How to get your voice heard in the boardroom (from a female perspective)

woman in a yellow jumper using a megaphone to get her voice heard

I took on the running of the agency in 2016 at a relatively young age and as a newly promoted Managing Director.

I had total imposter syndrome – as many senior female leader’s experience – and an inner critic asking, “when I am going to get found out.” This, coupled with the fact that I worked in a male dominated sports marketing industry made me wonder how I was going to be taken seriously by many of the global rightsholders, even though I represented millions of dollars of their sponsors investment.

I soon learnt I needed to quickly increase my executive presence in the Board room if I was going to win these stakeholders over and deliver for my clients.

To do this I needed to find my voice, hold my space, and make my mark. I had to think gravitas, authority, and confidence.

Six things that I did and still do today to get my voice heard in the boardroom are:

Be prepared

I never go into a meeting without properly preparing for the session and knowing the content and subject of the meeting inside out. This gives me confidence, but also shows I really do know what I’m doing. There is an old British Army adage that Sir Jackie Stewart taught me years ago which I have brought into my practise – it’s the ‘7Ps’ which stands for Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

Be more cat

The Board room is a serious affair, usually with a packed agenda and time poor attendees. I like to use the analogy of cat’s vs dogs in the Board room. Usually attendees are ‘cat like’, and their attention is mainly on the issue / project / outcome, not so much on the relationship. In this situation, I usually adopt a more cat-based behavioural style to address Board members – speak up early in meetings, get straight to the point and respond with concise, direct answers to questions. Don’t be too eager to please, waving your hands around and getting too excited like a dog – this won’t get you the credibility you deserve.

Think about your body language and how you show up

take up your space by being anchored. Sit upright and forward at the table. Place your hands on the table, palms down. Breathe. Power comes from the breath in the belly so remember to pause to breath. Lower the register of your voice, eliminate any uptalking at the end of the sentence (unless you are asking question) and look people in the eye.  Think. Breath. Speak.

Don’t be interrupted or let people talk across you

When you have something important to say or wish to start a debate, you need to adopt techniques to take and then keep control of proceedings.  Ignore all signals to interrupt and avoid eye contact with the interrupter, while increasing your volume and pace to ensure you get your point across. Drive through to the end of your sentence and say, ‘can you hold that thought while I finish’.

But learn how to interrupt if needed (in a polite way)

If you disagree with a point or need further clarification, then attempt to establish eye contact with the speaker first – using nonverbal signals of intent or use the person’s name followed by ‘a quick question’. Have a strong voice and good vocal projection. Use phrases such as ‘can I just clarify that’ or ‘can I just interrupt for a moment’.

Be a credible leader, not a wall flower

No one gets the corner office by sitting on the side-lines. To be credible you need to have an opinion in the Board room, – ask for what you want and dare to compete, or you will never know what glory looks like.  

Louise JohnsonAbout the author

Louise Johnson is the CEO of Fuse – the only female UK CEO in the sports industry.

Louise has over 20 years’ experience in sport and entertainment marketing having worked both client and agency side, including Vodafone’s global portfolio which comprised of Ferrari F1, McLaren F1, Manchester United FC, David Beckham, and the UEFA Champions League, working across 100+ markets.

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