How to be Heard

Course: Silicon Valley Thought Leadership Greenhouse

Institution: Clayman Institute, Stanford University

Instructor: Katie Orenstein and Lori NishiuraMackenzie

Location: Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA

I didn’t understand the email at first – it talked about thought leadership and used way too many buzz words. Academic speak. Consultant talk. “Imperatives.” “Initiatives.” What does that even mean?

And the price was steep. It gave me pause. It seemed like any other conference and I am skeptical of the relative value of most conferences in terms of pure ROI (that’s finance talk for return on investment – will I get enough out of this to justify what I’m spending to be here?). Plus the hours seemed lengthy. I had to wonder, why now? Why me?

I demurred. It didn’t seem like a fit for me. I mean how do you mold a thought leader? Aren’t they just born?

Turns out thought leaders are made, not born. The program teaches women how to see themselves as leaders and how to get their thoughts and ideas heard and known. And really, that’s what makes someone a thought leader – they are willing to share their ideas. Unfortunately, women are pretty hesitant to do this publicly.

As someone new to voicing my thoughts and even more new to doing it publicly, I was intrigued. While I do have this dear blog and 11 loyal readers (and no, most are not my family - which come to think of it, is pretty embarrassing - I digress), I was curious how I could make my ideas more known and frankly, if my ideas had any value.

The program is a collaboration between The OpEd Project, Stanford University, and the Clayman Institute on Gender Research at Stanford. At the center is an effort to get more women voices published in venues with reach and this means national media like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and CNN. What’s one way to do that? Write an OpEd. 84% of all OpEds are written by men. Before your feminist ire is stoked, note that only 1 out of 10 submissions are from women. So, if you think about it, we’re accurately represented. The OpEd Project’s goal is to change this imbalance by teaching and encouraging women to write and submit OpEds.

Truth be told, I had never even read them before and really had never given them much thought, as my head was invariably buried in an US Weekly. I needed to learn their value. But other women had trouble with understanding theirs. Invariably when the idea of writing an OpEd is proposed to women they say, “but I’m not an expert in anything.”

So that’s where the program started – getting us to see that we had interesting things to say and the expertise and credibility to be heard.

The whole program strove to get us to answer the following 5 questions for ourselves:

1. What is your source of credibility and how do you establish it?

2. How do you build an evidence-based, value-drive argument (as opposed to rhetoric)?

3. What is the difference between being “right” and being effective?

4. What is the bigger picture and how do you and your ideas fit into it?

5. Do you understand your knowledge and experience in terms of its value to others?

Each class was meant to address the questions. The first class was about understanding our power and Professor Deborah Gruenfeld from the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) came in and spoke to us about her research on the psychology of power.

The second class was about learning how to write an OpEd and we were mentored by editors like Pulitzer Prize winning author Katherine Ellison.

The third class was about facing opposition and the negotiating skills required to manage opposition. Professor Maggie Neale also from the GSB came in and gave us a crash course in negotiating skills.

The fourth class we were given an opportunity to hear from leading media outlets like the New York Times and CNN about how to pitch ideas and build relationships with journalists/reporters.

The hours were long but the caliber of women in our pilot group was second to none. The access to resources and expertise, both from the teachers and classmates alike, was amazing. But the real benefit was I left understanding my own power and motivated to share my ideas with others, hopeful that I can have a larger influence. How’s that for ROI?

I highly encourage women to participate in the The OpEd Project