Today the world recognizes and celebrates International Women’s Day.  At The Humphrey Group, we are both encouraged by the world’s growing commitment to gender equity and conscious of the distance that must still be travelled. We believe in the goal of empowering women around the world, and we’re proud to play a small part in that cause as we pursue our mission of helping clients lead every time they speak. We believe in and are committed to this year’s theme: #PressforProgress.

We are proud of our Founder (and my mother), Judith Humphrey, who established The Humphrey Group in 1988. Her decision to start the company as a female entrepreneur is particularly impressive when we look at the reality for women at that time. Thirty years ago, the workforce was only 30% women, the median salary for a woman was $30,000 (compared to men, whose median salary was just shy of $50,000) and only 15% of women 25 and older had a Bachelor’s degree.  It was not an environment that had many strong role models, and the courage Judith showed is all the more impressive for it.[i]

Today the reality is somewhat improved, but there is still a long way to go. While women’s median salary has climbed to $41,500, it is still significantly less earning power then men whose median salary is $52,000.[ii] Though women now make up 46% of the workforce, they hold fewer than 6% of Fortune 500 CEO positions. In Canada, a country that prides itself on diversity and inclusion, only 25% of VP and SVP positions belong to women. And, as the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report finds, with current rates of progress, gender parity is over 200 years away. More starkly than the numbers are the stories and narratives that are emerging in media, highlighting the abuses of power and overt harassment many women must contend with to simply pursue their chosen lines of work.[iii]

Thanks to Judith’s conviction that women can and should lead, The Humphrey Group has long been committed to developing female leadership. Nearly 20 years ago Judith launched Taking the Stage®, to help women pursue the opportunities they wanted, strengthen their voices, and be heard on any “stage.” Since that launch major corporations across a range of geographies and cultures have adopted the program, resulting in a global success story told by more than 500,000 women leaders. We are proud to have helped our clients empower their women with the communication skills and confidence to assertively take the stage by sharing their thinking in a way that promotes their leadership as both authentic and engaging. We continue this work today and are encouraged by the many organizations who share our belief that women deserve their support.

Yet we know there is more to be done. We must all continue to #PressforProgress, and we at The Humphrey Group are proud to be a small part of the solution in the movement toward gender equality.  Why?

Because we believe it is our responsibility to inspire women to adopt a mindset that enables them to confidently embrace their leadership identity and #PressforProgress.

Because we believe strong leadership communication skills are one part of helping women be heard, recognized and rewarded as they #PressforProgress.

Because we believe in supporting the advancement of women within our own organization. The Humphrey Group is filled with cultured, intelligent, engaging and extraordinary women and they make our company significantly stronger.  We will continue to #PressforProgress so our team has strong, successful female leaders throughout our global business.

And finally, because we believe in the impact of women, having seen it firsthand as members of a thriving company founded 30 years ago by a courageous female entrepreneur, and in the success stories of the many women we have been privileged to work with around the world through our Taking the Stage program. We believe every organization will see better results when they support, develop and unlock the power of their women.

This International Women’s Day we salute every individual woman who continues to #PressforProgress, as well as every person and every organization that helps them on that journey. The Humphrey Group remains committed to continuing to #PressforProgress, and we’re honored to have helped our clients do the same. There is more work to be done, so let’s get back to it, together.

Bart Egnal
President and CEO
The Humphrey Group Inc.

[1] https://www.census.gov/newsroom/pdf/women_workforce_slides.pdf
[111] https://www.internationalwomensday.com/Theme

Taking the Stage On International Women's Day


For decades, The Humphrey Group has been committed to helping women develop the communication skills that help empower them to lead in the workplace. We are excited to support International Women’s Day, and believe in the need to #PressforProgress around the world.

Since 2001, our women’s leadership program, Taking the Stage®, has helped organizations empower their female staff. While the program has reached over 500,000 women worldwide, it is most often offered to women when their companies bring the program in-house.

That’s why this International Women’s Day, we wanted to share a few of the strategies from Taking the Stage, that may help you or women you support in the continued #PressforProgress.

First, define your leadership brand

The process of choosing to take the stage – whether that means being heard in a meeting or going for a promotion – begins with intention. Every word you use, every action you take, every gesture made, will collectively define what you stand for. These cues send strong signals to others about who you are, and create a brand that others come to know. Just as companies spend countless hours cultivating their brand, so too should you, if you want to realize your potential. And remember: a leadership brand is not just for executives; any role where you want to influence others consistently requires you to be seen and heard as a leader.

Before you can begin to cultivate your leadership brand you must be conscious about what it is in the eyes of others – and what you aspire to stand for. Here’s how to get started:

  • Write down the words your peers at work would use to describe you.
  • Next, write down the words you wish they used to describe you.

How different were the two groups of words? If there was a difference, reflect on how you can start to reshape your leadership identity in your day-to-day work. For example, if ‘inspiring’ is one of your words, but doesn’t appear in how you are perceived, think about why not. Perhaps you need to share your vision and convictions with colleagues about what inspires you. Or if, ‘courageous’ is in your list but not theirs, think about the opportunity to speak out in confrontational situations. The path will be yours to chart, because there are many ways to reshape your leadership identity. The key is to do so intentionally.

Second, silence your inner crow

What holds women back from “Taking the stage” and pursuing opportunities to speak and lead? Many women we work with describe a negative inner voice that holds them back; this voice is often referred to as the crow. Silence it.

You know you have a crow sitting on your shoulder if it squawks that you aren’t good enough, smart enough, experienced enough, and so on. While this voice isn’t unique to one specific gender, the women we work with mention it more often than men. It’s the thing that stops us from speaking up in a meeting, from taking credit for our own work, and ultimately, the voice that robs us of our leadership. For women to truly take the stage, we must start by supressing our inner crow and giving less power to those negative thoughts.

