How I Learned to Own My Voice

Emma Bloksberg-Fireovid’s a hard-working nonprofit partnerships manager in Washington, DC and was just a few months into her new job at an education nonprofit when she joined us at Bossed Up Bootcamp.

Her goal? To gain clarity on her long-term career direction and strengthen her leadership skills in order to bring her A-game to her new role.

I had the chance to catch up with Emma and hear how one key skill in particular has had a big impact at work:

Emilie: So glad to catch up with you, Emma!

Emma: Same here! Bossed Up Bootcamp was such an amazing weekend and that hard work is definitely paying off.

Quitting the qualifiers

Emilie: So tell me – what’s been the biggest take-away for you?

Emma: It might seem like a little trick, but I have focused intensely on eliminating qualifiers from my speech – and Ive seen the real impact on my ability to speak and present like a boss!

Emilie: Awesome! How did you work to combat them?

Emma: The first step was awareness – I first had to understand how pervasive these little disclaimers were in my daily language – and it was crazy! I found myself filling silences with buzzwords and qualifiers just to insert my voice, but at Bossed Up Bootcamp I learned that wasn’t the most powerful way to convey my thoughts and opinions.

So what did I do? I stopped saying my go-to phrase, “I don’t know if this is helpful but…,” and replaced it with a pause. Nothing fancy, nothing to fill the silence, just a pause.

Now each sentence I say is more intentional and every word is critical to my point. With this I have become way more comfortable “sticking my landing” once I’ve said what I wanted to say. The effect is a more calm, confident, and authoritative demeanor that is visible to my coworkers. It’s kind of amazing.

Projecting executive presence

Emilie: Nice. What kind of impact has that had on how you work?

Emma: I noticed the biggest impact at meetings with senior staff. It’s like night and day. By eliminating qualifiers, my speech is more clear, concise, and strong. My colleagues are turning their heads when I talk, listening to what I’m saying, and seeing me as someone with something to say – and the authority to say it.

Just the other week I facilitated a meeting for external stakeholders. Throughout the presentation I remained mindful of not using qualifiers and every time I spoke, people turned my way looking engaged and eager to hear what I had to say. Even though I was the youngest in the room by a few decades, I captured their attention and got my points across assertively. Afterwards, the COO of my organization came up to me and said plainly, “you just blew me away.”

I felt like such a boss!

Emilie: Congrats!

Emma: Thanks. This small change – along with all the work we did together at Bossed Up Bootcamp has really boosted my ability to communicate the value and worth of my ideas (at work and in my personal life). As young professional women, I feel like we’re rarely encouraged to hone that confidence, but this one trick really helped me realize my potential.

Back in high school, you know you’re a great soccer player because you score goals. You know you’re a great student because you get good grades. Because you see those results, you don’t feel the need to tell everyone about it.

But in the workplace, the rules of the game are different. I’ve realized I need to proactively make myself heard, showcase my strengths, and speak up assertively to ensure that people know what I’m capable of contributing.

A proactive approach to leadership

Emilie: So true!

Emma: And I also recognize that in today’s work environment, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to step off the hamster wheel to recognize how fast you’ve been going. Bossed Up Bootcamp was a time to ask some critical questions about where I was heading and how I could strengthen my skills along the way.

Taking the time to reflect is so valuable. Awareness is a powerful tool.

Emilie: I’m so glad to hear all this, Emma! Keep in touch and keep bossin!


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  1. Katelyn Moga says:

    I took a lot away from this interview. First, it’s a persuasive push to attend Bootcamp even if you aren’t looking to make a change in your career. When I read her end goal for attending “To gain clarity on her long-term direction and strengthen her leadership skills in order to bring her A-game to her new role.” I was like “YES!” that is exactly what I have been looking for, direction in my current position” but haven’t been able to put it in such clear terms.
    Second, I am already thinking about my qualifier tendencies and how I can address them! Thanks, Emma!


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