Misunderstanding the cause of your stress can damage your career when speaking in the C-suite

When we speak, we all dream to project credibility and confidence. We want to speak up with clarity and conviction, be focused on our colleagues or audience. However, what we experience is quite the opposite: tension in our body, hesitation in our voice, focus on ourselves. This is holding us back in two ways.

First, the people you talk to misunderstand your tension and hesitation: they interpret hesitations as a lack of credibility (you don’t what you talk about) or truth manipulation (you lie or hide information).

I work with CEOs who promoted their most competent, knowledgeable experts to positions where they address senior executives in C-suites. And their choice is quickly challenged: it takes just a few minutes of speaking for the executives to declare those experts not credible and not trustworthy.

Here is why: People who don’t know you well cannot tell apart your difficulty in finding your words from your lack of knowledge or attempt to manipulate the truth. They simply attribute more credibility to those who speak with ease and who look at ease.

Second, you think of tension and hesitation as social stress: you are afraid to speak because people look at you. Well, you’ll make huge progress when you consider another root cause for hesitation and tension.

Here it is: Research shows that physical tension and hesitations come from mental overload: cognitive stress.

In other words, hesitation and tension are a sign that there is too much on your mind, in most cases because you don’t know well what to say in what order. The work of retrieving the bits of preparation from your long-term memory and putting them into a speech flow exceeds your working memory capacity.

It’s like asking too much from your computer: you overshoot your RAM, everything application slows down and your screen gets jerky.
If you are skeptical, try this: retract 17 from 183.886 ten times in a row. Don’t you feel tension in your body? Do you give the answers without hesitation?
Now, in training and workshop, we practice this: we read a script in front of people. What happens? We hear very few hesitations, we see much less tension.

In short, speaking intentionally is a brainy activity. When your brain is too busy, (a) the words don’t flow through your mouth and (b) tension builds up in the body. All this happens even in the absence of an audience.

Now your first step towards being seen as credible and trustworthy is preparing what to tell. Can you speak out loud with ease and conviction when nobody watches you?

Hesitations and tension are barriers to your leadership. Being present and open, not tense, speaking clearly with conviction, not hesitating, is in service to those you talk to.

Leading means replacing confusion with clarity, and anxiety with conviction.

Scroll to Top