If you have a crow that’s holding you back, here’s how you can silence it:

  • Reflect on your experiences to determine when your crow is loudest. What does it say in those moments?
  • Write out what this voice is telling you.
  • Rewrite these statements and change them into positive ones.
  • Next time your crow speaks, repeat back to it your newly written positive statements. Say them with conviction, repeatedly, until your crow holds no sway over you – and you are speaking with confidence.

Third, own your space

What does it mean to have a leader’s presence? It starts with literally being physically present, taking up the right amount of space in the room. When you have something to say, own your space.

In our work with women we often see physical minimization. For example, when sitting, women (more frequently than men) often cross their legs, sit on one small part of the chair, or put their hands in their laps. In short, they take up less space than they are entitled to. While you don’t want to flail and take up the equivalent of two chairs, be present so you can be heard.

Here’s how you can try this the next time you are at a meeting where you are seated:

  • Sit in the middle of your chair, with your weight evenly distributed
  • Plant both feet on the ground
  • Sit up straight
  • Rest both hands on the table - they should be directly in front of your elbows, and rest slightly open so that they are ready to gesture
  • When combined with strong eye contact, confident gestures and open body language, your ideas will be well conveyed and your leadership clear.


This International Women’s Day, The Humphrey Group salutes every woman who continues to #PressforProgress and every individual and organization who supports them in that quest. We encourage women to Take the Stage, speak up, and be recognized. Let’s silence the crows and be heard – and the world will be better for it.

Farewell, Twitter

By Bart Egnal

How We Discovered That Social Media Distracted Us From Our Mission

On December 31, 2016, after 3 years on Twitter, The Humphrey Group sent its last tweet. And though we will keep our LinkedIn profile, we intend to invest little time or energy into our social media presence in the coming years.

This wasn’t a snap decision; we had spent 36 months increasing our commitment to, “have a conversation” with our clients, staff and industry voices. We had sent over 1700 tweets. Our Founder, Judith Humphrey, and I both wrote about leadership communication online for publications like Fast Company, the Globe & Mail, and Canadian Business, and shared that content through our social media channels. When my book, Leading Through Language, was published a year ago, I did extensive interviews and used social media to connect with listeners around the world.

But despite all these efforts, we decided that to do really do right by Twitter would require us to invest substantial time and energy -- and doing so would take our team away from the actual work we do with clients. The result was our decision to shutter the account and continue to focus on building client relationships the old fashioned way: one conversation, one course, one coaching session at a time.

It’s clear that we aren’t the only business making this decision. This Canadian Business article (which I was interviewed for) lays out that many other companies reached the same conclusion -- or never tried at all.

I can’t say whether social media is for you or your company -- but I am happy to take a moment to share the lessons we learned through our 3-year foray into social media. One caveat: the lessons we learned may not apply to you or your business. They reflect the fact that our company focuses on business-to-business relationships, does its work in person, and has grown almost exclusively through word-of-mouth.

Lesson One: If you launch it, they won’t come.

In 2016 we delivered over 1200 days of coaching and training and worked with over 100 companies and nearly 10,000 clients around the world. Yet when we launched our Twitter account it took over a year to accumulate over 300 followers. What’s more, only a small percentage of those 300 were clients at all. Despite having the handle on our cards and our website, clients eschewed the opportunity to connect and instead continued to do business with us as they always had: face-to-face.

As Twitter neophytes we were surprised by some of the things that happened. Frequently someone would follow us -- I remember the voice of Siri doing so -- and then would unfollow us just days or hours later. We learned that these people were hoping for us to follow them back, in a “trade” of building followership. In other instances, we noticed other followers who we didn’t “like” enough would also unfollow us. They too seemed interested in a transactional relationship -- likes and retweets were the only way we would retain their fickle following.

Suffice to say, these strange relationships were not ones we were interested in pursuing, as they were not helping us to connect with people and organizations genuinely interested in leadership communication.

Lesson Two: To be heard on Twitter you must create content -- which may require you and your team to spend less time actually doing what you love.

After our first underwhelming year on Twitter we consulted with a few social media experts, and their feedback was remarkably consistent: we needed to vastly increase the amount of content we “pushed” out, and we needed to be tweeting at regular intervals. If we tweeted at 8:00, 10:30, 12:00, 2:30 and 5:30, we were told, we would reach people at the key moments of their day (time zones apparently were not a consideration).

Perhaps more relevantly they told us we should be creating lots of unique content to send to our followers. We should be producing articles, interviews with our staff, having conversations with our followers and giving people insights into the work we did. We needed to connect with “thought leaders”, engage with their content, and build community with regular dialogue.

While this all sounded like a compelling way to build our followers, there was one big problem: we would have to take some of our team away from the work they were passionate about and set them to generating this content. Our team is unified by its commitment to clients...so why would we ask them to stop doing that, just to feed the Twitter content machine? We even had to take one of our employees OFF managing our Twitter account because she was in such demand by clients!

Lesson Three: You can’t outsource Twitter and expect it to be meaningful.

When we made the decision not to dedicate our own team’s time to tweeting and creating content, the experts we’d consulted offered us an alternate solution: they could do it for us. For a fee they could create tweets, spark conversations and generally be our voice. We decided to give it a try.

Though our followers did increase, we were increasingly less excited about what our Twitter had become. Rather than a true conversation it was a series of generic platitudes about our work, retweets of sort-of-relevant articles, or reposts of older articles Judith and I had written. As a company who takes great pains to help our clients make every important communication hit home, it seemed we were not being true to our own identity.

We always advise our clients to invest time, energy and passion in their communication if they want to be success. Small surprise that we were learning the same lesson applies on social media. If you don’t put the time in yourself, don’t bother.

Lesson Four: Meaningful connections are still best forged in person.

