Her Presence Led Her Here

August 16, 2021 HERdacity Season 2 Episode 62
Her Presence Led Her Here
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Commanding a Room

In this episode, herdacious host Lorelei chats with Caren Lock about commanding the room. Executive presence is that badass woman who walks in with all the self-assuredness in the world and demands to be heard. We’ve seen it, we want it, but how can we develop it? Caren divulges that, contrary to popular belief, executive presence isn’t this natural skill allotted to the lucky few; instead, it’s a skill that each of us can obtain with practice and positive habits. Equipped with her legal and public speaking background, Caren teaches us that commanding a room [as women] takes a more strategic approach because of the gendered communication behaviors that can and do undermine women's authority in the workplace. However, with awareness of our learned behaviors and a drive to improve, we can avoid detrimental habits that keep us from moving forward. From being cognizant of our intonation while speaking to ensuring we’re dressed for our power-roles, Caren reminds us that although gendered barriers cannot be ignored, they can be tackled by developing purposeful communication habits that reinforce our professional presence. We are all that badass woman who inspires confidence in those around us, and we owe it to ourselves to show up as her everyday! 

Host: Lorelei Gonzalez
Co-host: Caren Lock, JD

Caren Lock is the regional vice president and associate general counsel of government relations for TIAA, a national financial service firm. Caren attained her JD from Baylor University School of Law and has since worked as an experienced litigator.  In addition to her professional work, Caren is a nonprofit leader with a passion for diversity & inclusion. 

Things you will learn in this episode (chapter markers available):  

  • Command the room 5:00
  • Gendered language 8:10
  • Executive presence 13:14
  • The power invested in listening 16:10
  • Vulnerability is here, do not fear! 17:22
  • Your guide to honing the skills 19:00
  • Femme fact: Lyda Conley 24:30

Resources mentioned in this episode:  

Episode sponsors:  

Looking for additional resources on this topic? Check out our blog “How I Learned to Stop the Nerves and Love the Speech” by Lorelei Gonzalez

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Sponsor: Today's episode is brought to you by HERdacity. HERdacity is a non-profit inspiring confidence in women to achieve their professional goals. For resources, networking opportunities, and a strong community of women, visit herdacity.org to learn more.


Lorelei: Welcome to HERdacious, a podcast for audacious women. Welcome one, welcome all to HERdacious, the podcast for audacious women looking to make some career moves, and HERdacious is one of those amazing resources to help you do it. My name's Lorelei, the happy host of the show, and today we're gonna be talking about commanding a room. To join me in this epic conversation, I have a leader in women's issues, a champion of DEI work and a lobbyist with TIAA, Caren Lock.


Caren: Thank you so much, Lorelei. How are you?


Lorelei: I am very happy to have you here, how are you?


Caren: I'm just trying to stay cool in this Dallas weather, it's 107 degree heat index, so... Very, very hot.


Lorelei: My gracious. Alright, we're gonna keep it cool today because we're gonna be discussing public speaking and commanding a room. Now, Caren, our listeners might not know that you're an attorney, so I imagine that you had to develop your commanding a room skills pretty quickly and probably under quite a bit of pressure, would you share with us some of those experiences?


Caren: Oh, absolutely, it will be a joy to go down memory lane, so I went to Baylor Law School where we were all trained to be courtroom lawyers. Communication advocacy skills are honed year after year, but most importantly, in the last year. At Baylor law school there is something called practice court. Every Baylor lawyer knows this course and it is the most challenging. We are taught to not just write the papers, but more importantly, to pretend that you're living a case through. So the best part about the course, it teaches you to have no fear, you are basically publicly humiliated multiple times, but most importantly, you are taught to juggle many balls, so when you walk into a room, you have to evaluate the jury, you have to make objections, prepare a witness for cross examination, put on evidence, what that does is it helps you in a focus into multiple areas all at once, and get your spidey senses together, that's really what work is all about. But the best part of Baylor law school is they teach you how to do that while you're trying to advocate and develop a story, so that's kind of what you and I are talking about, public speaking and commanding a room. One of my most fond memories is getting kicked out of class.


