5 Female Execs Share Their Best “Command a Room” Tips

Successful women offer advice on captivating an audience

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Michaela Pereira, news anchor for CNN’s morning show New Day, presides over living rooms across the country—rooms she can’t see.

Embrace your age

“In the past 10 years, I’ve noticed how much more I feel able to command a room. Being unapologetically over 40 gives me a lot of confidence.”

Emote with your voice

“I worked with a coach who reminded me that our voices are one of our most important instruments. If you want to get people’s attention, talk more quietly. It’s a trick that moms and public speakers all use.”

Wear what works

“It was hard to hear, but a boss once told me, ‘You look good in solid-colored outfits.’ I was wearing a mishmash, and it was very distracting. I thought, Well, that makes sense. TV is a small box. Viewers don’t need these prints.”

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Do Your Advance Work

Jennifer Raab, president of Hunter College in New York City, leads rooms of academics, board members, donors and students.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

“It’s important if I’m speaking that I know what my job in that room is. Ask yourself, What is my goal? Is it to express the importance of the occasion? Am I there primarily to honor an awardee? It’s surprising how often speakers don’t think about their jobs, and that can lead to speeches that are too long.”

Inject humor or something personal

“Before the graduation ceremony, I drive the staff crazy for two weeks trying to find out what the latest cultural reference is that twenty-somethings will get. One time after the Super Bowl, we did a Victor Cruz salsa dance.”

Go into the room where you’re going to speak while it’s being set up

“I make sure I’ve seen the room before my speech, even if it’s a ballroom. I will get there while they are setting the tables, and I will go up to the podium. I will check out where the audience is sitting, where the stairs are, where I may trip. It alleviates the anxiety of messing up.”

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Relinquish Control

Carrie Grip, executive director of the volunteer organization Rebuilding Together, commands respect from unpaid helpers.

Let them know they are appreciated

“I always communicate that I understand the volunteers could spend their time another way.”

Switch it up

“If I’m losing impact, it’s because I’m talking too much. To give the audience variety, I will turn the microphone over to someone else.”

Act the part

“When I have to speak, I go into a character and act. I’m not generally shy, but I’m not always comfortable onstage. Going into another mind-set helps.”

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Let Down Your Guard

Linda Rottenberg, CEO of Endeavor, which provides mentors to entrepreneurs, often attends meetings at which she is the only woman in the room.

Show your human side

“I always thought that as a woman I had to be all-knowing, all-powerful, in control. But that didn’t help me connect with people. I remember coming home after a particularly bad board meeting and dissecting what happened with my husband. He said, ‘I know your problem: too much Superman, not enough Clark Kent.’ When everything is going great, people don’t feel let in.”

Wear what you want

“I go to Davos each year for the World Economic Forum, and everyone is in a sea of navy and black. I embrace my femininity. It makes me seem more confident to the men. Teal or purple gives me power.”

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Be Your Own Role Model

Reshma Saujani is the founder of Girls Who Code, an organization that helps young women pursue careers in computing fields. The former deputy public advocate for New York City and a candidate for Congress, Saujani gave many talks to the voting public.

Toss the script and be yourself

“When I first ran for office, I thought commanding a room meant sounding perfect. I’d write my speech, memorize it and put it in my pocket like a security blanket. I thought I was impressing people—but I wasn’t moving them. I had to learn how to just talk, how to be authentic. That’s why I can move a room now. What people are attracted to is vulnerability. I share a lot of pain.”

Feel the room—literally

“I touch the furniture before I talk. It makes me feel very present, grounded.”

Play games

“I was told by a speaking coach to picture the room in pink and gold, and that works for me.”

Chat with people before you start

“Before I present, I talk to people and ask, ‘Why are you here?’ It gives me a sense of what people’s moods are. Talking to them also lets me use their names in my speech: ‘Jenny just told me X ...’ Then Jenny is listening, and the people around her are, too.”

Related: How to Command a Room

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Illustrated by Quickhoney

First published in the March 2014 issue

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