Women in Music: Celebrating Women Composers

Reported by Alice Trimmer

Over the years, women composers of concert music have been neglected when it comes to the usual means of recognition: concert programming, inclusion in music histories, textbooks, and general scholarly acknowledgements. With very few exceptions, they have been mostly acknowledged in footnotes or causal mentions, as wives or sisters of famous composers who were their husbands (Clara and Robert Schumann) or brothers (Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn).     

In recent decades, more efforts have been made to program works by women composers, partly out of social pressures, and partly because of the outstanding achievements of the composers themselves—for example, the awarding of the 1983 Pulitzer prize to Ellen Taaffe Zwilich for her “Symphony No. 1: Three Movements for Orchestra.” Although substantial gains have been made, the percentage of works by women composers programmed on concerts remains appallingly small, somewhere between 1 and 3%.

This situation is certainly not for lack of superb music, as was demonstrated so forcefully on January 24, 2018 at the “Women in Music” concert, Bruno Walter Auditorium, Lincoln Center.  Murray Hill Institute was honored to support this event, which was initiated by Anna Tonna, mezzo soprano, and Isabel Pérez Dobarro, pianist. Anna and Isabel met at the Música en Compostela Festival (Spain) in the summer of 2015 and created a project which they titled “Women in Music/Mujeres en Música.” The idea behind this project is to showcase works by living women composers, at the same time opening opportunities for discussions and cultural exchanges around the globe. Through support from New York Women Composers, Inc. as well as Asociación de Mujeres en la Música (Spain), two concerts were planned, one which took place in Madrid in the spring of 2017 and the other in New York on January 24, 2018.  

The New York concert had the added collaboration of the New York Philharmonic Very Young Composers program and Young Women Social Entrepreneurs. Anna and Isabel were joined by guest artists Nan-Maro Babakhanian, mezzo soprano, and 2Flutes: Pamela Sklar and Laura Falzon. The music spanned a wide range of contemporary compositional styles with works by Alexa Babakhanian, Consuelo Díez, Mary Ann Joyce, Diana Pérez Custodio, Marga Richter, Rosa María Rodríguez Hernández, Pamela Sklar, and Mercedes Zavala. Thanks to the innovative programming of Anna and Isabel, each song and instrumental work on the program was based on the texts of either Shakespeare or Cervantes, thus incorporating a literary connection as an additional point of interest.   

The concert began with two works for flute and piano composed by high school women who have studied composition through the New York Philharmonic Very Young Composers (VYC) program. Jon Deak, founder of VYC, explained its inception and goals. The program gives public school students an opportunity to compose their own music. Madeline Schmidt and Cassandra Stevens, the two students whose music was performed that evening, gave brief descriptions of their works. It is clear that the future of women composers is a bright one indeed. 

The audience included guests from the Rosedale Achievement Center, a supplementary educational center in the Bronx that offers academic tutoring, leadership training, and music lessons to young women of middle school and high school age. Murray Hill Institute has been in partnership with Rosedale since MHI’s beginnings, and we were happy that some of the students were able to join us for the evening.

The Women in Music concert had as its theme “A Musical Conversation between the United States and Spain.” The evening brought together many positive themes—achievements of multiple generations, the ties between great literature from the past and contemporary music, and most of all, an opportunity to hear such dynamic and powerful works, all written by women.   

The following video and photos are by Aisha Kamara.

 The reception desk

The reception desk

 A Rosedale student and her family await the concert.

A Rosedale student and her family await the concert.

