Sisterhood in the U.S. and Around the World

A message to our members by Meow Yee, AWLN President

Dear AWLN Member,

March is Women's History Month in the U.S., and March 8 International Women's Day. Observance of women's historical achievements, which began as a weeklong celebration in Sonoma County, California, in 1978, expanded to the entire month of March after the National Women's History Project petitioned Congress in 1987. International Women's Day, launched in 1911 by Clara Zetkin, leader of the "Women's Office" for the Social Democratic Party in Germany, was given official recognition by the United Nations in 1975.

I am pleased to announce that Asian Women Leadership Network has joined as an international partner of the 2009 Global Summit of Women: Setting New Paradigms for Business and Political Leadership. Among the participating leaders is Michelle Bachelet Jeria, the first female president of Chile, whose capital city, Santiago, is site and host of the May 14 to 16 forum, nicknamed the "Davos for Women" because of its economic focus and the caliber of its attendees.

In addition, AWLN welcomed at our own Jan. 31st Strategic Planning Summit two new members to our Board of Directors: Linda Tan, vice president, Treasury & Securities Services/Investor Services, at JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Lily H. Li, a freelance reporter. I'd like to express my appreciation for the support from and many contributions of Emily Chiu and Ivy Tseng, who have rotated off our board. We all offer our best wishes to Emily and Ivy.

The work of Speakeasy Inc. and Judith Bliss, who delivered the keynote address at last year's Multicultural Women's Symposium: The Power of a Woman's Voice, which drew an audience of nearly 100, are highlighted in this month's newsletter. "Bliss Is Finding Your True Calling" contains valuable tips for effective speaking that you don't want to miss, and "Executives Walk a Fine Communications Line—With No Owner's Manual" summarizes a panel discussion on crisis communications, a timely and compelling topic, facilitated by Speakeasy President and CEO Scott Weiss.

Meow Yee
President, AWLN

Have you registered?  Don’t miss the 2009 Annual Working Mother Media Women of Color Conference & AWLN Break out session

July 21 & 22, 2009, in New York City

Logo for the 2009 Working Mother Media Conference

In the past six years we have highlighted the some of the most important issues in the workplace for multicultural women: the changing face of business, strategic alliances and unity, trust, authenticity. This year we are bringing together high-achieving, high potential Asian, African- American, Latina, Caucasian, and Native American women from across Corporate America.

While thought-provoking Keynotes, Interactive Workshops, Executive Panels and Roundtables reveal and discuss ways women take risks, and what strategic moves it takes to win big, the most powerful draw of this event is in the conversations between participants. Attendees get many opportunities to meet and discuss key issues around managing their careers with people like themselves. The focus is on how women and their companies can increase opportunities for growth.

Be there to explore the critical issues around taking risks and taking charge in the workplace and develop strategies to
> Compete and collaborate at senior levels in the organization
> Get noticed to get ahead
> Take calculated, intelligent risks
> Develop mentor and sponsor relationships
> Win critical assignments
> Be an influencer with or without authority
> Manage difficult people - up and down the organization
> Face conflict and gain courage

For more information about this event, visit the following link at Working Mother Media

Sheraton New York Hotel
811 Seventh Ave.
New York, New York

Bliss Is Finding Your True Calling

By Lily H. Li

"I felt that I learned many valuable lessons about how to present myself that will help me for the rest of my life!"

So declared one awed participant of "Your Personal Power," a small group coaching session on voice and movement for senior executives, at the 2008 Multicultural Women's Symposium organized by Speakeasy Inc., an Atlanta-based communications training and consulting firm with offices in San Francisco and New York, and Asian Women Leadership Network.

"One of the attendees had a really childlike voice, easily mistaken for an elementary school kid on the phone," observed AWLN President Meow Yee. "In the space of one hour, she was coached to use techniques to strengthen her voice and intonations to achieve a marked difference in how she sounded! It was quite astounding!"

"Extremely impactful," raved a witness to "The Power of a Woman's Voice," the keynote address delivered by Speakeasy Senior Instructor and Consultant Judith Bliss at the June 4th event, which drew an audience of nearly 100 at the Park Avenue office of KPMG LLP.

"I admire AWLN for bringing this program to women from different walks of life. These communication tools are tremendously valuable for multicultural women, who may have been raised in cultures where women's voices and their power of presence may not have been valued," said Diana Rael, State Farm Insurance Co.'s director of multicultural business development, Northeast.

