Able to present your idea slowly is a privilege.

Able to present your idea slowly is a privilege.

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For many years, I’ve struggled to speak slower. It might seem to be a trivial problem, but it had a much more significant impact on my career.

When you talk slower, your idea is easily understood. You pause to give people time to think about your concept and compose their questions for deeper understanding. You pay more attention to your delivery, your language, and you engage your audience. Fundamentally, I understand the benefit and importance of speaking slower with confidence. In practice, it is a habit tough to change. It took me many years with a conscious effort to improve. To this day, I am still learning and continue working on it. I always believe it is a challenge only for me until I sat in a hiring panel to discuss a candidate.

Everyone on the panel saw much great strength from this candidate, from professional performance, portfolio examples to their energy and enthusiasm for the job. The overall feedback and concern are that the candidate spoke too fast. I immediately draw that connection to myself. What are the similarities between the candidate and I? We are both professional; we are both confident; we both have lots of ideas; AND, we are both females, Asian; to be specific, Chinese.

Why this matter? I grew up in a culture women’s voice is not as well represented as our men counterpart. In my culture, Chinese patriarchy is a male-dominated society and culture. A woman was to be subordinate to her father in youth, her husband in maturity, and her son in old age. Familial relationships are prefixed. Social norms constrain behaviors. Although I grew up in a very open, modern family, to my surprise, neither my sister nor myself were even included in the family tree map.

From advertising to the tech industry, I also developed my career in a mainly male-dominant culture. I lost count of how many times my ideas were accredited to a man in the room. In my long 20+ years of professional life, only one of my managers was female.

I was conditioned to get my ideas in one breath. If I want to complete my thoughts, I do not want to be interrupted if I want to present all that I’ve planned to communicate. This behavior is not a conscious decision of mine, but many years of unconscious practice necessity.

I’ve observed that when I was teaching at Universities, many of my Asian female students speak faster than their male classmates. I felt that I constantly have to remind them to slow down. I know from a public speaking perspective, it is the right thing to teach. But I wonder if I am doing them a favor or harm when they return to their home countries.

Now I have done more public speaking; I have been training myself to speak more clearly and slowly while delivering a public speech. I have been advising other female co-workers, I have been advising my students while I taught at universities. I still struggle to slow down in many day-to-day discussions.

Only until today, I realized that being able to present your idea slowly is a privilege.

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