For over 25 years we have built strong and lasting connections with our clients. These connections almost always begin with a conversation, which lead to a chance to work in person with them on their leadership communication skills. The relationships are then established through the quality of the work we do, and through how we continue to support and grow with our clients in the years that follow our courses and coaching.

We also faced a practical obstacle: confidentiality. The bulk of the work we do with clients is confidential; while they could (and did) Tweet about us, it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to do the same without their consent. And we had no interest in asking them to help us self-promote: doing so would take us away from the work we actually cared about doing.

Closing Thoughts, Closing Twitter

The last three years proved to us that our clients couldn’t care less about our Twitter account. Yet even as our experiment fizzled our business continued to thrive and expand, thanks to the hard work of our team and their commitment to delivering exceptional courses and coaching. We also came to realize that our team would rather spend our time serving and working with those clients than promoting the work we are doing.

As Cal Newport wrote in a New York Times article, “Quit Social Media, Your Career May Depend on It”, “A dedication to cultivating your social media brand is a fundamentally passive approach to professional advancement. It diverts your time and attention away from producing work that matters and toward convincing the world that you matter.”

We don’t expect this Twitter shut down to have much impact. Clients can still reach us through email, or even that archaic device, the phone. Whatever method we do initially connect, it’s likely that we’ll end up talking in person. If the last three years on social media have reinforced anything to us, it’s that the ability to actually speak to people never gets old.

In the end, there’s something comforting about that.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T - 4 Ways to Show Savvy Manners when Speaking Off-the-Cuff

By Judith Humphrey
For Fast Company

Daniel Craig, the 47-year-old actor who's portrayed James Bond for nearly a decade, had just finished filming Spectre, the 24th Bond film and Craig’s fourth in the franchise. He still had one more to do, according to the terms of his contract, but had been offered a new role in a TV series. When a reporter asked Craig if he’d ever play Bond again after that, he declared, "I’d rather break this glass and slash my wrists . . . All I want to do is move on."

Speaking spontaneously encourages candor, but sometimes it's at the expense of tact. Aware that he'd insulted the Bond franchise, Craig did some quick damage control and didn't get fired. But the fact that such a seasoned speaker would slam the role he’d been playing shows how careful we have to be in off-the-cuff moments.

Sometimes what we say can seriously damage our reputations and careers. And as impromptu speaking becomes more common in workplaces with ever fewer boundaries, thanks to technology and the flattening of hierarchies, we all need to be more conscious of showing respect and avoiding slip-ups.

These four simple rules can help you speak openly and honestly—even off the cuff—without losing your professional poise.


Few people will come right out and tell you to speak well of your employer at all times, but the risks of not doing so outweigh any annoyance that may come with staying outwardly positive. If you're in a job interview, for instance, and insult a previous employer, you’ll look bad. Even truthful statements like, "I was tired of working as an intern for too little money" can still strike a prospective employer as a red flag.

It's in your best interest not to share your frustrations with the gig and instead tell your interviewer about how it helped you learn and grow. It doesn't mean pretending that the negatives didn't exist (most smart listeners, whether that's a hiring manager or anybody else, will assume they did), it just means keeping them to yourself. That's especially true if you're a leader—leaders are loyal and never openly criticize their organizations.

Keep in mind, too, that social media is not a place to share complaints. I recently saw a tweet from someone who "spent 15 years in soul-sucking Big Pharma." Future employers or clients would likely pass on that individual, even if he or she had a perfectly good reason for having that sentiment. The fact is that every word about an employer should be positive, even in casual environments like social media or a networking happy hour—it's just the more strategic move.


Speaking off the cuff doesn’t mean shooting from the hip. Take care that your comments aren’t hurtful or disrespectful to your boss.

In a recent New York Times article about Mic, a five-year-old news source created by and for millennials, the CEO, Chris Altchek, told of an embarrassing encounter he had with an outspoken new hire. Altchek had just responded favorably to a request that Muslim holidays be included in Mic’s flexible time-off policy. "Being inclusive and respectful of all religious affiliations is incredibly important to Mic," he told the Times. But in a subsequent small-group meeting, according to the article, a Mic staffer told Altchek he should've been more apologetic, saying there were two words missing from his statement.

"What were those?" he asked.

"I’m sorry." She said. "I didn’t hear an apology."

This accusation, delivered in front of a group, simply shows a lack of respect and points to some of the dangers of spontaneity. That employee, theTimes recounted, is no longer with the company. As corporate cultures become more relaxed and exchanges more spontaneous, there’s still a need for sensitivity when expressing one’s views.

Everyone should feel comfortable confronting their supervisors about issues they care about, especially where inclusivity is concerned. But it's one thing to have an earnest and respectful one-on-one conversation and another to single your boss out in a public setting.


You already know it's important to be a team player, which means speaking respectfully to your colleagues. But it's sometimes difficult to put that knowledge into practice, especially the more familiar and casual your team becomes. If you get a laugh at someone’s expense, you’re already on dangerous terrain.

Recently a boss I know was "honoring" an employee who was retiring, and his words were actually pretty scathing: "Chris is a memorable figure. One colleague will remember him for being late, another for his crazy sense of humor, and still another for the fact that he has always been a party animal." This was all said with a wry smile and seeming goodwill, but it still felt unprofessional and inconsiderate to Chris. It doesn't do a speaker any credit to diss a colleague, even in jest.

When speaking off the cuff about others, never lose sight of your own values. Ideally, there shouldn't be a "private" you and a "public" you when it comes to your values and respect for others. Granting that, not everything you share with a close colleague in a private setting should be voiced publicly. And if you unthinkingly air those views before a group in the spur of the moment, you're more likely to say something others find deeply insulting.


Your career also depends on your ability to project a consistent and credible "brand" for yourself. The more you move into leadership positions, the more the spotlight will shine on you. It isn't always easy, but leaders don’t undercut themselves when they feel vulnerable, tired, or upset.