Lorelei: Why?


Caren: Because I was busy taking notes and the professor asked me a question, I looked up and said, "Excuse me, sir, could you repeat the question?" Immediately, the professor said, "You just need to leave the room, if you cannot take notes at the same time that you're putting on a witness evaluating a jury, making a record for objections, if you can't do two things. Just two things, answer my question and take notes, how are you gonna do all those things in the courtroom?" He was right. You will never forget that walk a shame in a different kind of way, you learn very quickly how to listen and evaluate everybody around you, and that's part of what commanding a room is all about.


Lorelei: Well, how can our listeners start to develop their commanding the room abilities?


Caren: Well, think about first and foremost, that you literally have less than 30 seconds, everybody thinks you have 90 seconds to make a good impression, you have less than 30 seconds. There was a study done recently that out of 2,000 Americans, most Americans make the first impression of somebody before they even start talking, so remember that even before you start talking, somebody's already deciding whether or not they like you, they trust you. And then everything after that flows from it, once you walk into a room, just being aware of who your audience is, what you're trying to convey, knowing what your end goal is is critically important. Those are the basic objectives that you should do before you even go into a room, but there are so many differences too between what a woman does versus what a man does.


Lorelei: Oh. Let's unpack that a bit. Tell us a little bit more about the gender difference.


Caren: So first and foremost, it's important to recognize that leadership or commanding of rooms, people perceive that to be a little different for men versus women. Women have to be commanding yet soft, so that we don't come across as too abrasive, so it's a little bit more of a delicate balance. There are attributes that are placed on men being assertive, but yet I flip it around for women and could be coming the perceived responses. Knowing that is critically important. So you have to be assertive but a little bit softer, do all of the smiling at the same time as you are asking for what you need, but not push too hard, so it's a little bit more of a dance, but it's something you can definitely learn. It is not, it's not a skill that you're born with and never cultivate.


Lorelei: Well, on the topic of gender difference, let's pop into a little bit more intersectionality for a second, what about for women of color, what sort of challenges do they have in developing their command of the room abilities?


Caren: So you now have being a woman as well as a woman of color. Generally, in my world, I am one of very few women of color in a room, so I have very little room for mistakes or missteps because people remember them. However, on the upside, if you do a good job, people immediately remember you because there's just so few of us, so I really try to lean in, definitely over-prepare. There's nothing better for your confidence than preparing and knowing exactly what you're asking for and knowing your data points, knowing all that you need to back up what you're asking from whoever you're talking to is critically important. But if you do it well, people remember you and they actually will come back to you. I've had experiences where I see somebody and I may not recognize who they are, but because there's so few of me in a capital... And I do state lobbying, so there's so few of me in a capital... They immediately associate me with TIAA, that's the positive, the downside is hopefully, I haven't totally messed up something in the past.


Lorelei: Awe come on... Alright, well, I'm gonna keep pulling on this gender difference thread for a second. So gendered language is pretty common, I imagine you're very familiar with it, having gone through communications training in law school, we see it everywhere, we see it in job titles, last names, colloquial terms, greetings, especially in foreign languages, and in the way we socialize men and women to speak differently, kinda like what you mentioned with the assertive versus bossy. And I think most of us understand that this comes out of historical patriarchy, where men were the norm and women were the other, so what do our professional women who are listening need to know about gendered language? I think especially including the use of passive language that is more often taught to women.