Among tips for effective speaking:

  • Give yourself permission to assert yourself. Effective communicators must physically feel that they have a right to be here and to say what they say.
  • Be solid, grounded: Stand in a wider stance, relax clenched fingers and arms. Breathe. Use silence, breath and pause. The feeling of her own respiration gives the speaker power.
  • Walk and toddle forward a bit. You'll find the strength at the center of the earth.
  • Project your words and body, even when speaking seated.
  • Use fewer words. Sometimes your content is the issue.
  • Convey warmth, energy or authority. Those who don't are interrupted in meetings and conversations more often than those who do.
  • On conference calls, lean forward and reach out to the phone. If you put yourself out during the call, you also will send your voice out.
  • Awareness: See and talk to one person at a time in the audience, pulling them in with your intensity.
  • Connect: See and engage your audience by connecting with one person at a time; others around them will feel connected, too.
    For your visual image:
  • Wear a suit. Clothing and accessories should not be a distraction. They can take away the speaker's credibility.
  • Wear jackets: Hide your pooch (tummy) and let it hang out when you take in a breath.

Two attendees described Bliss's discourse as "eye-opening." Another "appreciated the context of voice and how to establish authority." One person raved about her presentation, calling it a "great session," while someone else found the videos "very helpful."

It's not every day that we change other people's lives, but those reviews were among a number that Bliss garnered after her speech. This is someone who knows well the impact of the spoken word. After all, she landed her first job out of college literally through the power of her voice.

When she rang up to schedule a live interview, Bliss sounded so much more professional, mature and warm than the other female students who had called that Savers Club of America decided to hire her based on that telephone conversation. Bliss's new employer franchised a complicated program to the financial industry to attract and retain depositors. Her job involved selling franchises and then installing or setting up the programs throughout the country.

Bliss next worked for a sales consulting firm, then started her own consulting business, specializing in management and organization development and sales training—and building on the competencies she had developed on that first job. This was her first stab at entrepreneurship, and it was during this time that she began facilitating at General Electric Co.'s corporate university, the Crotonville Learning Center (now the John F. Welch Leadership Development Center), overseeing 10 to 12 programs a year.

It was on behalf of one of these clients that Bliss attended a session run by Speakeasy. As if teaching on a part-time basis wasn't enough, she launched a national distribution company for specialized computer forms and letterheads at this time, another entrepreneurial venture.

Eventually, Bliss pulled out of all the other enterprises except Speakeasy. She couldn't do it all well, and Speakeasy was the most fulfilling and satisfying of them all. Bliss felt that she had truly found her calling.

Twenty-six years later, she still feels that way.

A few weeks ago, AWLN caught up with Bliss, who settled in for the online equivalent of a friendly fireside chat.

Question: One thing that struck me quite profoundly about the three-day Talk So People Listen® program that I took in April 2008 is the genuine multicultural understanding so deftly displayed by Speakeasy. Corporate America talks a good game about the diverse environments in which we work and the shrinking global village we inhabit, but my instructor demonstrated remarkable sensitivity—respect, really—toward my own cultural background, which is Chinese. How does Speakeasy achieve that among its instructors?

Answer: Thank you. My colleagues are truly amazing! Incidentally, 75% of our faculty is women. We have the most rigorous selection process I've ever seen and the training process is equally so. We seek people with extraordinary people skills who genuinely care for and respect the uniqueness of our clients. That extends to everyone at Speakeasy, not just the teaching staff. We all invest emotionally in the success of our students.

Our diverse clients frequently mention how every interaction they have with a Speakeasy person makes them feel special and "attended to." It starts with their first telephone or e-mail inquiry, to how they're greeted when they come to our office through how they're "wished well" on departure. Our staff goes the extra mile to make sure that our clients are comfortable and have what they need to concentrate on the job at hand!

Our philosophy of effective communication is based on the idea that a genuine connection is the most effective way to reach any listener. Rather than rules, tips, tricks, or a myriad of cultural sensitivities to try to keep track of, we believe that you really must "see" and "work for as much understanding of the other" as you possibly can. We encourage our faculty to feel what it means to "be in the shoes" of our participants. With a genuine caring for our clients, the practice of slowing down to take in the needs of the other and a belief that each person will develop the communication capabilities that are needed in her environment, we are able to serve all clients regardless of their backgrounds, the setting, the listeners or their perceived status. Our faculty undergoes extensive development and personal growth to continue to grow their sensitivity to the needs of others.