I once heard a female VP who was feeling nervous about speaking to a large crowd remark nervously from the podium, "I hate public speaking." Thing is, no one would've known that just by looking at her, but sharing it made her appear less leader-like than she might have preferred. We often hear similar slips from those accepting awards. Some say, "I really don’t deserve this," or, "I'm not in the same league as the other winners." We even apologize in our voicemails ("Sorry, I’m not at my desk") when there’s no need to. The formula is simple: Show some self-respect, and you'll command respect from others.

It's unfashionable to talk earnestly about "manners" these days, but showing a measure of respect is still critical in business—and that doesn't need to mean forced formality. A little bit of tact and professionalism will get you far in your career, contributing to a better self-image and stronger relationships with others.

So watch out for the pitfalls of impromptu speaking, which is where your ordinary poise is most liable to slip. When you’re speaking spontaneously, pause,think, and then speak. Then you'll say something others remember—for the right reasons.

Know when to jettison these six types of workplace jargon

By Harvey Schachter
For The Globe and Mail

Bart Egnal, chief executive officer of leadership communications consultancy the Humphrey Group, recalls one of his clients telling him the company needed to become an agile organization. “What does that mean?” he asked. The client sheepishly admitted: “Nobody knows.”

It was an example of the jargon that runs through business discourse, words that primarily prevent rather than facilitate communications. Whoops – facilitate may itself be jargon. Let’s change that to assist.

Jargon isn’t always bad. In an investment meeting, the abbreviation EPS, as a substitute for saying earnings per share, can be helpful. “It’s a way to cut time and get to the point,” he said in an interview. But sometimes abbreviations and acronyms can be confusing – he points to a course he was teaching where one person understood CSR to mean customer service representative while another thought he was talking about corporate social responsibility.

Jargon can also distance people from one another. He notes that newcomers to a firm often won’t understand the shorthand – one estimate is that 50 per cent of what they hear is not properly comprehended – but are afraid to admit their ignorance.

It’s not uncommon to hear people complain about jargon but like the weather, nobody does anything about it. Except for Mr. Egnal. He names the villain – leaders like you – and calls upon corporate executives to clean up their act. As a start, in his book Leading through Language, he provides a continuum of jargon, running from the useful and benign through to the ineffective and damaging:

Shorthand jargon: This consists of the acronyms or short terms that can be beneficial when the speaker knows everybody truly is on the same page, like EPS at an investors’ meeting. The benefit is quicker, faster communications.

Shared identity jargon: This is the kind of distinct language that every profession and industry has and using it effectively can bring people together, creating a sense of belonging. Football fans know what a “Hail Mary” pass is. Readers of leadership guru Jim Collins – which covers many folks in the executive suite – know what “getting the right people on the bus” means for strategy. “It can be corporate-speak, but when there is common understanding, it can be powerful,” Mr. Egnal said in the interview.

Assumption-driven jargon: This is jargon that is a product of the speaker’s inaccurate assumptions about the audience’s understanding. It’s not intentional, but if people don’t admit they don’t understand it – and they typically won’t since that’s embarrassing – they’ll be left in the dark. “If you want to lead, it’s your responsibility to know if your words are being understood,” he notes. This category sits at the middle of his jargon continuum, between benign and ineffective.

Inflation jargon: Here the speaker replaces simple, clear language with overblown, impressive-sounding words. A merger is described as “synergistic,” for example. The executive urging increased sales says “on a going-forward basis, we need to grow sales to maximize our potential.” Yes, it might make you sound more knowledgeable but it creates barriers with the listener. It sits squarely on the ineffectiveness section of his continuum.

Lack of clarity jargon: This is used to paper over a lack of precise thinking, as with the agile corporate strategy. This differs from assumption-driven jargon as here the speaker actually doesn’t have a clear sense of what the jargon means. Nor does the audience, which must guess. It lies somewhere between ineffective and damaging on the continuum.

Obfuscation jargon: This is designed to intentionally baffle and confuse an audience. The next time your credit card explains a rate increase will be a good example – words that you can’t decipher, written for that purpose. Layoff notices are another example. He shares the phrase “we’re going to release you to the market” as an executive tells an employee he is being “laid off,” itself a common smokescreen for being fired. This may protect the obfuscator in the short term, but ultimately it’s damaging.

Instead, be clear in what you want to say. Try to keep your speech jargon free – “the benefits of jargon are fully outweighed by the negative,” he says. Yes, your business may be complicated, but look at Steve Jobs, who described the iPhone not by its impressive technical specifications but as “An iPad. A phone. And an Internet communicator.” No doubt he had to use some internal jargon with his design team but he knew his audience and how to get his message across simply.

What To Say When You're Stuck In The Elevator With Your Boss's Boss

Photo: Flickr user   Robert Anthony Provost

Photo: Flickr user Robert Anthony Provost

by Judith Humphrey
for Fast Company

I was alone in the office elevator. Then the doors flew open, and in walked our CEO. It was early in my career, and I was new and had never met him—but I recognized him right away. In fact, I'd been hired to write his speeches.

So this was quite an opportunity. All I had to do was extend my hand, introduce myself, and tell him I was delighted to have been hired to write for him. I could even have suggested a meeting! And I'm sure he would have agreed—what CEO wouldn't want to get to know his new speechwriter?

But of course, I blew it.

I didn’t think quickly enough, and all we did was exchange a short nod. In fact, over the next two years, I would never meet him face to face again. Ultimately, I left the company because, well, who wants to write for someone she has no access to? It might've been different if I had just said hello.

It's offhand moments like these that offer big opportunities to build relationships with executives who otherwise might be out of reach—especially to young staff or new hires. Chances are you already have a good rapport with your own boss—you work together every day. It's the people higher up who may seem much further away—until you're suddenly stuck with them inside an elevator, the modern office's great equalizer.

Here's what to do when that happens.


An elevator is a room of sorts. So first, decide whether you have a real opportunity. If there are others in the elevator, it’s probably not the best time to strike up a chat about a big topic with a senior-level exec. It's not that there'd be anything inherently wrong with that, but the situation just might not be right, and it could turn out awkward for both of you.

Rightly or wrongly, others may see you as breaking rank or overstepping your boundaries. Or the executive might just be caught off guard and feel embarrassed. So save your elevator conversations for moments when the two of you are riding alone.

Even in that one-on-one situation, keep your office-politics antenna out. If your boss’s boss is deep in thought, leave her alone. She may be thinking through her next meeting or hashing out a tricky decision. Make eye contact if you can, and show that you're respectfully aware of her presence and status, but otherwise keep to yourself. Another time will come!


If the situation does seem right, speak with substance and avoid trivial exchanges. Don’t waste your chance asking whether she had a nice weekend or what she thinks of the weather. Go for something more substantial—an observation or question that has the subtle power to leave a strong impression and, ultimately, move your career forward.

After all, if you don't think big, what's the point? Here are a few ways to do that while keeping it casual:

Introduce yourself. If you haven't met the executive before, extend your hand and say, "Hi, I’m Henry Yarmouth, the director of our call center." You might also add something that shows your commitment to the company, as long as it doesn't sound like you're sucking up, like, "I started in August and so far really like it. The people are great."

Share a win. Tell the executive about something you or your team have accomplished. A diversity manager told me that she rides the elevator regularly with her CEO, since they both have offices on the 20th floor. Just about every time, she takes the opportunity to highlight how she and her team are helping the business. In a recent elevator ride, she shared with the CEO about how her team won a contract to support new immigrants. Don’t worry about sounding boastful! It's a short ride, so make a quick, positive impact. Your executive will appreciate the good news.

Offer your congratulations. You can also congratulate your boss’s boss on an achievement, either his own, his department’s, or the company’s. If you saw him give a talk recently, don't just say you liked it, explain why. If his department received an honor, mention that. If Q4 results were impressive, comment on that. People love to be recognized for success, and if you stay current with this sort of information—as you should—you'll put a glow on the executive’s face.

Ask for a meeting. What better elevator topic is there than a request to meet? I know of a director who reported to a VP but was so savvy that he requested meetings with the SVP. And when the VP left, that director was promoted to the VP role. In order for that to happen, of course, the SVP needed to know who he was. So seize your chance in the elevator to say something like, "I’m working on some employee engagement issues, and I’d love to hear your perspective. Any chance I'd be able to steal a half hour of your time?" Who wouldn’t be flattered by such a request? Just make sure you let your own boss know—you don't want to be seen as going over her head.


Finally, follow up on whatever conversation you do manage to strike up. You might schedule a quick meeting or write an email that expands on your comments. Or you might share an article that came to mind based on what you discussed. You can even invite that executive to speak to your team. The important thing is to continue building that relationship. Eventually your efforts will reap great returns.

And remember: The elevator conversation is far more than a chat inside a moving box of metal. You can apply this advice to all the informal situations where you have a short slice of time to strike up a rapport with senior executives. It might be a chance encounter in a corridor, a coffee room, the kitchenette, or a networking event. But wherever that brief meeting occurs, go for it! Put yourself forward. Those who get noticed, get promoted.

Jargon: Leaders should never leverage core competencies on a go-forward basis

Leveraging core competencies. Opening the kimono to a strategic partner. Pivoting the company’s core vision (but never over-rotating!).

Jargon is everywhere: corporations, not-for-profits, hospitals, universities, and even sports team all have their own baffling expressions and acronyms. The only commonality seems to be that jargon is universally used – and loathed – by everyone.

But why do people keep using words they despise? I set out to answer this question when researching my book. After extensive interviews, I concluded that people use jargon because they are tempted by the few benefits it occasionally offers. Yet using jargon in an attempt to derive these benefits usually backfires and ends up hurting a person’s ability to influence or lead. That’s why the most effective leaders cut out jargon and replace it with clear, powerful language.

If you want to cut out such ineffective language, you first need to understand that not all jargon is created equally.

By understanding what jargon you are using or hearing, you can then make a conscious decision to continue using it, modify it or avoid it entirely.

Let’s start with the jargon that can be useful to leaders:

“Shorthand” jargon

This consists of acronyms or terms that may refer to larger concepts. (Think of a CEO talking about EPS – earnings per share – when speaking with analysts.) Leaders know that as long as their entire audience understands what such shorthand refers to, the benefit is faster, quicker communication.

“Shared identity” jargon

This is the kind of distinct jargon that every profession and industry has; using it effectively can bring people together and create a sense of belonging. (Think about football, a sport in which unique phrases like, “carrying it across the goal line” or, “throwing a Hail Mary” serve as a common dialect.) This kind of industry terminology can also allow professionals to quickly establish themselves as credible and knowledgeable. When used and understood in context, this level of jargon can create strong social ties and signify belonging.

Yet most jargon doesn’t even have the above described benefits. Instead it usually confuses and alienates listeners. Here’s the jargon you need to avoid at all costs:

“Assumption-driven” jargon

This jargon is a product of a speaker’s inaccurate assumptions. (Think of the disconnect when the speaker uses “CSR” and means “customer service representative” when the audience thinks “corporate social responsibility”.) Speakers who use acronyms while under the mistaken assumption that their audience knows what they mean, or who use technical terminology without explaining it are guilty of creating this kind of jargon. Leaders take great pains to be sure their audiences know what they mean or to define their terminology to ensure clarity.

“Inflation” jargon

This jargon replaces simple, clear language with more impressive-sounding words. (Think of someone who says “utilize” rather than “use”, or who tacks “on a go-forward basis” onto the end of every sentence.) While this jargon can make speakers sound more knowledgeable, leaders know this kind of language creates barriers between them and their listeners and should be avoided.

“Lack-of-clarity” jargon

This jargon papers over a lack of precise, clear thinking with impressive sounding words. (Think of the executive who says her group needs to become “agile” without defining what exactly that means.) This jargon differs from assumption-driven jargon because in this case, the speaker actually doesn’t have a clear sense in his/her own mind of what the jargon means. Leaders know this kind of jargon is dangerous because it either baffles an audience or undermines speakers who are incapable of explaining it.

“Obfuscation” jargon

This jargon is designed to intentionally baffle and confuse an audience. (Think of the language used by companies to sanitize the difficult realities that accompany mass layoffs – terms like, “rightsizing”, “workforce optimization”, or “enterprise decruitment”.) In some cases, this kind of jargon is a well-intentioned attempt to avoid conflict, in others it can be a more diabolical effort to confuse and bewilder. Leaders know that being direct and honest is crucial and so avoid this kind of language at all costs.

So the next time you hear the siren call of, “synergy” or, “leveraging” – proceed with caution. Odds are you are better off using words that express your ideas with clarity.

Bart Egnal is the author of Leading Through Language: How To Choose Words That Influence And Inspire, and president and CEO of The Humphrey Group, a company that teaches leadership communication skills globally. Follow him at @THG_Bart.




For over 25 years The Humphrey Group’s mission has remained unchanged: to help our clients lead every time they speak. Yet our business, our intellectual capital and our offerings have evolved significantly in those years to address the evolving communication needs of you, our clients. To reflect this evolution I’m proud to announce we are launching a new corporate identity. 

When our company was founded, its focus was on helping executives prepare and deliver inspiring speeches. Our intellectual capital was developed to help our clients excel in these formal opportunities, with a focus on the podium. Our initial identity was polished and formal – the qualities we helped our executive clients project when we prepared them for keynote talks.  

Today, our focus is on helping you, our clients, lead and inspire in all interactions.  You have told us that leadership rarely takes place behind a podium – it happens in your meetings, your presentations, your hallway conversations and your conference calls. Leadership is not just something your CEO is expected to do – it is a skill that you can and must show every time you communicate. That is why we have spent the last decade expanding our intellectual capital so we can help you develop and master the communication skills that are essential to leading every time you speak. 

Now we are proud to launch a new identity that reflects this evolution. The forward slash in our logo speaks to the momentum that leaders generate in their audiences when they speak inspirationally. You will see this new logo and our new colors in our website, in our collateral, in our social media platforms and in our course materials. Please take a few moments to look around our website to see for yourself.

We look forward to continuing to help you lead every time you speak. 

Best regards,

Bart Egnal

Six Steps to Speaking as an Authentic Leader

Judith Humphrey
Speech given at The Niagara Institute

Every day in corporate board rooms this scene is repeated over and over again. A manager or executive walks to the front of room, turns on the overhead projector, and begins a narrative that bores both speaker and audience. As the founder of The Humphrey Group, a firm that provides speech coaching and communications seminars, I and my colleagues have seen many business leaders who feel uneasy or frustrated by their lack of impact in such formal situations and even in informal meetings. What’s the problem? It is the fact that when leaders speak they often surrender themselves to corporate protocols and behaviours that make them sound wooden, insincere, or just plain dull—and they lose their natural, vibrant authenticity. The following six steps will enable you to regain your authentic leadership presence every time you speak.

STEP 1: Begin with commitment

A speaker to come across as authentic must begin with a commitment. No speech, presentation, or meeting comment will engage the audience unless the speaker is fully committed. How can you achieve that goal?

  • Accept speaking engagements only when you think you can make a difference. You have to feel a sense of purpose, of urgency, a sense of wanting to connect with that audience. Don't give the speech just because someone asks you to. And if it is a command performance–search within yourself to find a motive.
  • Write the speech or presentation yourself. If you simply wait until you are handed a "deck" by one of your writers or subject matter specialists, you'll likely find that it does not reflect your thinking. It's often too late to fix it.
  • If you don't have time to write an entire text or deck, prepare the outline and give it to your writer to "flesh out". To speak authentically, you must be in the talk.

STEP 2: Know your audience

he second step in speaking authentically is to have a strong sense of your audience. If you don't know who you are speaking to—or don't take time to understand them—you will lose your natural conversational style and you may come across as wooden or detached. I'm amazed at how often speakers concentrate so fully on their own "agenda" that they forget the audience's perspective. The best speakers tailor their remarks for the individuals they will address. They mentally switch places with their listeners, and ask themselves, "What do I want to hear from this speaker?" Or "What will it take for me to be convinced?" Good speakers find out as much as they can about their audience and incorporate that material into their remarks—creating a virtual dialogue. If you take time to "read" your audience, you will be less likely to sound "canned" and more likely to sound real, genuine, and engaged in reaching your audience.

STEP 3: Develop a clear message

Authentic speakers share their ideas! And that means whether you are speaking formally, informally, or off-the-cuff, make sure you have a strong, clearly-defined message—not just any message, but one that you truly own. Too many corporate speakers ramble on, lacking coherence or direction and they come across as having nothing – or, paradoxically, too many things – to say. They don't sound committed to a point of view. What you need is a genuinely felt message. Your message should appear very near the beginning of your remarks, and it should resonate with conviction. Begin your message with "I believe that..." Or "I am convinced that..." Or "Here's how I see it..." Own the message. Also make sure your message is specific. A message that's too general will sound flat—as though you don't really believe it. Instead of saying "We had a great year," say: "I am convinced that this was a stellar year because you all worked as a team to attain unprecedented results."

A message is important even in the most informal talks. If you are speaking for four minutes, addressing an informal luncheon, or handling questions and answers, you should have a message that you own.

STEP 4: Use real language

To project authentic leadership choose words that are natural to you. • Be genuine. So many speakers fail to inspire their audiences because they speak in an artificial language. Avoid jargon. • Eliminate "filler." Too many speakers fill their talks with unnecessary clutter – often to buy time while they're thinking. Expressions such as "to be honest." "I have to admit that," you know," or "um," are verbal junk. • Show confidence. This will inspire your audience to see you as an authentic leader—not as an imposter or a reluctant leader. To show this confidence, be very sparing in your use of qualifiers such as "I think," "I guess," or "hopefully." If you have to guess or you're just hoping, you're not a leader. • Be conversational. To sound authentic, use everyday language. Short words are best. For example, say "but" rather than "nevertheless." Say "to" instead of "in order to." Formal language can sound insincere. • Be warm. Your language should convey your feelings—feelings of excitement, enthusiasm, pride, commitment, as well as concern, and even disappointment. Your words can say a lot about you if you speak with authentic language.

STEP 5: Be the visual, not the aid

To come across as an authentic leader, use visuals as little as possible. Powerpoint is the bane of corporate speaking. Visuals are uninspiring, and too often dull, cluttered and difficult to decipher. More significantly, they upstage the speaker and make that individual appear to be less real. If you want to come across as an authentic leader, think of yourself as the best visual. Have your audience focus on you – your energy, your conviction, your inspirational qualities. Don't confine yourself to the sidelines. Be the focus of the audience's attention. Of course some corporate cultures insist on visuals – at least in presentations. If you must use them, avoid word slides. You want your audience listening to you, not reading while you're talking. Project a simple corporate logo if you need an image. Some material – an organization chart, a network diagram – can be presented visually. But remember: the more you put on visuals, the less your audience will see (or hear) you. So, become the visual, and make sure the audience sees you as the speaker, not the aid.

STEP 6: Let your delivery style be authentic

Sixth, and finally, your delivery style should affirm your authentic leadership, not undercut it. Here are some guidelines. • Use natural gestures. When people speak in front of an audience, they often go into "high gear" with their gestures—flapping away and distracting their audience. Or they do the opposite: fold their arms and hands so that there is no energy at all. If you want to be authentic in front of an audience, do what we do in everyday conversation: keep your arms loose at your sides, and make them available for gestures when you want to accent an idea.

  • Stand tall. Leadership is best expressed by a tall, aligned body, with feet squarely planted on the floor. Whatever your height or sex, imagine yourself on a string (hung from the ceiling), and lift your body accordingly.
  • Look at people. It's amazing how often speakers look away from their audience. Many look above the heads of the audience, others gaze into the room with their eyes, and still others bury their eyes in their speech or visual aids. Remember, people listen with their eyes. They may hear the words with their ears, but they think about what you're saying when your eyes are locked with theirs. So, look at the audience when you are about to say something, and when you complete your thought. This is what we typically do in conversation.
  • Pace yourself. Speak with lots of pauses. We do that in conversation, and you will sound more authentic if you slow down. Too many people rush. Why do we pace ourselves more slowly in conversation? Because we need the pauses to think ahead to our next idea...and our audience needs the pauses to absorb what we just said. If there are no pauses, they won't think. They won't be moved. They won't act upon what you say.
  • Watch your tone: think of the energy and passion you bring to everyday conversations. Even though you may have read your presentation 10 times, rewritten it that many times, and feel you simply want to get it over with – you need to muster the same passion you had for it when you created it. These are the six steps to authentic speaking. This ability to move the hearts and minds of employees, customers, and other stakeholders is the primary role of a leader. And you will only do so if you project authentic leadership when you speak.

In-tune leaders need to know their audience

Aram Arslanian
Special to The Globe and Mail

The dead silence that followed the polite applause from the crowd made the five of us want to pack up our instruments, tuck our tails, and make a break for it. This was the first show of a 10-date tour of Japan and, during our opening song, the audience seemed excited to see us. Now, however, as the packed room stared at us silently, I remember thinking, “I have no idea what to do next.” That show, and the days that followed taught me a crucial lesion: To lead, to inspire, and to make a difference, you have to know your audience.

Let me back up a bit to give you context: Before I entered into the world of executive coaching, I grew up in the punk scene, playing in bands. The style of music is known as hardcore, and just imagine rock ’n’ roll played at four times the speed with socially conscious lyrics. Prior to my corporate work, I was also a professional counsellor for a decade, and my training and background are in the field of psychology. As strange as it seems, in my work today with leaders, I pull as much from my time touring in bands as I do from my education and professional experience.

So what’s the connection? As a musician, I learned that I wanted to do more than just produce something to be consumed. I wanted to engage with the audience and connect with them. I wanted to change their world and have them change mine. Leaders have that same opportunity; they can do more than set the direction and expect people to follow. Instead, they can seek to understand the fabric of the company, and the people who make it up, and allow this to inform their approach to leading. It is in this space that inspirational leadership exists and it requires a desire to engage authentically and a great deal of courage.

To start down this path, leaders should ask themselves these four questions:

What don’t I know about my audience?

You don’t know what you don’t know. More importantly, you can’t act on what you don’t know. Understanding your company and connecting to your audience requires a significant focus on uncovering what you don’t know. Broad strokes are easy: demographics, education, and effectiveness of teams are the stuff of statistics and pie charts. Instead, uncover those elements which are difficult to capture: beliefs, values, the things about the organization that give people hope and the things that take that hope away.

What am I doing, and what is happening around me, that may be limiting my connection to my audience?

