Speaker Sisterhood helps build women’s confidence in the workplace

  • Angela Lussier speaks during August at an open house for the Speaker Sisterhood club she started in Springfield. A similar group will be launched during September in Northampton. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Angela Lussier poses for a photo in her home office at 4 Williams Friday, Sept. 2, in Holyoke. Gazette Staff/Andrew Whitaker—Andrew J. Whitaker/Gazette Staff

  • Angela Lussier poses for a photo in her home office at 4 Williams Friday, Sept. 2, in Holyoke. Gazette Staff/Andrew Whitaker—Andrew J. Whitaker/Gazette Staff

Staff Writer
Published: 9/4/2016 2:37:39 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Even with women in leadership roles in the corporate world, and others successfully running their own businesses, many remain afraid to speak up in the workplace.

That’s an observation made by Angela Lussier, who runs Angela Lussier Enterprises from an office in Holyoke, and which prompted her to start the Speaking School for Women last spring.

After several years as a consultant providing career and business coaching, Lussier saw an opportunity to focus on pushing women beyond their comfort zone, helping them to build their oral skills and giving them more self-esteem and confidence.

“I like to say that public speaking is like getting a degree in your own psyche,” Lussier said.

Finding that participants have had success in this program, Lussier is now starting what she calls “sisterhood speaking clubs,” which will include one based in Northampton. Similar clubs began in Springfield and Washington, D.C., in August.

“I decided to launch a network of speaking clubs, where women could practice their speech and discover their story and feel confident in speaking their story in front of like-minded women,” Lussier said.

Later this month, the Speaker Sisterhood of Northampton will begin with an open house from 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 19 at Click Workspace, 9½ Market St. Regular meetings for up to 20 members will continue on the first and third Mondays of each month from 6 to 8 p.m.

“This is a great opportunity to network... and be part of a huge new movement of women who want to shape their voice and be heard in the world,” Lussier said.

Having been part of Toastmasters International, the nonprofit organization focused on public speaking for five years, Lussier said she observed people from all walks of life with various agendas, and wanted to develop a similar club, only with a more narrow focus, and exclusively for women.

The idea is that the club will be a safe environment for women, many of whom have roles in companies or own their own businesses. "The focus in on the career piece of it," Lussier said.

It may help these women to present a workshop at an industry conference, talk to the board of directors or give a keynote speech for a Chamber of Commerce event, Lussier said.

Meetings start with a check-in where each woman can talk for 90 seconds to two minutes, followed by planned speeches that last for around 10 minutes, Lussier said. There is then a round-robin feedback session, in which each participant gives constructive feedback, followed by what Lussier dubs “sister speak” where each woman gives an impromptu speech.

The meeting concludes with another check-in where the women talk about what is going on with their own businesses, and how they might incorporate their improved communication skills  in their own workplace.

“This helps you to work through those fears and get better,” Lussier said. “This is a place to really get comfortable hearing your own voice.”

Lussier created information sheets, or a “speechcraft 101” guide, about structure for the clubs. During its infancy, she is meeting with club presidents once a month to make sure formats are consistent wherever these “sisterhoods” are being created. 

When the first meeting was held in Springfield, promoted through Lussier’s newsletter and social media, she said people who did not know each other at the beginning of the open house within two hours had bonded and their insecurities over speaking were diminished.

Pam Thornton, the Springfield club president who helps lead the twice monthly meetings, said she is seeing women who aim to practice their speaking material and learn new skills.

“I believe it’s a group for all women who want to be better speakers,” Thornton said.

Thornton took part in Lussier’s speaking school last spring.

“I was very interested in being better at public speaking, to put some structure around it and be more comfortable about it,” Thornton said. “It really opened my eyes to just how important it is for women to have a voice.”

As an entrepreneur and networking consultant who owns Name Net Worth in Springfield, Thornton said the speaking club builds confidence and understanding about how to give a speech and about how to conduct a workshop.

When the Northampton club begins, Thando Zono of Amherst will be among those participating, coming together with other women to enhance her skills.

A second year master’s degree student at the University of Massachusetts, pursuing a degree in resource economics, Zono is also a motivational speaker, incorporating her background as a field hockey player who came to UMass from South Africa, into her talks.

Lussier worked with Zono last spring. “She helped me to take my speaking a lot more seriously, and how to book gigs and market myself as a speaker,” Zono said.

Afterward, Zono got both paid and unpaid speaking engagements, and continues to reach out to organizations and schools where she can give talks. She anticipates speaking to collegiate team this fall.

Lussier will serve as the president of the Northampton club, which for the remainder of 2016 will be free for members, with an undetermined  price for membership fees in 2017.

Each club will be tweaked based on feedback, surveys  and conversations with members, “I really want this to be a collaborative experience,” Lussier said.

Lussier said in 2017 she anticipates creating a licensing program so that more such clubs will spring up  across the country, as well as one planned for England.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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