“Lean In” – A good approach to Public Speaking?

“Lean In” – A good approach to Public Speaking?

As many people know, Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (2013), was released earlier this week. In the book, Sandberg outlines many points on why she feels women are still not as successful in the workplace as men. She encourages women to “lean in” to opportunity in terms of “sitting at the table”, and seeking challenges in their careers. Though the concept seems to have generated some controversy, thinking about the practical use for “leaning in” can be helpful in the context of public speaking.

Visualize this scenario:

An employee of a large company has ambitious goals of one day becoming a senior level manager. The employee starts off with the company in a development position and soon starts to see the path that leads to management and then further sees senior management positions opening up in front of them. As this path becomes clear, the employee learns that a lot of the increasing responsibility that comes with the higher-level positions includes public speaking responsibilities. The employee has always felt nervous when faced with public speaking scenarios such as directing meetings, giving presentations, or leading group sessions. One day the employee is offered a managerial position. The employee goes home to consider the offer and feels anxiety even at the thought of the public speaking scenarios required at this next level.

In the above scenario, which is very common for many people looking to advance in a career, the employee sees where they would like to be down the road, but also feels anxiety at the thought of the public speaking responsibility and requirements that come with taking this step. At the point that the employee is offered the advancement, a choice is presented:

a) Confront the fear of public speaking head on and accept the challenge as well as the promotion; or:
b) Give in to fear and put off the promotion based on avoiding the anxiety that comes with increased public speaking requirements

To me, this is where Sandberg’s words become useful both as a concept, as well as a visual tool. “Leaning in”, in this scenario implies pursing the challenge and taking the promotion. Visually, it can be taken in a literal context, where when giving a speech, the employee is inspired by the potential for success and “leans in” physically while delivering a speech rather than “leaning back” in a symbolic attempt to escape the experience. “Leaning in” in this context is a useful speaking technique as it signifies an attempt to connect, engage, and inspire the audience. Approaching a speech from this perspective helps the speaker to focus on the value they are actively giving to the audience and help “flip” anxiety into productive energy.

Overall, Sandberg’s book has many great thoughts for anyone pursuing a career in today’s times. The concept of “leaning in” not only sparks thought, but can be inspiring in a practical way when looking at both advancing a career as well as “flipping the fear” of public speaking. Try this in your next speech:

Visualize “leaning in” to engage the audience in the speech. This is most useful at the beginning of the speech and to emphasize key points.

Think of “leaning in” as reaching out to share a valuable message: How can you delivery your message in the most enthusiastic, engaging, inspiring way?

When feeling anxiety, ask yourself: Is this anxiety telling me I have a choice to “lean in” to opportunity? If I choose to “lean back” from public speaking do I risk missing out on bigger opportunities, such as career advancement?

When feeling anxiety during a speech, ask yourself: What is my body language doing? Am I unconsciously “leaning back” from the audience in an attempt to escape the experience? How can I re-engage by “leaning in”?

For more on Lean In: http://leanin.org/

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