Caren: Absolutely, there are two different things I really wanna point out. The first one is the intonation and the tone, when you are first starting out in a professional career, you have to learn to project, you have to use and push out your voice. When you're young, you hesitate sometimes and end a sentence with a question. So for example, what I just did there. Do you think it's a good idea? Asking is also another big problem, we always qualify everything with a question, when you and your tone end the sentence with a question, you are conveying a message of insecurity and uncertainty. So that's the first thing we need to stop. "My idea is to incorporate product A to product B?" or "my idea is to incorporate Part A with product B." The two different endings will change the way you're conveying the message, so that's the first thing, is speaking and pushing out the words in an authoritative way. The second part is the use of the passive words... Filler words. I'm gonna go back to law school one more time, because when I was in law school, I had a professor who stayed behind me with a ruler tapping me on the shoulder, because I always use the word "and" so I would connect the thought. Use the word and to buy some time to think of whatever it is I'm saying next rather than just pausing, letting whatever thought or whatever message sinks in and then go to the next one. So using some of the connector words. One of my pet peeves is "like," I hear ladies or women use that word all the time.


Lorelei: Guilty!


Caren: "Like... Do you understand what I'm saying?" Well, that's the worst because you have now "like... " and "Do you understand what I'm saying?" So you have three different no nos. All in one place.


Lorelei: Give us some more.


Caren: "Just... " I hate the word just... I read an article about five years ago where they broke down using sentences incorporating "just" even in simple emails of your day, "I just want to ask you a question," the word "just" doesn't add any value, it is just a filler word, and what it looks like is you're questioning yourself. "I have a question I wanna ask you. What is going on?" It's simple.


Lorelei: "Is this okay for me to ask?"


Caren: Exactly, so that goes back to the intonation, that kind of squeaky high tone voice is just not perceived as serious. So yesterday, I was listing to an NPR article, the women was a professor, but she spoke in such a high-pitched, young girl voice, it was distracting. Something to think about if you are trying to command the room is to lower your tone. Project, push out, really basic kind of things you already know, but you don't think about when you're nervous. The other one is, "I'm sorry," rather than saying "Excuse me," or simply just jumping into the conversation. I see this in conferences and in meetings where women will say, "Excuse me, I'm sorry," everything is... "I'm sorry," you're not really sorry, you just wanna be heard, and if you want to be heard, just speak.


Lorelei: I appreciate all of the points you're bringing to light right now, and I think the clarification is wonderful, so... I'm sorry, Caren, I just need to take a quick sponsor break. Is that okay?


Caren: [laughter] Absolutely.


Lorelei: Alright. We'll be right back.


Sponsor: Hi, Barbie here from Moonray, husband and wife indie-pop duo. If you enjoy the intro music, we invite you to listen to our debut EP Honeymoon. Streaming now on all platforms. Visit www.moonray-music.com for more.


Lorelei: And we're back talking with Caren Lock about commanding a room. Caren, how else would you describe commanding a room?


Caren: It's also known in the professional world as executive presence.


Lorelei: Executive presence, right. So what other skills can women develop in the realm of executive presence?


Caren: We spent a little bit of time already talking about communication, but I wanna start off with how we act when we walk into a room, being able to be soft but yet assertive, walking into a room and immediately leaning in and shaking someone's hand, I gather with covid, it's a little different, but eventually we'll get back to a point where we will have those interactions. It's critically important that you take a deep breath before you go into a room, lean in, immediately shake someone's hand, make eye contact. We always think about, "Oh, I want to do all of those things." But we never do, it's just a simple smile, make eye contact, lean in and kinda come gently into someone's space, you don't wanna be close to them, right in their face, but in our culture, it's totally doable. To lean in just a little bit and shake someone's hand.


Lorelei: Alright, anything else?