 Cassandra Stavens (left) and Madeline Schmidt (right), members of the New York Philharmonic Very Young Composers program

Cassandra Stavens (left) and Madeline Schmidt (right), members of the New York Philharmonic Very Young Composers program

 Jon Deak, founder of New York Philharmonic Very Young Composers

Jon Deak, founder of New York Philharmonic Very Young Composers

 Pam Sklar and Isabel Pérez Dobarro

Pam Sklar and Isabel Pérez Dobarro

 Laura Falzon

Laura Falzon

 Anna Tonna

Anna Tonna

 Anna Tonna and Isabel Pérez Dobarro

Anna Tonna and Isabel Pérez Dobarro

 Isabel Pérez Dobarro

Isabel Pérez Dobarro

 Nan-Maro Babakhanian

Nan-Maro Babakhanian

 Nan-Maro Babakhanian and Isabel Pérez Dobarro

Nan-Maro Babakhanian and Isabel Pérez Dobarro

 The composers and performers take a bow

The composers and performers take a bow

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Personal Brand Workshop

Personal Brand Workshop

The 2017-2018 programming season at Murray Hill Institute opened with an inspiring workshop that challenged us to think hard about more effective ways of presenting ourselves in today’s information-laden professional and cultural environments. Our Personal Brand workshop was held at the Global Brands Group headquarters in the Empire State Building on September 13, 2017. The Board of Directors of Murray Hill Institute is most grateful to Deneille Dewar, Vice President of Global Brands Group, for her warm welcome.  

Katharine English, President and Founder of Transformer-in-Chief, LLC, began by introducing the concept of branding in general, then moved on to define personal brands, which by shining the spotlight on one’s unique value, move far beyond the information traditionally found in a resume. As she defined it, “A brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room.” Katharine led the participants in a series of interactive activities and worksheets that helped everyone to think of what constitutes their authenticity, vision, unique value, and persona. She also gave some valuable tips on the most effective use of social media. 

Katharine has generously sent us her presentation slides so that those who attended will be able to review the points we discussed, and those who were unable to come can get a glimpse of the ideas and considerations that she presented in order to help each person define themselves as they reach out to new professional opportunities. Click here for the presentation.


MHI 2017 Fashion Intelligence Symposium: Fashion and Social Impact

THANK YOU to all who participated in the recently concluded Fashion Intelligence Symposium, with the theme, Fashion and Social Impact. We were delighted with the turnout, the feedback, and the suggestions for the 2017 symposium. We welcome any additional comments you may have.

Murray Hill Institute is grateful for our on-going collaboration with the Fashion Institute of Technology Center for Continuing and Professional Studies, represented by the managing coordinator, Joan Volpe, and Arthur Dunn, the assistant coordinator, and with Villanueva University, represented by Paloma Diaz-Soloaga. A special thank you to the speakers who shared their vast experience and helpful advice: Jean-Emmanuel Shein, Director, Global Corporate Social Responsibility, UNIQLO USA, Laticha Brown of the Fashion Institute of Technology, Mary Sheehan Warren, Owner of ISYFashion and Adjunct Professor, CUA Business School, Jenny Chen of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Kara Eschbach, Co-Founder, CEO & Editor In Chief, Verily, Alida Boer, founder of MARIA’S Bags, Judi Limbers, Social Entrepreneur and Founder, The Dress Shoppe, Manuela di Prima, founder of Maison Di Prima.

Fashion and Social Impact    
April 29, 2017

Paloma Díaz Soloaga, Complutense University

The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, just after the oil industry. Production of raw material, textile manufacture, clothing construction, shipping and finally, retail: besides other contaminants, all those phases mean a big carbon footprint on the environment.

But today we have heard so many professionals who are conscious of this impact and want to make a difference. This has given us a renewed awareness of how important it is to change the way we have been doing things for decades.

As a matter of fact, there are many initiatives around the world that are trying to look at fashion from a different perspective. In particular, many young designers and entrepreneurs are paying attention to all these facts and applying their knowledge to this amazing industry, creating new concepts and business which give priority to not only to what benefits themselves, but also to what helps them make a positive contribution to society.

As Jean-Emmanuel Schein from UNIQLO has said, our mission in this moment of history, is not only to be “nice people” but to understand and apply social responsibility to solve problems. Their vision at UNIQLO is to "make the world a better place through our business." Solving problems, as Laticha Brown explained this morning, has also to do with the way digital technology is solving problems for the consumer (for example, designing slacks with phone chargers built in). On a deeper note, Mary Sheehan Warren pointed how shopping for fewer quality items or vintage clothing—as opposed to fast fashion which has little staying power—can be a smart response to the negative impact that too much fashion consumerism can have on our personal life and happiness. 