Q: How did you find your way to communications instruction and coaching? What gives you the most satisfaction in training your clients? What's a "good day" for you? How do you measure success? Which client—feel free to use aliases—underwent the most dramatic transformation at your hands? Was she or he recognizable as the same individual who sought your help?

A: As with many things in my life and career, I backed into it by being open to new experiences and willing to risk trying something I'd never done before! As a consultant, I was already giving speeches and attended Talk So People Listen® for a client. We were considering using Speakeasy as part of a management-development program I was creating, which we did. My energy, confidence and feedback to the others in the group made an impression on Speakeasy's founder, Sandy Linver, when she worked with me. Later she asked me to join the faculty! I had been so impressed by my own progress and that of the others in the group that I jumped at the chance. For the first few years, I continued my General Electric work as well.

I've stayed with it for 26 years because I truly feel that I'm changing the world, one client at a time. You see, when we work with someone, we help her find "the power of her voice." I assume that she'll be more persuasive at work, in her community, at her child's school and in any endeavor. She'll use that new voice to make her world a better place! I measure success by what we see on tape at the end of the seminar and by the follow-up communication I have with the client. If she's using it and getting better results, that's success.

My most remarkable success was a banker who had a severe phobia of speaking to more than three people at a time. Her career was being stifled by this, so she attended Speakeasy. She progressed from someone who tried to hide behind the plant—literally—in the front of the classroom to a confident-appearing, professional woman. Although she was still nervous, she didn't look or sound that way. Several months later, she introduced the keynote speaker to thousands of people at an American Bankers Association convention!

She was recognizable as the same individual because the core of our approach is to help people truly be themselves, not try to become someone else. Authenticity and genuineness are essential traits of great communicators. That's a big part of how we're able to help such diverse clients: We help them celebrate their diversity.

Q: I distinctly recall your saying to the Asian Women Leadership Network audience that you wish you had more females to train in public speaking since the bulk of your high-powered clientele are male. Have you noticed any trends in the gender breakdown—for example, toward women—in recent years, before the economic downturn? Does the present recession mean that companies become even more conservative and that you project seeing, on the whole, fewer females walk through Speakeasy's doors?

A: Generally speaking, our gender breakdown is skewed toward more women in our middle-management programs and significantly more males in our senior-executive programs. This mirrors almost exactly documented census numbers in corporate America.

Women face additional challenges in the workplace. They often bear the communication challenge of appearing in control and assertive but not shrill or whining. We give women (and men) an objective opportunity to see and craft an image that is effective for them. Over the years, the number of female senior executives has increased, particularly in the past five years. However, we have not seen any noticeable shifts in gender composition since the economic downturn began last September.

Q: Women's History Month in general and International Women's Day on March 8th in particular serve as reminders of the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. For Asian Pacific Islander women, we carry the double burden of both gender and ethnicity, and we're acutely aware of our stereotype as the silent minority. What are some strategies and tactics we should engage to ensure that our voices are heard, not only in loud offices but within a raucous world?

A: Among the things we teach our clients to do to make themselves heard:

  1. Take time for yourself to feel calm and confident inside and to settle yourself with your breath. This requires getting comfortable with the silence of a pause. When you've learned to feel more confident and trust your own voice, it will be easier to project more clearly so that others will hear and trust it.
  2. Focus your energy upon one listener at a time and work to draw her or him into your message. Even a soft voice will be heard better if you show your commitment to your topic and your commitment to your listener by involving your face, voice and upper body.
  3. Work hard with your voice. That doesn't mean loud and fast—simply open your mouth and fully form each word. Using your own natural level of energy, focus your voice to land your message and be heard.

Q: Speaking of international, would you describe Speakeasy's global experiences? What were some of your dealings with overseas clients? Are there certain episodes that stand out in your mind because something truly unusual or unanticipated transpired while you were on assignment abroad?

