Advancing Executive Development March 19, 2019

Speak with Confidence and Conviction

By The Athena Alliance

Here at Athena, we believe what you say matters, as well as how you communicate it. That’s why we send every member through a personal coaching journey, which involves one-on-one work to guide you in your leadership voice and presentation.

Athena Alliance Voice and Presence Coaching

When it comes to moving through the executive ranks and into the boardroom, Athena believes the old adage “What got you here, won’t get you there.” We exist to help women reach their highest level of impact in leadership. We focus our efforts on corporate executives, female investors, and female investors.

We have a robust program to accomplish this, and a key part of that program focuses on a woman’s personal executive package and positioning. In this realm, our members first meet with an Athena executive writer who develops the core messaging for a resume, board bio, LinkedIn profile and “elevator pitch”. This critical first step helps to solve for the big “what”—what is your value, what do you specifically deliver, and what experience do you bring to the table that makes you so unique and desirable? We refer to these elements as the Board Package. It’s a core element of your leadership toolbox as you move to becoming more board-savvy and board-connected, even if you are not explicitly seeking a board director role.

Then members meet with our voice, presence, and thought leadership journey advisors. These coaches help you take your message and deliver it in such a way that you fully own it. They help you connect all the pieces, ensuring that your voice, your delivery, and your body language all come together to accurately portray the messages you wish to convey, that you’re stepping forth as the same leader who is described on paper. It all becomes congruent, helping you to own your leadership in a new way—bold, defined, and confident.

“I give 95% of the credit [of securing a board seat] to Athena,” said Debbie Clifford, Vice President of Financial Planning for Autodesk, who was recently appointed board member at Harmonic. “Athena is an organization that has changed my life for the better. Athena helped me find my voice. I started speaking softly and without conviction. Through the aid of Athena, I learned how to be more confident in telling my story. I found a louder, more compelling voice.”

Get in the driver’s seat—tell the story you want to tell.

It’s about first impressions. Interviews. Leading your team. Presenting to strangers. Walking into a room and knowing exactly how you’ll kick off (and steer) a conversation. There are endless scenarios where you need to know what to say and how to say it well.

VP and C-level executives may not feel they need help reaching this level of finesse. After all, many may have reached the executive suite on their own. But many are surprised at what they learn once they go through the coaching experience here at Athena. Vulnerabilities are revealed. Nuances in presentation and delivery are resolved. Word choice. Inflection. Tone. Facial expression. It all combines to create a stronger version of you.

“I had thought I had a good handle on it,” said Barbara Adey, Vice President at BTS Consulting. “But I learned how to have a more executive presence. To speak more deliberately. To avoid uptalk, which is so stereotypically female and junior. I’ve been the only woman in the room for 30 years, so I thought I could do this. But the experience with Athena was very helpful and empowering.”

Experts in helping bold women be bolder.

Meet Nan Crawford, Jenna Lange, and Hillary Wicht. Nan and Jenna work with members on voice, presence, and thought leadership, while Hillary specializes exclusively in helping women discover the power of their voice and presence. As Athena Journey Advisors, they offer extensive knowledge in coaching and presenting to Athena’s members.

Nan has a BFA in Theatre and a Masters in Organization Development. For 30 years she has used theatre as a lens for leadership, working with Fortune 500 leaders around the globe and in Executive Ed and MBA programs at Harvard, Columbia and UC Berkeley. Theatre’s foundational elements of collaboration, being in the present moment, risk taking, empathy, storytelling and whole-hearted expression all have direct links to how we engage in the workplace. Nan focuses on coaching bold women leaders to step onto a bigger stage. Both a literal stage, like TED, or an industry conference with thousands in the audience, as well as helping clients achieve “the next stage of your work in the world.” How do you have a bigger impact?

“We help Athena members craft and prepare the stories they will tell about themselves, focusing on making their strengths and their values explicit. We also help them gain increased visibility within their networks,” Nan said. “Part of the work involves helping Athena members tailor the stories of their unique genius in preparation for speaking opportunities and board interviews. Then we work to help them deliver their message with authenticity and conviction.”

Hillary is a voice and presence expert, with a background in the psychology of influential communication, body language, behavioral psychology, and somatic sciences. She looks keenly at the way in which perceptions about who we are created in others by how we “show up” in verbal and nonverbal communication. She began her career in performance arts and eventually became a vocal talent working with some of the biggest names in the music business as a background singer and voicing countless commercials (if you’ve had a TV within the last 10 years, there’s a good chance you’ve heard her!) Her experience brought her profoundly in tune with using her voice as an instrument. Leveraging the technical aspects of voice, she incorporated her deep understanding of how communication plays on the psychology of a listener to better connect, engage, and influence others. Today, Hillary uses her understanding of psychology and influential communication to help Athena members use their voice to persuade people into action, embrace even greater success, and drive a conversation.

“If someone is not congruent in how they are showing up; what they are saying, how
they are saying it, and their embodiment of it—they will fall flat regardless of how intelligent or qualified they may be. It is about influencing, not just about informing,” she said.

Jenna is a natural presenter and specializes in high-stakes communication. She leverages her MBA pedigree and expertise in sales to help Athena members sell themselves, in every scenario. She formally trained to deliver flawless pitches in the high-pressure consulting world and now dedicates her career to helping executives deliver powerful, cohesive, memorable messages. In addition to her communications and sales training, Jenna also has a background in figure skating. She taps into her experience preparing for competitions to help executives show up as their best selves.

“Executives have great stories to tell, but there are often issues in the construct. You have to show up and know who you are, what you want, and fully own it. I help executives communicate messages and get the audience to be their advocate—and then have the audience go tell someone else the message, and so on,” Jenna explains. “Stories are your true differentiator.”

Lessons for women

“I’m not teaching women to show up like men. I’m not teaching men to show up like women. This is about increasing your range of expression. It’s about having the power to choose the skill sets that allow you to show up powerfully for that conversation or presentation, depending on the conversation and depending on who it’s with,” Hillary said.

Hillary, Nan, and Jenna frequently witness women executives undermining themselves, sidestepping the ownership of the value that they bring to the table.

Nan noted, “As women, we’re taught to be careful. To not take up too much room. To follow the rules. We’re told, ‘don’t be bossy’. We’ve spent so much time dialing down who we are. The Athena Voice and Presence coaches work to undo the cultural patterning that tells us to play small.”  

Nan concluded, “Our goal is to give members the power to walk into any room with confidence and own the stage. We work to give members the tools to meet with any leader in their realm and demonstrate the value they bring to the conversation.”