This means that we must each try to find new ways of realizing that we are part of a whole and that it is necessary to look at the big picture rather than merely looking out for our own personal interests. This is not only an emotional reaction but also a realization that our actions affect the common good and that we all have a responsibility to work together to make a better world for everyone. 

I want to give thanks to all the speakers for their contributions that made possible the Third Fashion Intelligence Symposium and to the Fashion Institute of Technology and Murray Hill Institute for their efforts in continuing the collaboration of three different institutions with same interests and goals (FIT, MH and Villanueva University): to form students and young professionals and prepare them to become the next generation of leaders in the fashion industry.

And special thanks to Teresa Carale, the President of Murray Hill Institute, since she is the real soul of this wonderful event that has as its main goal to mentor young professionals and encourage them to make a positive impact on the fashion industry. To all of you, many thanks and see you here, next year, at our Fashion Intelligence Symposium 2018!

Women's Leadership Conference 2016

A short video about our November 5, 2016 conference, Reinvention, Retooling, RePurposing: Leading Your Career in a World of Change is now online. 

Thank you to Arko Creative for the filming and production of this video.

Paint Night

In February 2017 we enjoyed Paint Night with Jenny Chen. 

Construct a Quick Personal Purpose Statement

Construct a Quick Personal Purpose Statement

Reported by Alice Trimmer

In October 2016 MHI was pleased to host Christine B. Whelan, author of The Big Picture, for a lecture and book signing. The Big Picture is geared primarily to young adults of college age. It contains a wealth of interactive strategies to help them uncover their personal sense of purpose. While this is a critical undertaking when one is choosing a course of study and professional path, developing a personal purpose statement is a good exercise to undertake at any point in one’s life. At this time of year, as one’s enthusiasm for New Year’s resolutions starts to lag, it is a good moment to consider whether I have a clear sense of my overarching purpose in life, and how the projects and plans for self-improvement that I plan to undertake fit into that. Constructing a personal mission statement can be a short road to complete mental paralysis, as most of us have many interests, talents, duties, responsibilities and pending projects. How do we meld all of these into a coherent path, and what is our basis for prioritizing them? Often we can think of short and long-term goals that we want to achieve, but Christine reminded us that goals are interim steps towards accomplishing our larger life’s purpose—not ends in themselves.  

In the workshop, Christine gave us a quick and accessible method to create a personal purpose statement. We wanted to share it with you so that you could try it. It is best not to over-think the answers, but just put what arises spontaneously as you go through the three steps. No one needs to see it but you, and you can always change it!  Here it is:   

  1. Think of three of your personal strengths, or things that you are good at. (These can be skills you have acquired over the course of your life, or qualities and talents you were born with.)  
  2. Think of three personal core values. (What values underlie your actions? What is most important to you?)
  3. Think of three persons, situations, or groups of people that you would like to impact. (What or who would you like most to change or influence?)  

These will be your building blocks for your purpose statement. Put them together into your personal purpose statement by filling in these blanks:

I will use my strengths in _______, _______, and _______ to promote my values of _______, _______, and _______ in order to  impact _______, _______, and _______. 

That’s all there is to it. Try it and find out how close to the mark your purpose statement turns out to be!  

The Road to Authentic Leadership

The Road to Authentic Leadership

Chinwe Esimai, Managing Director, Chief Anti-Bribery and Corruption Officer, Citigroup, Inc., gave the MHI Fall Leadership seminar that inaugurated our 2016-2017 mentoring year. Her topic was “Women and Authentic Leadership in a Globalized World.” While the advice to “be true to yourself” has been repeated so often that it has almost become a cliché, Chinwe gave it bones and muscle with her account of first-person experiences in the highly competitive environment of global finance. Her talk was filled with sound and practical advice about keeping your balance and maintaining a values-based approach to your career. She has kindly shared her lecture notes, which are reproduced in abbreviated form below. 


