By Julie K. Lara, AICI FLC

podiumIn today’s highly competitive job market you need an edge to stay in the game. Here are a few ideas for strengthening your image and professional presence.

Avoid too much head nodding. Women nod their heads to indicate they’re listening and understand what’s being said. Men interpret head nodding as agreement with their ideas. Too much head nodding may result in miscommunication and be perceived as weakness since it creates a subliminal message of submissiveness.

Pay attention to vocal inflection.  A rising inflection at the end of a sentence sounds tentative, as if posing a question and may diminish your credibility. Work on bringing your voice down at the end of a sentence.

Use more powerful language if you want to be heard and respected. Women often end their sentences with a question, “That’s a good idea, don’t you think?” weakening their conviction and authority. Eliminate modifiers, words such as just, guess, hopefully and some. Statements like “I’m only a beginner,”  “I guess I have a question”, “This is just a thought” diminish your message.  This language signals a lack of confidence and tells the listener your message isn’t very important.

Apologize only when you’ve done something wrong. Constantly apologizing will have the same effect as weak language and is not appropriate unless you’ve actually made a mistake.

Discourage others from interrupting when you are speaking. Don’t allow someone to cut you off unless you want them taking credit for your idea. Instead you can say, “I’m not finished,” or “Please hold your questions until I finish.” You can also ignore the interrupter and continue speaking until you’ve made your point.

Clothing and appearance are visual shorthand.  Women who wear spiked heels, low cut blouses, heavy make-up and mini-skirts are communicating sexual availability not career mobility. Consider the importance of your career goals when dressing for work and make your choices accordingly.

Contribute to the conversation, don’t wait for someone to call on you or ask your opinion. In our business culture people who don’t speak up are perceived as not knowing anything. Commit to making one contribution at each meeting, even if you are just underscoring a point or adding to what’s already been said. You must be heard to count.

Embrace public speaking.  I know it’s scary, but public speaking is an important opportunity for visibility and equal exposure. Confront the fear and get some coaching. Join a Toastmaster’s group to improve your speaking skills, it’s a safe environment filled with others just like you and it’s very affordable.

Email me at and let me know what strategies work for you. For more info visit or join me this month at Freelance Austin on August 8th for a session called Poised, Polished, Prepared: Communicating Your Personal Brand Effectively to learn more about developing your professional presence.

Photo uploaded to Flickr Creative Commons.

Latest posts by Women Communicators of Austin (see all)