Confidence in the Boardroom

Sheelagh McNamara is a RADA Tutor (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) and a highly trained voice, speech & presentation skills professional with extensive experience in executive level coaching in England, Germany, Switzerland, Canada and the US.

With over 30 years experience Sheelagh’s clients include Oscar Nominees, Politicians, Lawyers, and Senior Executives together with the CEOs and Presidents ofInternational Companies.

As an increasing number of women occupying senior corporate roles, Sheelagh gives her advice on how women can enhance their speech and presentation skills as their careers develop.

What’s Holding You Back?

Historically few women have occupied the most senior roles in business, politics and the law but things are changing rapidly. By 2015 the Government recommendation is that 25% of FTSE 100 boardroom places be held by women. And there are more young, talented and dedicated women in politics.

Research shows that diverse boards make better decisions and are more effective as well as promoting equal opportunities for talented women.

Did you know that …

• Only 18 FTSE 100 companies and just less than half of all FTSE 250 companies have any female directors.

• Female executive and non-executive directors earn 22% less than their male peers.

• Only 19% of partners in top law firms are women (despite that fact that there are more women in law than men).

Over the past 4 years there has been a surge in the number of female executives who are looking to enhance their personal impact, confidence and credibility in the boardroom.

But research conducted by Heather Jackson, Founder and Chief Executive of The Women’s Business Forum, states that 92 per cent of women regard lack of confidence rather than concrete obstacles as the greatest impediment to their promotion.

So with this in mind here are a few top tips to help you enhance your authority and credibility as you move up the corporate ladder.

To maximize your credibility, minimize your movements

A certain amount of movement adds meaning and passion to your message but too much can be distracting. Keep a stable stance and when you do move make sure there’s a reason for it – not just because it busts your adrenaline.

• Eliminate pacifying gestures.

Under stress women often display pacifying gestures such as touching their neck, fiddling with their hair and playing with jewellery. I’ve even seen highly regarded women inspecting their nails!

• Avoid head tilts.

Head tilts are a particularly female gesture which can be interpreted as a gesture of submission. Look around and notice how rarely men speak with their heads tilted to one side. Women often use it to show that they are listening or empathetic. Women who want to project power and authority should keep the head straight.

• And nodding.

Women tend to nod their heads frequently which can make them appear too easy to please. When a man nods it means he agrees with you. When a woman nods it may mean she agrees; she may be encouraging you to continue speaking or she may be being empathetic. Keep your nodding under control.

• Learn to interrupt!

When Madeleine Albright, former United States Secretary, was asked at a conference of up and coming female executives what was the single most useful thing they could do to get to the top she said, “Learn to interrupt!”. Women tend to wait their turn in negotiation and talk less than their male counterparts. You don’t need to be aggressive but you do need to have a strong and confident voice to make your message clear.

And just one more thing…. VOICE IS KEY!

• Never apologise. In a male dominated world it will seen as a sign of weakness.

• Speak confidently and firmly.

• Speak logically, not emotionally.

• Make statements rather than ask questions.

• Address tough issues up front.


Sheelagh can be contacted through her website: