It’s How You Say It

By Sharan Hildebrand, SVP Sales at Capax Global

Arms stretched towards the sky, head (and sign) held high — this 2-year-old girl had something to say as she joined the multitude of supporters at one of the Women’s Marches last week. While the words on her sign may be tough to translate, the presentation of her prose can’t be ignored as toddler sized energy fuels her tiny fingers and ensures that her message can be seen by the world.

Apparently, this girl was observing her mother and older brother make signs for the march the evening before the event. Moved by the spirit of the room she found her own piece of cardboard, grabbed some markers and went to work. When interviewed about this picture going viral, the toddler’s mother shared, “She was proud of her work and marched around the house with it … we took it along so she would have something to hold if she wanted.” Holding a piece of cardboard presided over what could have been a favorite teddy bear that day and inspired a lineup of lessons to consider.

“It’s Not Just What You Say But How You Say It”

I’ve been in sales for more than 25 years, and have always had a lot to say (I ask my network to be kind here). But it wasn’t until 10 or so years ago, that I realized how important the delivery and presentation of my message was compared to what I wanted to say.

I was presenting to a room of approximately 40 people in Chicago and had crafted what I thought was a value filled workshop as I had come across some brilliant content at a Silicon Valley event that I wanted to share. (Courtesy of Karen Tucker of the Churchill Club). I had an extremely interactive agenda that forced group collaboration with videos and slides. Upon explaining the workshop format to the room, I had someone say (loud enough for the entire room to hear), “this is what someone does when they don’t have anything good to say”.

Wow — now what?! I paused and immediately thought about why I was doing this. I reminded myself that the information and trends I had heard from industry leaders in San Jose were relevant and value rich. The people sitting in Chicago were being given the opportunity to receive the Reader’s Digest of Silicon Valley insight from founding board members of Oracle and Google, top VCs and executives from Facebook. What do you mean I don’t have anything good to say?! Confident that this new format was innovative and destined to be a success, I rewound my introduction and started to explain my inspiration for the workshop. I talked about the experience of entering a room with hundreds of technology professionals ready with their red and green paddles, prepared to celebrate or shoot down the trends each panelist was going to demand we pay attention to. As I shared the insights that were discussed at my own table that night, I concluded my intro with some inspirational quotes I had written down that evening then dove into my workshop agenda. A few hours later at a reception after the event, one the attendees on his way out called my name from across the room and shouted, “Sharan, you kicked ass today!”. The room clapped and I smiled as validation feels pretty good.

“It’s Not Just What You Say But How You Say It”

Things that helped me that afternoon:

  • I told a story — fearful that the negative commentary from my audience member would disengage the others in the room, I strived for a way to connect and ensure I had folk’s attention. Telling the story of how positive, informative and inspirational my experience in San Jose was and how I had planned an agenda that would emote these same things to the attendees in the room changed the mood. Wrapping your agenda in a story, or beginning your presentation with a brief narrative makes your content relatable and more interesting. The story of our 2-year-old marcher will help you talk about and remember the impact of the marches (not to mention the story behind her father boosting her up and helping her stand tall a women’s march so she could be heard, #symbolic — that story will continue).
  • You gotta believe — the interactive format of my workshop was unique and probably not something most people had seen. My goal was to make it memorable by getting people engaged, forcing conversation at each table and even having each table present! The trends I used to drive these conversations were things I firmly believed in and knew we should pay attention to. The relevancy and format were “kick ass” and I knew it. Effectively communicating a message that you don’t believe in is like pushing a rope. Belief in your product, process, solution or personal agenda is vital to successfully communicating your point, and the more you believe the better you’ll be.
  • Confidence commands — believing in your message will breed confidence but it’s not always a given. I believed in the value of what I had to offer but was shaken before I even had a chance to start that day. What I was, was prepared. I knew my content, had practiced the format numerous times and tried to anticipate questions or issues given the unique format. While I didn’t plan for my audience member’s early comment, I was confident in my plan for the day which enabled me to pivot in the eye of adversity. Being prepared is just one ounce of the confidence formula but, it’s a vital one. The confidence you can build through practice can “make perfect” (or pretty darn close) — rehearse your message both physically and mentally and you’ll be handle that barky guy in the room.

While this advice isn’t new, it warrants a reminder as it doesn’t matter how intelligent, thoughtful or perfect your message is — to advance your agenda; you must make it relatable, be confident and believe in what you say. I’m sure there’s a sign in that somewhere.

Originally published at



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