Caren: Yes, the way we dress, the image that you want people to perceive of you, I am a big believer that we are women and we should leverage that. I do not wanna dress like a man, I am not a man, I'm a big believer in wearing bright colors, something that really distinguishes me from whatever else is in the room. I remember my mother teasing me because I had these leopard print shoes, and my mother kinda teased me about it, but my mother is 80 years old, I'm not. I told her, it's absolutely okay. They're pumps, they're not strappy stilettos, but it's just something that's different and professional. I always think about coming and going, so coming into a room what you look like, as you're exiting the room what you look like. I'm a big believer that when you leave the room, you want to look as poised and as polished as you walk into, so check yourself before you walk into a room or when you're getting dressed in the morning, it's basic primers. But never underestimate the importance. A couple of other little tips that are important. Women, I see it all the time, carrying big shoulder bags with their laptops walking into a meeting, if you are looking to command a room, the last thing you want is be slipping a big giant bag. Leave the bag somewhere else. I usually just carry my phone, and in the days where we still had business cards, eventually we might all just switch over the LinkedIn, but business cards, that's it. Leave your big bag behind.


Lorelei: Copy that. So what are some key things that we also need to know when we are practicing our executive presence?


Caren: The biggest one, listen. If I walk into a room and I have a meeting and I've done most of the talking, I have not accomplished what I needed, I need to listen more. If you are a leader, you need to listen to the people beneath you, around you, people you're talking up to, we spend a lot of time talking, and of course, I say this as we are talking during your podcast, but listening is so much more important. If I can come out of a meeting having done only 25% of the talking, the other person feels like they are important and their opinions are valued, and I have collected so much data out of that meeting that I can use as a follow-up. And most importantly, when it comes to leadership, your staff or your team wants to know that they matter, and the only way you can show them they matter is to listen and respond accordingly. But other things that I think are important is being authentic. For example, I'm Chinese, I can't hide from that. Sharing my experiences, sharing some of my vulnerabilities in the last year during covid with the tide of Asian violence made me more relatable to some of my friends and actually connected me with folks that I generally wouldn't have gotten to know outside of my business unit, but that is something that has helped. Leveraging something that is sensitive to yourself, but yet sharing it will bring back a lot more relationship building.


Lorelei: Well, that sounds a little bit like vulnerability to me...


Caren: Yes, it is. And I think I shared during one of my meetings about being afraid for my mother's safety because she lives with us, she is pushing 80 and she's 4'11 on her tippy toes, and I had so many people privately write back to me about how they were afraid for their parents' safety, and I've developed relationships with folks outside of the Dallas office in New York and in Charlottesville, because I was able to open up a little bit about who I am. And everybody has a personal story that would resonate with somebody, it's just being brave enough to share that part of you.


Lorelei: Right, well, we have covered a lot of things that we need to be mindful of, that need to work on developing ourselves for our ability to command the room for our executive professional presence. How do you recommend we better hone these skills?


Caren: First, you have to be able to be honest with yourself, knowing that you want to be better is a really good first step, developing a group of people around you, I call them my personal board of directors, honestly just good old-fashioned girlfriends, but yet they're from across different sectors. So because I'm a lawyer and a lobbyist, I don't just want lawyers and lobbyists to tell me what is good that I'm doing or what is bad that I'm doing, because we speak differently. Lawyers speak differently than lobbyist. So building that little personal board or directors from women from different professions and different ages. I have in my personal board of directors, girlfriends who are older than me and some that are younger than me, because I wanna be relevant, I want to understand what's going on from all the different age groups. I think that's critically important. Reminding yourself that you are human and asking for help, don't just lean in asking, "Hey, can you help me with something? I need you to check me... I need a gut check." I say that a lot. I need a gut check, so if you have an issue or you don't know if you're doing something right, have someone check you out.


Lorelei: Oh, there's that vulnerability again.


Caren: That's what we're known for, women are able to open up ourselves a little bit more, but I will say one of the best things that you could do for yourself is reaching back and pulling up, you will feel so good about yourself, and it will pay back in way. You would never ever imagine.


Lorelei: Oh, I'm so glad you just mentioned that. 'Cause that leads me directly into my next question, how can we as professionals help other women around us when we see them not leveraging the full depth and breadth of their experience? Like when they use gendered language or when they're doing things that are possibly a professional hindrance to them, and we can see that... How do we reach out to those women?


