Sunday, February 15, 2009

how speaking up affects your image

Speaking up in meetings can be an issue for many women--and it's the most common opportunity for "public" speaking. But how does it affect how you are seen by your colleagues? A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that many equate speaking up with competence in workplace groups. Two experiments were set, the first asking teams of four to organize a nonprofit environmental group for a cash prize. Members of each group, along with independent observers and the researchers, rated participants (who were videotaped) on a range of leadership qualities. From the TIME magazine coverage of the research:
Consistently, the group members who spoke up the most were rated the highest for such qualities as "general intelligence" and "dependable and self-disciplined." The ones who didn't speak as much tended to score higher for less desirable traits, including "conventional and uncreative."
To test whether those who speak up are actually more competent, a different set of teams of four were asked to solve math problems from older versions of the Graduate Management Aptitude Test (GMAT). Once again, speaking up in the group mattered:
When the work was finished, the people who spoke up more were again likelier to be described by peers as leaders and likelier to be rated as math whizzes. What's more, any speaking up at all seemed to do. Participants earned recognition for being the first to call out an answer, but also for being the second or third — even if all they did was agree with what someone else had said.
Researchers divided groups into all-male and all-female participants for this pair of experiments. (I'm looking for similar studies that mixed genders for a similar experiment, so we can look at what TIME calls "the wild card of gender.") Does this inspire you to speak up more in meetings? At a minimum, it should inspire you to focus on speaking skills as one part of your leadership arsenal.

what does your speaker wardrobe say?

Over at the Capital Buzz, a Washington public relations blog to which I contribute, there's a discussion going about about this post on the messages women speakers send with their dress, by fellow blogger and meeting planner Jennifer Collins. Some agree with Jennifer that the speaker's lack of attention to her dress (in this case, leaving her stomach visible to the audience) diminishes her overall impact; some came to her defense. I agree that it leaves an impression--whether you're sympathetic or turned off is up to you to decide--but also know it's an area where women speakers have more variables to deal with than do men, whose wardrobe choices are more limited. There's a plus side, as women can draw attention to themselves with brighter colors and more variety of styles in dress...and a down side, because drawing more attention means your audience will focus on the details. I also know that many speakers fail to consider appearance when preparing for a speech or presentation, and always advise my trainees to do so. What do you think about how a speaker's dress impacts her performance? Join the conversation here or at the Capital Buzz. You can see all The Eloquent Woman posts on speaker appearance issues and tips here.