One of my most memorable professors at the University of Cape Town’s drama school was the formidable Mavis Taylor. Like a character out of a Dickens novel, Professor Taylor seemed ancient to me at the time, with limp, long, blonde hair and an equally long face which showed little or no sign of emotion, ever.
Mavis spoke sparingly, and with a direct gaze that seemed to look right through you.
It was when I was doing a one-woman show at a play festival that I first received a compliment from the daunting Ms. Taylor. The play was Dario Foe’s Woman Alone, in essence a comedic, farcical monologue in which I played a battered wife having a conversation with her neighbor. (On a side note, the poster you see here was designed by the now-famous South African cartoonist, Jonathan Shapiro).
The festival was particularly competitive that year, and Woman Alone received wide critical acclaim. But the highest compliment I received was when Professor Taylor looked at me and said, in her monotonous voice, “That was the best work you have ever done; you completely OWNED YOUR SPACE.”
So, what does it really mean to OWN YOUR SPACE? Do you feel that you always own yours? In the Executive Presence, Networking and Speaking to Persuade and Influence workshops that I facilitate, I define OWNING YOUR SPACE as giving yourself full permission to be the person presenting the information; it means coming across with confidence, ease and polish. OWNING YOUR SPACE means understanding the power of both your verbal and non-verbal tools to convey authority and authenticity.
Do you hesitate to speak up in a meeting because you are not sure your contribution is valid? How often do you use filler words rather than a powerful pause while you are transitioning from one thought to another? Do you inadvertently fiddle with a pen, put your hands in your pockets, or swing in your chair while you are speaking? If you answered YES to any of these questions, you are not fully OWNING YOUR SPACE.
So, how do we begin to change that? Simply by becoming more aware, one can eliminate nervous gestures, but to fully OWN YOUR SPACE, we all need to understand the messages we send ourselves.
In the future, before a presentation, a meeting with a higher up, a job interview or simply a hallway conversation, check in with yourself and say the following: “I deserve to be here, I have a right to be here and I have something valuable to contribute.” This is the first step to really OWNING YOUR SPACE.