A: Speakeasy has been serving global clients almost since our inception. Two of our early and most loyal clients rely on their international presence and effectiveness for their differentiation in the marketplace. They are The Coca-Cola Co. and Accenture. Our early work with Coca-Cola involved private coaching for key international executives who understood the importance of genuine connection with their local contacts and at the same time with corporate executives at U.S. headquarters. Our work has continually expanded to more companies, to more countries and regions. We have also been honored to be a part of various international programs for staff who show leadership potential and for succession-planning programs, in which either we travel to their location or they are brought to our offices. Our work has grown to include both the delivery of their ideas as well as content planning and the use of PowerPoint.

We have uniformly found that our international clients appreciate the level of personal attention and the depth of our programs. They have typically received very little or very formulaic help with their communication capabilities. We have never had an international client say that our approach would not work with their listeners.

Each assignment has personal memories and individual breakthroughs for clients. In London and Amsterdam, high-potential consultants said that they saw the difference between "speaking and leadership." In Amsterdam, at lunch, an informal conversation brought to light various political leaders, their style of communication and the degree of trust they engendered. In Japan, women said that although grandmothers told them not to look directly at men, they wanted to learn how to do that and feel more at ease expressing their power. In India, men and women gained a new perspective of how international executives were viewing them. They said that they better understood the whole picture of their dress, demeanor, speech and image.

Executives Walk a Fine Communications Line—With No Owner's Manual

By Lily H. Li

Among the issues facing senior executives amid a global financial crisis is communicating with internal teams about organizational changes such as downsizing and reorganization. On Feb. 6th, Speakeasy Inc. hosted a panel, "Leadership Communication in Times of Change," for 60 members of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce's Board of Advisors, which represents such companies as Ernst & Young, Nortel Networks Inc. and WellStar Health System Inc.

The discussion was facilitated by Scott Weiss, president and CEO of Speakeasy, an Atlanta-based communications training and consulting firm with offices in San Francisco and New York. The three panelists were Coleman Breland, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Time Warner Inc.'s Turner Broadcasting System Inc.; Al Kabus, president of The Mohawk Group, a division of Mohawk Industries Inc.; and Anthony (Tony) W. Mitchell, chief financial officer of the Compass Group PLC's Morrison Management Specialists Inc.

Breland explained that Turner Broadcasting is tightly knit, "like one big family." Kabus noted that The Mohawk Group shares its strategy with its staff on a daily basis. And Mitchell exhorted leaders to relate to workers in "a humble, gentle, personal way." Turning to the panelists, Weiss observed, "I think all of you have highlighted this idea of humility and vulnerability in delivering difficult messages and how important that is. And the vehicle is also important. Obviously sending out an e-mail to 10,000 employees that you're announcing layoffs and plant closings is not the personal type of message that we're talking about."

Sandra Ashe, Speakeasy's senior vice president of faculty and curriculum, offered a voice of reassurance. "I think it's so easy for us to think about what we need to say and how often we need to say it. But we also work with our clients to let them know that it's perfectly okay to show your emotions if something is difficult or hard, for the employee or those people to hear and see that from you really adds to the credibility. And it's perfectly okay to show someone that this is a very hard conversation for you to be having with them," she said.

In addition, Weiss stressed that executives are grappling with the degree of disclosure regarding bad news—and there's no owner's manual on this. "This is probably the [question] that we're dealing with the most with our clients, which is this threshold where leaders are in a position they have to communicate information to their constituents—whether their external constituents in the marketplace or internal constituents within their own teams and staffs—and communicating those messages in an open, transparent way could have a detrimental impact on the business from the perception of the company in the marketplace. So they have to ride this fine line between public information that [they] convey, where if [they] convey too much, [they] cross the line that may have a negative impact on the business and the morale and productivity of [their] teams. And that is a very, very difficult challenge for leaders today."

Toward the end of the discussion, Ashe offered a prescription: oxygen. "I'm hearing a lot about thinking out of the box and being more strategic. One of the best ways to clear your mind is to be relaxed, which I know is difficult right now. There's a tendency to keep hearing the bad news and to tense and to think, 'I've got to push our way through this, I've got to come up with a solution,' when in fact your own creativity and new ideas will come to you when you're much more relaxed," she advised. "And one of the things we tell our clients all the time is breathe... breathe. Oxygen... relaxing... getting a good breath... letting the pressure off of yourself opens up your capacity to come up with new solutions."

A podcast of "Leadership Communication in Times of Change" in its entirety can be accessed at