks and interests that are different, so you’re constantly learning. “Plug each other and support each other. Ask, ‘What are you hearing in the market that’s needed?’”

Kayembe summed up the importance of networks perfectly: “Without them you are riding a bike, when everyone else is in a car or flying.” 

As you find your voice and speak your passion, whether on Zoom or the big stage, take Oscar Wilde’s advice: “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”

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