A few months ago I recorded a series of webinars for an assistant association in the States (more to follow soon). Before I embarked on this assignment I was slightly concerned because I do think I sound like a twelve year old. On top of that I have a fairly distinct Cockney / Essex accent. These lovely aspects of my voice do not make me sound particularly authoritative! My voice is something I’ve had to work on my whole life… My mother constantly told my brother and I to pronounce our ‘t’s’ and to never drop our ‘h’s’. When I left Essex to go to University I quickly realised how broad my accent was and made a lot of effort to sound more like my friends. Working in London over the last ten years certainly encouraged me to develop a slightly posher accent and I tried really hard to keep my tone slightly lower so that I didn’t sound like a young girl – even though I was! Recently speaking in public and delivering training courses has made me so much more conscious of my voice. Last week I spoke to a group of students studying journalism at a university in Barcelona. The group were a mix of British and Spanish students so I had to make sure I spoke clearly and that they could understand me. On top of that I had to speak with authority and keep them interested in my topic for 45 minutes. Not easy with a class full of 20 somethings!

I do have a young sounding voice and a funny accent but speaking with authority is something I have developed over the years. Here are my ten top tips on speaking with authority at work:

  1. Remember that assistants represent their boss at all times. This is not the case for your colleagues. In any form of communication try to channel your manager’s authority by using the same tone that they take in emails or conversing over the phone.
  2. Christine Jahnke, a speech coach and the author of The Well-Spoken Woman said “Once you are in the room, recognize that you belong there.” This is such good advise for assistants. There is a reason we are in the meeting, even if we are there to take the minutes. Speaking with authority is mostly believing in your own voice and having the confidence to voice an opinion. This is easier said than done, but the first step is to believe that you belong in that room!
  3. Plan what you are going to say before you say it. Assistants are already well trained in getting information to their boss’s in small doses, in-between meetings and on the hoof. So we should be quite succinct and articulate anyway. Planning what you say before you say it will add to the clarity of your message and will make you look like you know what you are talking about – the key to speaking with authority!
  4. Take a breath! This is something that I am still working on. I can speak very very quickly so I have to work on my pace and I have to remember to breath! A measured pace when conversing or speaking to a group of people will make you appear controlled and thoughtful.
  5. I often find people who have confidence in their authority rarely flaunt it. I often try to add humour and personality to my communications in the hope people assume I am confident in my own authority. I find this really works as an Executive Assistant in charge of who sees my manager. I know I have the authority to decide what meetings he takes and what goes in his diary so I try to project an ease when dealing with these tasks. I think it makes my colleagues and our clients connect with me on a level that we might not have if I was just articulate and polite and I think it makes me look naturally authoritative when it comes to diary management.
  6. Speak to your manager about your authority. How much do you exactly have and how many decisions can you take without their consent? With the authority that you have really try to own it! Take pride in your decision making, think of yourself as the expert in that field and remember that you will be judged on the performance of those tasks.
  7. It is easy to get upset when your authority is being challenged. This will happen at some point in your career as an assistant – trust me! The best piece of advise I can give is to try your hardest to not let it upset you. Don’t let the person know you are angry or hurt, this will unfortunately undermine your authority. When you feel your blood boiling say that you will take what the other person has said on board and respond at a later date. Then hot foot it to the privacy of the ladies room to sort yourself out! We have all done that, I certainly have! As much as you want to be liked at worked the most important thing is that you are respected so keep a check on your emotions and have confidence that your authority in the matter at hand will be enough.
  8. I am terrible for this but speaking with authority does not come with lots of ‘errrrrr’s’ or ‘uuummmmm’s’ or ‘I think’s’. It also doesn’t help if you fidget or play with your hair. Again traits that I have – I did have the nick name ‘Bridget the fidget’ growing up! I’m still working on this one but once you have cracked it you really will sound more authoritative!
  9. In areas where you have no authority don’t try to speak with authority, there is no need to overcompensate. Stick to the tasks and decisions that you know you have control over. Your authority will certainly be diminished if you are overstepping your boundaries.
  10. The best piece of advice I’ve had about speaking with authority is to remember the power of silence. We have all been in conversations when we have been nervous and try to fill as much silence as possible. It does come across as lacking confidence in a very obvious way. So instead you should make your point then stop talking. A pause before you answer a question is good too because confidence in your own authority means that you are about to say something worth waiting for. Trust me this really really works!

So I am still a work in progress on this one. My top ten tips certainly help me and I hope you find them useful too!

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