Caren: I would do it definitely privately, I would never publicly call out any woman. I have certainly pulled aside young associates to remind them that that the sound that they're making is something they need to work on, and rather than saying it that way, simply say, "You need to project differently, slow it down and push air out a little bit more, because when we speak in that squeaky tone it's because we are holding in the air." I would definitely do it privately, if you're in a room and you see that they are falling into the trap of allowing someone to speak over them or collapsing their opinion, I think it's a moral imperative for all women to help each other and jump in and save them or interject and say, "Hey, ____, your idea just now was so brilliant and totally spot on," so rather than letting somebody else take your idea, I've just given you credit and publicly acknowledged you. Hopefully somebody will do that in return, but if you're trying to help other women in the profession, pulling them to my side is the best way to do it, and just a little gentle coaching.


Lorelei: Wonderful. Lastly, share some resources with our listeners to help them find more success in their commanding the room and executive presence development.


Caren: So I have several, I love TED Talks. As you can tell, I love podcasts. There is actually one, it's a playlist of "10 talks by women that everyone should watch," just Google it. I make it a point at least once a day to just kind of pop in, listen to 25-30 minutes of a Ted Talk, that's critically important. One, it just broadens your span and you can learn so much just by typing in and Googling that. I love Anne Chow's recent book, Anne Chow is the President and CEO of ATT business. She just had a book called "The Leader's Guide to Unconscious Bias" and it's how to reframe bias, cultivate connection and create high-performing teams. That's one of my favorite books right now, I hope that you can go and find that and learn from it. Recognizing where your own biases are as well as others will encourage you to connect more closely with others. And then lastly, take lessons even if your company isn't paying for it, or your employer is not paying for it, take classes and courses, even if you have to do it out of your own pocket, learning doesn't stop right after college. It continuously happens. So for example, I'm actually taking some classes on data privacy and trying to get a certification on cyber security, because I feel that that is an area that will have exponential growth.


Lorelei: Wonderful, thank you so much, Caren.


Caren: No, thank you, I really appreciate everything that you've done for giving voice to women and allowing me as a little bit of time to share with the audience.


Lorelei: Oh my gosh, absolutely, my pleasure. Well, so we're gonna transition into the end segment of our show, which is a femme fact. Caren, I think you're gonna like the woman we're talking about today. I think you'll have a little bit in common. So in the middle of downtown Kansas City, Kansas, there lies a 25-acre plot of land that starkly contrasts the typical urban landscape and rush hour traffic expected from a 21st century United States City, it's a quiet in precious little area full of trees and greenery, which is now classified as a federal park. As stunning as it appears today, 150 years ago, the fight to preserve this land, now known as the Wyandot National Burying Grounds was anything but pleasant, but there was one woman who made it her life's mission to ensure the longevity of the cemetery and resting place of some 400 to 600 members of her people's tribe, including her own mother. When we think of the concept of guardian angels, many of us conjure images of divine spirits with smiles and sparkly wings. Well, Lyda Conley was sort of a guardian angel to the Wyandot nation and her efforts to defend their sacred burial ground, except she pretty much abandoned the kind sparkly vibe, instead opting for more like a, don't F with me or I'll shoot you in the foot kind of vibe.


And I mean that literally. Eliza Burton Conley, nicknamed Lyda, was born in 1868 to her mother, Elizabeth Burton Zane, a member of the Wyandot Nation and granddaughter of the tribe's chief. And to her father, Andrew Conley, an English farmer who settled in Kansas. One of four sisters, Lyda lived an active childhood full of community involvement and constant learning, her and her sisters frequently rode across the river to attend school in Kansas City and Lyda herself trained as a telegraphic operator, while also teaching. As Lyda entered adulthood, Kansas City began to urbanize and talks of real estate development arose around what was then called the Huron Indian cemetery, which was a prime option for development. Given that many of Lyda's family members were buried on these grounds, including her mother and a sister, Lyda kept a close ear on these discussions, expecting the fate of her families burial grounds to meet that of many other Native American lands at the time. Lyda had already decided that she'd make the defense of her family and her people her life's work, just as these speculative talks erupted, Lyda quickly acted in pursuit of an education in law where she had attained the legal skills and knowledge needed to win the court case she was expecting to represent and that she did.