According to a report on Women in the Workplace published in The Wall Street Journal on September 27, 2016, women still face significant challenges in the workplace in terms of balancing priorities outside of work, access to opportunities and promotions, and inequality in pay. 

While Chinwe believes it is helpful to be aware of these challenges, she would rather focus on the solutions, and authentic leadership can help serve as one of the proposed answers to the challenges women face in the workplace.

Chinwe noted that often when people speak of leadership, they speak about the expressions, applications, or manifestations of it, such as having a vision, being a person of influence, having vast responsibilities, building a team, being strategic, being courageous, or pursuing justice.

These don’t, in her view, necessarily get to the core of leadership. Leadership starts with each individual. At its very foundation, leadership is the ability to understand and utilize your innate talents. With that as the foundational definition of leadership, she believes authenticity in leadership is vitally important.

According to the Center for Creative Leadership, the five defining characteristics of authentic leadership are: Clarity about one’s values, priorities, and preferences (including virtues, such as justice, integrity, and loyalty); Willingness to work toward aligning one’s values and behaviors (authentic leaders work towards growing core values in themselves and also bringing those behaviors to the workplace); Acceptance of the necessity for choices and trade-offs (including daily choices in balancing one’s responsibilities outside the workplace, as well as leaving the workplace in the short or long term, in order to focus on family needs); High degree of comfort and satisfaction with decisions made earlier in life; and Sense of self-determination (including the ability to make career decisions, big and small).

As Chief Anti-Bribery & Corruption Officer at Citi, Chinwe oversees Citi’s global anti-bribery program, which develops and maintains a framework for adherence to anti-bribery regulations set out by the US, UK, and countries around the world where the bank does business. Beyond adhering to legal and regulatory requirements, it is about doing business ethically, building and maintaining an ethical culture, embedding that culture in systems and processes, and giving employees the tools to mitigate potential bribery risk.

Chinwe truly enjoys anti-bribery work. Growing up in Nigeria, she began thinking and speaking about bribery for as long as she remembers, long before she had the opportunity to focus on it professionally. She’s passionate about her work because it has meaning to her, and more broadly, it has a positive impact on how communities and countries around the world do business. 

The six lessons in authentic leadership Chinwe shared are: (1) Tune in; (2) Follow what interests you; (3) Embrace each work experience as a learning opportunity; (3) Be intentional about building relationships within and outside your organization; (4) Whenever you have an opportunity to do something outside your comfort zone, take it; and (5) Have a voice; speak up.


“The human being is single, unique, and unrepeatable, someone thought of and chosen from eternity, someone called and identified by name.” Pope John Paul II

We are acutely aware that we live in a globalized world, from the prevalence of social media—Facebook, Twitter, Google—to the increased globalization of our economies. Today’s workplace can encompass remote work or work from home, conference calls, and online meetings. The world is getting smaller. Positive aspects of this include increased avenues for communication and easy access to information. Yet, in some cases, there are fewer in-person interactions. As a culture, we can get distracted by non-stop flow of communication. This often creates anxiety, stress, and a sense of being overwhelmed. 

Awareness of the continual flow of communication leads us to a simple conclusion—the busier you are, the more important it is to take quiet time to tune inwards. For each person, it’ll look different, based on schedules and responsibilities, but such time should be both sacred and non-negotiable.

If you’re not spending quiet time each day, it’s very difficult to know what your unique expression in the world should be. 


People may find discussions about finding one’s passion to be too difficult, even too weighty, so it helps to focus on interest. In her career, Chinwe followed her interests by spending time studying anti-bribery developments, and being open to continually learning, reading and speaking about anti-bribery developments before she formally worked in the area, and telling mentors and colleagues that she was interested in anti-bribery work. She sensed that it was an area in which she could add value because she found it fascinating. 


