It's amazing how a few days immersed in Canada's great outdoors can clear your head and allow some pretty astounding insights to surface.
That's what happened to me recently while visiting a friend in New Brunswick. Walking along Parlee Beach, I was totally engrossed in stepping around crabs scurrying between the shore and a sandbar. Seemingly out of nowhere, I asked myself: "Why do great women avoid the spotlight while their male counterparts are unapologetic about grabbing all the profile they can get?"
Somehow the sea breeze had whisked me back to recent conversations with talented, senior female executives during presentation and media training sessions.
Several of these otherwise confident, success-driven women had confided things like: "I don't want anyone to think I'm hogging the limelight," and "When I was a girl, my father warned me 'don't get too big for your boots,'" or "In my culture, women were told to be seen, not heard."
At the time, I empathized with these women's sentiments, but I replied, "Why do you feel guilty about promoting yourself, when men are not shy about asking for speaking opportunities, media interviews, or building their public profiles?"
While my impromptu pep talks helped these women refocus on polishing their presentation skills, I realized later, while standing on that New Brunswick beach, that more female leaders than not harbor misgivings about self-promotion.
For an ocean of reasons, these women decide that working hard, doing a great job and shunning the spotlight is enough to get ahead. They watch male executives accept kudos for speeches or high profile media interviews, while the women think to themselves, "I could have said that better."
Now women, my words may feel like the brisk Atlantic waves on your toes but I say this with all sincerity -- the next step to advance your career is to stand up and speak up. Either do it to achieve your full potential in the dog-eat-dog working world, or do it for a cause you care about. That might be your company or your community. Or, maybe you want to set an example for your kids or become a role model to future female leaders.
That's what I've done in just the last few years, by challenging myself to take the stage as a speaker and mentor to young women within the Women of Influence community.
The experience has been incredibly rewarding, especially the satisfaction of inspiring other women now embarking on their own careers. But I first had to look in the mirror and perform a mini self-analysis. I'm so glad I did and I'll share a few tips with anyone who is wondering if it's time to take the spotlight.
Escape the sandbar in seven steps:
1. Is this right for you?
Naturally, stepping onto a stage is not for everyone, but before you dismiss the idea of building your profile, ask yourself honestly: "What am I really afraid of?"
2. Do your research:
If you decide to give it a try, start by figuring out how executives in your organization get profile-building opportunities and where leadership roles exist.
3. Meet the influencers:
Find out who are the key influencers in your organization, whether it's your boss, the VP of marketing or a communications director who may be seeking spokespeople with diverse backgrounds and expertise. Meet these leaders, express your interests and ask their advice.
4. Build your skills:
Sign up for presentation or media training, or learn from books, online videos or seminars hosted by PR agencies, external groups and professional associations like Women of Influence.
5. Evaluate and improve your image:
It might seem superficial but if you want to step into the spotlight, you should re-evaluate your look, especially if work, family and other commitments have trumped your hair and wardrobe for a few years. A good media trainer or performance coach can give you practical tips on everything from your annunciation and on-camera skills to posture and make-up, so you can put your best foot forward.
6. Practice makes perfect:
Once you've given your first presentation, written your first blog or appeared in the press, keep learning and improving. Besides self-evaluation, ask for input from those you trust and challenge yourself to continuously develop your skills.
7. Promote your great work:
Let your peers know about your recent presentation or community work on Twitter, share your blog link on LinkedIn, and don't be shy about sharing it with your friends on Facebook or asking colleagues and career influencers to spread the word through social media too.
With these tips -- and perhaps the guidance of a supportive communications advisor -- you can quickly put a plan in place to "super charge" your image, raise your profile and make a noticeable impact on your career, company or whatever personal mission drives you.
The remaining days of summer are a great time to clear your head and think of your big picture goals for the rest of the year. While strolling on the beach or staring at the stars, why not ask yourself: "What's stopping me from stepping into the spotlight?"
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