Lyda went to Kansas City School of Law where she graduated as one of the only women in her class, and shortly thereafter became the first woman admitted to the Kansas Bar in 1902. In 1906, Congress approved legislation allowing the Secretary of the Interior to sell the land where the Huron cemetery was located, as well as permitting the bodies of those buried in that cemetery to be relocated to a different cemetery. With legal certification under her belt, Lyda filed for an injunction against the government to permanently prevent the sale, remarking that "no lawyer could plead for the grave of my mother as I could, no lawyer could have the heart interest in the case that I have." And as a member of the Wyandot nation, Lyda fought tooth and nail to protect her ancestral burial grounds in Huron. Her and her sisters also erected what was dubbed Fort Conley, were the three surviving Conley sisters padlocked the gates and built a small building where they lived for years. There, they kept watch over the land with weapons and signs, warning off trespassers. Lyda later became the first Native American woman to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court in the October term of 1909. Lyda went up before the Supreme Court as both the plaintiff and attorney for her case, which is considered to be one of the first recorded instances in legal history. Lyda used her position as a descendant of the Wyandot nation to argue that the government could not sell their land as stated in an 1855 treaty between the United States and the Wyandot Nation, which disallowed the sale of their land and gave rights to descendants to enforce agreement. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court denied her injunction and ruled that the sale was legal, but Lyda's efforts did not stop. Though she exhausted her legal option at the time, Lyda continued to guard the gates of the cemetery fully armed and ready to party.


Her slightly unconventional activities later caught the attention of Kansas State Senator Charles Curtis, who passed a bill in 1913 protecting the cemetery from all future development. Though a step in the right direction, Lyda was not yet satisfied. She spent the remainder of her lifetime optimizing protection of the cemetery via filing an injunction against the city, interfering with city officials that she felt were disrespecting the graves, and accruing a decent amount of jail time for trespassing. It has been said that Lyda spent most of her days in or around the cemetery, guarding her people just as he promised she would. Unfortunately, Lyda was murdered in a robbery in 1946 and is buried now next to her sister in the National burying grounds. As we've seen many a times before, legacy does not stray far from a lifetime of dedication. Activists who were inspired by Lyda's commitment successfully continued her work to preserve the cemetery. And in 1971, Huron was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Fast forward to 2017, that quaint little piece of land in downtown Kansas City that seems a little out of place in its industrial landscape, will now live on in perpetuity, now designated as a national historical landmark, which officially protects it from all future development.


Though she isn't here to experience it first hand, Lyda was ultimately successful in her case to protect the legacy of her people, for her family, for her nation, and for those who would come after her. Lyda was a woman of incomparable class and civility, and she both literally and figuratively fought the law and won. Caren, it has been an absolute pleasure visiting with you today, and I really wanna thank you for all the contributions you have gifted to our audience, your executive presence is badass and we appreciate you.


Caren: Thank you so much.


Lorelei: Now, if you all enjoyed this show, please subscribe, follow whatever your podcast option you do and maybe even share with a friend or a colleague who might need a little professional support along their career journeys. I think they might appreciate it and I know, I will. You are welcome to drop us a line at herdacious [at] herdacity [dot] org, or you can send us a review, any of that jazz. So my name was Lorelei, and this was HERdacious. Until next time. You don't have to go out and fight the law and win, but show up, command the room, and own your space. You deserve it. And your professional career will thank you for it. 

Command the room
Gendered language
Executive presence
The power invested in listening
Vulnerability is here, do not fear!
Your guide to honing the skills
Femme fact: Lyda Conley