Last week I worked with a group of high school girls on presentation skills. I introduced them to approachable and authoritative nonverbals and when to use each, we discussed how to gesture effectively, and we talked about why pausing is so important.
But when it came time to discuss the actual speech itself, I was struck by how every single girl in the room prefaced her statements with: “in my opinion.”
This is a serious problem folks.
“In my opinion,” or the closely related “I think,” or “I feel” is, at best, verbal filler. A presenter doesn’t need it, and it weakens most sentences.
But at its worst, it’s a dangerous nonverbal we often overlook. Particularly for young women.
Prefacing statements with “in my opinion” communicates, “This is just my opinion, so it probably doesn’t carry much weight, but if you’d be so kind to hear me out…”
Which means that somewhere along the line these high school girls learned that their voices didn’t matter, that they needed permission to speak, that they weren’t allowed to have an opinion without qualifying it first.
Perhaps boys have the same problem, but in my experience I hear way more “in my opinions” when working with my female clients than I ever do from my male clients.
If we ever hope to increase the amount of women in leadership (which is the focus of the group working with these high school girls) we’ve got to start from the inside out. Leadership is communicated. And our communication is a reflection of what’s going on inside.
Sometimes we’re not aware of our limiting beliefs until they show up nonverbally, like in this case. Which is why this work is so life changing: it illuminates our blind spots but also gives us tools to communicate in ways that expand our self-concept.
Which is exactly what happened once I disabused these girls of the notion that they needed to qualify their opinions. I asked them to state their content without any “announcing.” At first they struggled. “How do I start, then?” they asked. “Just say what you think!” I said.
As they stated their opinions without any introduction, they stood taller. They spoke with more authority. They made more eye contact. Suddenly they became believable, passionate, and powerful.
Word choice is nonverbal. How we think affects how we communicate nonverbally, but never forget that how we communicate nonverbally also affects how we think.