While each role should be evaluated from the perspective of how well it taps into your unique skills and talents, be willing to view your career as a journey. Each job has its role in the journey and teaches valuable lessons.

For example, at one point in her career at another company, Chinwe was asked to help cover non-routine options and derivatives inquiries. As an attorney, she had had very little formal training about the stock market and trading, let alone complex products such as options and derivatives. She sat through ten interviews in which each interviewer was convinced that she could master it. 

When she took on the role, she completed a number of courses that were offered on options, derivatives, and hedging—the same courses the traders themselves were required to take. She also sat on the trading desk with the traders to build relationships and learn more about what they did day-to-day.

Her experience handling inquiries has led to a deeper understanding of these matters, and supported her experience in other compliance risk management roles, skills she utilizes till this day.


Focus on the quality of relationships, and have a preference of quality over quantity. When possible, meet colleagues in person or have a phone conversation. People appreciate being heard, so whenever possible, bridge the gaps in time and space.

Take advantage of formal mentoring programs within your organization, but also seek out informal networking opportunities. She values diversity in mentors (as it can be enriching and complementary), and recommends having a broad range of mentors, where each person plays a different role. A trait she often appreciates in mentors is directness, particularly when they provide frank advice, while respecting that she is ultimately responsible for her career.

The key is to allow such relationships to develop organically, and seek to maintain them over time, even when one changes roles or organizations. Mentors can be invaluable in helping to navigate change. They understand organizational dynamics that one may not have access to early in the career journey. 


Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, she became a butterfly.
— Barbara Haines Hewlett

Chinwe shared a story about a time in her career when she had the opportunity to take on larger responsibilities, but feared that she was not ready. One of her longtime mentors, who had observed her career for a number of years, told her he knew she was ready for it, and would, in fact, excel in the role. He offered the following advice: “What you don’t know, you will figure out.” 

While to some, this may seem like common sense advice, it led to one of the most important mindset shifts in her career. She was previously convinced that if a role required ten competencies, she needed to have all ten, or eleven and a half, if possible. She soon learned about the 2008 Hewlett Packard study, confirmed by other research, which revealed that on average, women only apply for a job if they meet 100% of the criteria. Men tend to apply if they meet 60% of the criteria. 

Roles outside our comfort zones help us grow, learn, and tap into yet unexplored innate talents. If we remain true to who we are (including our values, priorities, and preferences), such roles also enable us to serve those around us in a more impactful way.


Practice speaking up often; you only get better with practice. It is not unusual to believe that we should only speak up when we have the most brilliant idea. What a daunting proposition, if every idea we share must be profound or world changing. Speak up to clarify understanding, confirm agreement, summarize expectations, ask questions, or just to be a part of the conversation.

Refine your communication skills. Communicate with confidence. Programs such as Toastmasters can help you gain experience. The TED Talk by Amy Cuddy, entitled “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,” is also a terrific discussion on body language and communicating with confidence.

Unique and unrepeatable: standing firmly in your authenticity, know that there is no one else in the world that can bring to your interactions the same thoughts, experiences, and insights you bring. Don’t ask for permission; know that your voice is needed.

Who Owns the Environment?

Who Owns the Environment?

Reported by Alice Trimmer.

As the summer winds down, we have all doubtless been reminded of the beauty of nature, whether it is through a hike in the mountains, a cool dip in a lake, or watching the late afternoon sun shining through the trees in a city park. We are all also doubtless concerned that future generations will be able to enjoy such simple pleasures for many years to come. Of the many aspects to the very large and complex topic of environmental protection, one that perhaps we do not often think about is the question of ownership of and responsibility for water, forests, and fisheries. We invited G. Tracy Mehan, III, Executive Director of Government Affairs for the American Waterworks Association, to share with us some of the ethical and legal complexities of this question in his talk at Murray Hill Institute on February 19, 2016, entitled "Who Owns the Environment?”  