Often, leaders can credit the rise to their position to a combination of internal and external factors: hard work, skill, timing, and luck. The same logic holds true to their ability to connect to their audience. Great leaders are the ones who recognize that they must continually evaluate what is working for or against their ability to lead inspirationally. In this regard, internal factors are their own behaviours. Leaders should identify and strengthen behaviours that increase their audience connection, while also identifying and extinguishing behaviours that limit it.

Great leaders are the ones who recognize that they must continually evaluate what is working for or against their ability to lead inspirationally.

It is also important to recognize external factors acting as a barrier. Anything from discord amongst leaders, challenging company culture, and the economy can reduce the ability of leaders to effectively connect with their audience. Knowing these factors and understanding their impact on the audience allows leaders to be thoughtful in their approach to connecting.

How can I grow my ability to meet the needs of a diverse audience?

There is no better time than now for leaders to embrace diversity and learn how to champion it. The workforce has become increasingly diverse and this momentum is growing. Leaders who wish to understand their audience must dedicate themselves to understanding the changing workforce. This goes beyond know what terms to use and is instead the pursuit of recognizing, honouring, and acting to meet the needs of diverse groups.

Who can help me?

While it can be lonely at the top, top professionals are rarely alone. In fact, leaders are often surrounded by brilliant minds who have great wisdom to share – and all one has to do is have the right questions and the courage to ask them. So, as a starting point, leaders should connect with those around them and start asking the above questions and then, if needed, connect with subject matter experts to deepen the exploration.

So, let’s get back to the show in Japan and the five young guys unsure what to do next. We stumbled through the rest of the set, and made it through. After the show, we asked ourselves a version the questions I’ve listed above and set about finding answers. We applied what we learned to our set each night and, as the tour continued, we started to wrap our heads around what this audience needed from us. It was a journey – some things worked, others didn’t, and each night we experimented with something new. By our final show in Tokyo, we had hit our stride and played ones of the best sets ever.

It is the same for leaders – ask the above questions and apply what you learn. Try new things and adjust as you go. Just remember: professionals want to connect with their leaders in a meaningful way – and the starting place is a willingness to take the first step.

Aram Arslanian, an executive coach, is a member of the Humphrey Group.

Don't Put All Your Eggs (Frozen or Not) in This Basket: Speak Up and Lead the Conversation About Diverse Workplace Alternatives

Judith Humphrey
Special to The Huffington Post

Beginning in January 2015, Apple will join Facebook in giving women employees the opportunity to have their eggs frozen - so they can put off motherhood until their careers get fully launched. This is an added perk for some women, and it's a boon for these companies.

Indeed, by allowing women to focus on work through much of their childbearing years, this step may help stem the exit of women who choose to leave technology firms when the pressures of child care and work become too great. It will also address gender imbalances in these tech giants. Only 20% of the tech jobs at Apple and 15% at Facebook are now filled by women. And both firms are committed to gender diversity.

But what if you don't want to put all your eggs (frozen or otherwise) in this basket? What if you want to have other options for combining work and family?

Speak Up and Have Your Voice Heard

The answer in two words is to "speak up!" You'll help your company by encouraging them to provide other workplace solutions such as better day care, better maternal benefits and more flexible work arrangements. Not only will you gain, but other moms and dads will thank you.

In my new book, Taking the Stage: How Women Can Speak Up, Stand Out, and Succeed, I discuss how to be a voice for change in your companies, in your career and in life. In my 25 years as founder and head of The Humphrey Group, I saw the remarkable results when individuals chose to speak up -- and did so in a strong, thoughtful way. I particularly encourage women to put their hands up and express their views so they can achieve career goals. Here are a set of strategies you can use to have impact on decision making.

1. Begin with Courage

Courage is critical, because there are so many situations in which we women have to break through barriers, challenge traditional behaviors and redefine the way others see us. A young woman we coached questioned her company's commitment to diversity when she saw that senior management were all white males. She was surprised, but the men in the C-suite welcomed her views, which she expressed thoughtfully and persuasively. It began a process of change and led to her promotion. This sort of courage is especially needed for conversations about motherhood and your career. No one can advocate your case better than you can.

2. Find Your Stage

Taking the stage involves finding the right people to talk to. Make an appointment with a key decision maker, talk to HR or put yourself on the agenda of the appropriate committee. Or simply open up the conversation with your boss and get her buy-in. It's fine to tweet and blog about these issues -- and companies are growing more aware of what's said on social media -- but discussing your particular proposal with the right people in your company is still the best way to get results.

3. Share Your Vision

The best, most inspiring presenters speak with vision. You can too! So when you speak up, share that larger view with your co-workers and your boss. If your goals seem to be in-line with your company's stated policies, emphasize that common vision -- and show what needs to be done to make it a reality. Encourage companies that announce themselves as "family friendly" and "supportive of women" to take the key steps to realize those goals.

4. Make a Strong Case

Prepare exactly what you're going to say. Make your message clear and then explain with proof points how your idea will benefit the firm (and the women within it). Never go into the meeting with unsubstantiated or random thoughts.

Do a "dry-run" with your husband, partner, or peers -- even if you're planning an informal conversation. That practice will allow you to fine-tune your script and delivery and gain valuable feedback from those around you. They, after all, will be affected by the outcome. It's likely that any questions they share with you will be brought up by the decision makers, so plan your responses to those questions as well.

5. Listen Carefully and Stay Calm

As you're presenting, stay grounded. It's easy for women to get angry or emotional when presenting an idea we are deeply committed to -- particularly if others oppose what we're saying. But remain composed and listen to other views expressed. That way, if need be, you can respond to any questions or challenges.

6. Take the Stage!

It's often easier to stay silent for fear of failing if we speak up. But, consider this: It's in the interest of both female employees and their companies to have women come forward with a range of solutions that work for them.

More broadly, speaking up with courage and confidence can become a way of life. Every time you speak up for something you believe, you'll feel more and more comfortable expressing your views and being a voice for change. So, take the stage!