Mehan began by laying out two contrasting principles, the universal destination of goods on the one hand and the right to private property on the other. The common good of society requires respect for both of these principles. He posed the questions: “Can we, should we recognize property rights in it or to it [the environment]? And what benefit can be derived from doing so, not just of the individual who holds the right, but for the environment, the ecosystem, or the commons?” He pointed out that the theoretical or philosophical challenges of harmonizing the universal destination of all goods with private property have preoccupied philosophers for millennia.

Nonetheless, “The environmental or ecological issues [that we now face] represent a more perplexing problem because of the genuine challenges of protecting, while benefiting from, the earth’s resources and beauty. The project of designing or defining a property rights regime, relative to the commons, is of recent vintage.” Mehan quoted scholars Henry N. Butler and Christopher R. Drahozal on this issue: “Because of the common ownership of these resources [e.g. water and air], no one has adequate legal rights to protect against them.” He pointed out that without well-defined property rights, regulation, or some communal management arrangement, each person has an incentive to exploit the resource he or she has access to. Furthermore, without a property interest, a person “has no incentive to improve the economic productivity of a piece of land if they do not own it, by the same token, a natural resource is unlikely to be cared for if there is no property interest.” In other words, people tend not to care for things that they do not own. Mehan described several situations in which unclear or defective property titles have impeded private economic growth as well as development of sustainable resources such as forests and fisheries.  

Drawing on the ideas of the philosophers Aristotle, Cicero, and John Locke, Mehan concluded that “Discerning and establishing the respective rights, prerogatives, and responsibilities of the common and private spheres demands prudence, an essential virtue, necessary to effectuate appropriate governance and optimize human freedom and prosperity. The aim is to harmonize environmental and ecological values and the rights of property.”  

Initiatives such as the land trust movement in the United States, which gave rise to nongovernmental institutions such as The Nature Conservancy, aim to actively protect the environment and natural resources. This type of movement relies on free market transactions between consenting parties. The Nature Conservancy acquires land by buying it and also works with local communities to protect biodiversity, water quality, and wildlife in partnership with private and public entities.

Mehan pointed out that no matter how carefully we craft the new approaches, we must accept that we do not know what works all the time, every time. It is necessary to balance freedom, cost-effectiveness, and environmental protection, and we can never guarantee that property owners will behave in the way we might deem optimal. Conservation or ecological values are not inherent in the functioning of the market, hence a person has to bring those values to the marketplace, having learned them from some other source. Strong ethical supports are needed to preserve both market and competition from degeneration. This is especially important as it affects common pool resources such as rain, water, and fisheries.

Mehan concluded “Without something like a conservation or land ethic, a sacramental regard for creation, a concern for future generations beyond one’s short life span on this planet, or some other moral and ethical North Star to guide and motivate citizens, farmers, ranchers, woodlot owners, and other actors, I am not optimistic that we can succeed on the basis of free-market principles only. There will always be a real need for reasonable regulations.” Purely economic drivers have their limits, hence family tradition, culture, and other motives can play an important part in how landowners make decisions about the use of their land and other resources.  


Authentic Fashion

To view a summary video of our 2016 Fashion Intelligence Symposium, click here.

“Be true to yourself” was the overarching message of Murray Hill Institute’s second Fashion Intelligence Symposium. With “Authentic Fashion” as it theme, the symposium brought together designers, fashion journalists, bloggers, and consumers to explore the many facets of the world of fashion. We were pleased to partner once again with the Fashion Institute of Technology and Villanueva Centro Universitario in Madrid in bringing this project to realization. The symposium was held on April 9, 2016, in the Katie Murphy Amphitheater at FIT in New York City.  

Joan Volpe,  Managing Coordinator of The Center for Professional Studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology, welcomed everyone to the symposium. She invited everyone to view the exhibits at the Museum at FIT, Denim: Fashion’s Frontier and Fairy Tale Fashion.

Four speakers shared their unique perspectives gleaned from their lives and careers in the fashion industry. Patricia Herrera Lansing, special projects director of Carolina Herrera New York and CH Carolina Herrera, shared her career path from fashion editor at Vanity Fair to her current position.Asked about what it was like to work for her own mother, she assured us that it was great fun and that they shared a lot of laughs together.   

Victoria Sanchez-Lincoln, the Fashion Director of the magazine Real Simple, spoke about “Communicating Authentic Fashion: How media provides strategies that enable consumers to remain stylish, modern and unique.”  She described the decision-making processes that go into creating the fashion spreads for the magazine each month, and how theme, season, and current trends interact to keep readers engaged.

A networking reception between the second and third talks gave the attendees an opportunity to meet the speakers and to share ideas and experiences with each other. 

“Authentic Fashion: creative, forward-thinking and designed with a woman’s desire for self-expression in mind” was the focus of Leonor Silva’s presentation. Leonor took us behind the scenes at her Brooklyn-based company Leonor Silva and gave us a step-by-step tour of the work that goes into designing, marketing, and manufacturing clothes. Her slides from her current collection had us all ooh-ing and aah-ing.

Denyse del Carmen Floreano closed the afternoon by speaking about “Being Authentic in a Virtual World: How to find your styles and dress with authenticity in a world burgeoning with images and expectations.” As a former Miss Venezuela and a career model, Denyse experienced first-hand the expectations of body image that go with being front-and-center in the beauty industries.

Teresa Carale, President of Murray Hill Institute, thanked the speakers and invited everyone to next year’s Fashion Intelligence Symposium, to be held on Saturday, April 29,2017.  We will be posting more information on our website as plans progress.    


Communicate with Impact

Communicate with Impact

By Terri Carron

Communication means to succeed in conveying one’s idea or to evoke understanding in others. It seems so simple and yet the bulk of our communication problems in both personal and professional life seem to be our inability to do just that.     

BE AUTHENTIC. What is the number one problem in communicating? Many people assume it’s about style; having a good voice, look, and being at ease in front of people. Would it surprise you to know that it is lack of sincerity? Or a problem with authenticity? Being authentic can overcome even a lack of a speaking style or “rules.” Accent, voice, or a vocal tic doesn’t have to be an obstacle to meaningful communication. Sincerity is, in my opinion, the essential key to communicating your ideas well to others. Actors and salespeople will all tell you that they have to know and believe what they are saying in order to be convincing enough to move you to believe as well.

RESPECT YOUR AUDIENCE. This does not mean that you do not need to pay attention to what you are saying, in other words, to the content—whether you are speaking one on one to a family member, friend, or colleague, or to an entire roomful of people. The first rule is to respect your audience. Respect that you HAVE an audience. They came to hear you because they need information, or need to be motivated to act, or need to be entertained. Identify the need and determine your content based on that. Focus less on what you want to say and more on what they want to know and feel.  

BE CONFIDENT IN YOUR MESSAGE. Have the courage to say what you think. Be confident that you can make worthwhile contributions to conversations. Take time each day to be aware of your opinions and feelings so you can adequately convey them to others. Individuals who are hesitant to speak because they do not feel their input would be worthwhile need not fear. What is important or worthwhile to one person may not be to another and may be more so to someone else.

BE ATTENTIVE TO CUES FROM YOUR AUDIENCE. Make certain to include enough information to not leave your audience confused about the next step. When speaking to someone one-on-one you might get affirmation like a head bob. This shows you that someone is actively listening to you. If the person stops nodding, it could indicate that they need more information or they are in disagreement. 

Men are less committal in their body language and are not as likely as women to react to what you are saying by nodding their heads. They will usually wait till you’re finished to make a comment, so that you don’t know where you stand until afterward. Be aware of “tells.”  When a man begins to check his phone or watch, or begins to button his jacket, or dart his eyes from side to side, you know you are losing him. 

Typically, the way you can break off conversation is to lose eye contact. For example, if you are interviewing someone and you would like to close or move on to another topic, you can lower your eyes to your paper. That is a signal that you are finished talking. 

Make a practice of asking people if they understand your meaning. A common situation is that someone thinks they give clear direction or information but their employees or colleagues did not act on it. It is likely they did not hear what was intended. If you stop periodically to make sure you are being understood, you can avoid wasting time and also help improve your communication. If you frequently find people misunderstand you, you may want to write down points you want to make before you speak. 

When speaking one on one, don’t feel you have to fill the quiet space. If you have said what you want to say, stop talking. Often in an interview, the interviewer will let you ramble on, sometimes to your disadvantage. 

BE AWARE OF HOW YOU SOUND. The quickest way to improve your communication is to listen to yourself on tape. Turn the phone on and place it around the house to hear your conversations. How does your voice sound? Do you interrupt others a lot? How is your pitch? Do you pronounce words clearly?  

There is no “right” type of voice. Having an accent or a vocal tic doesn’t mean you can’t be an effective speaker; on the contrary, some of these so-called defects can even make you a unique and engaging speaker. If you watch movies, you know there are great actors with less than ideal voices. Most of time, it’s their unique voice that makes them so memorable.  

Here are some guidelines: 

Enunciate your words. Speak clearly and don’t mumble. If people frequently ask you to repeat yourself, work on articulating words in a better manner.

Pronounce your words correctly. People judge your competency through your vocabulary. If you aren’t sure of how to say a word, don’t use it. Make it a habit to look up words if you are not sure of either their meaning or their pronunciation. 

Slow your speech down. People will perceive you as nervous and unsure of yourself if you talk too fast. However, be careful not to slow down to the point where people begin to finish your sentences for you. 

Develop your voice. A high or whiny voice does not come across as authoritative, nor does a soft, breathy voice. Begin doing exercises to lower the pitch of your voice. Try singing exercises, or simply sing songs, but do them an octave lower than usual. Practice this and after a period of time, your voice will begin to lower naturally.

Avoid the habit of ending each sentence in a question. Use declarative voice or you risk undermining your credibility.  

 Animate your voice. Avoid a monotone and practice varying your cadence. Your pitch should rise and fall periodically.

Adjust your volume to the situation, speaking more softly when talking one-on-one or to a small and close-knit group and louder when you are speaking to larger groups or across larger spaces. Although this sounds self-evident, people sometimes feel that loud talk is artificial and they avoid it.  But it is necessary when addressing a big crowd, even with a microphone.

Avoid “fillers.” Clear up all the “ums,” “likes,” and other fillers. Do not be afraid to pause between thoughts. This can be an effective way of helping people absorb what you are saying before you launch into your next point. And they pay attention more when they have to anticipate your next thought. 

The best reason for practicing these suggestions is to eliminate what is distracting in your voice so that people will focus on you and your message.   

PAY ATTENTION TO BODY LANGUAGE. Don’t send mixed messages with your body. Your words, gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice should all work together to communicate what you want to convey. For example, reprimanding someone while smiling sends a mixed message. If you have to deliver a negative message, make your words, facial expressions, and tone match the message.  

Keep your hands from your face. Covering the mouth or playing with hair is a “tell,” signaling that you are nervous or bored. (If you feel too nervous to let your arms hang by your side, then carry some papers, but be careful of fiddling with them.) Crossing your arms may make you feel safer but it can send a signal that you are unapproachable; having your hands on your hips can make you appear defiant.  

Be aware of your positions at a table. If you are sitting with someone across the table, don’t be afraid to lean in to make a point. It shows engagement. On the other hand, when you sit leaning way back, you are signaling that you are in charge. This can also signal disengagement. A happy medium is to sit with your back against the back of the seat in a relaxed, open position. 

LISTEN. Finally, remember that a really good speaker is also a talented listener. Don’t talk over the other person. A good conversation has the element of good timing. It’s important to make people feel they are being heard, not merely tolerated until you get to talk again. It’s hard for all of us to wait, especially with our families and friends. Use time with others to practice letting a second or two go by before you respond. You might end up learning more than you think.