Speech of the Month, March 2022 - Marina Ovsyannikova

Marina Ovsyannikova didn't use her actual voice when she spoke up so bravely. Be inspired by her when you know you really should speak up.

Speech of the Month, March 2022 - Marina Ovsyannikova

I tingled when I heard that Marina Ovsyannikova, an editor at Channel One television in Russia, had barged onto the set of its evening news shouting “Stop the war. No to war” while holding a placard saying ‘They’re lying to you here.’ I admired her audacity, I admired and envied in equal parts her bravery, and then I panicked for her future. Would she end up regretting her protest? Because, although to date she’s only been fined £220 for her outburst, she could still face years in prison. Yet, France has offered her asylum which she’s turned down, stating that she’s a patriot. More bravery. 

A friend has said that the invasion of Ukraine was a tipping point for Ovsyannikova, who’d been unhappy for some time about the channel’s censored, blurred journalistic output. Days before she executed her non-vocal protest, she’d been thinking about it and then, when the opportunity presented itself - bam! 

Finding that catalyst moment to speak up and / or speak out is something that many people, more commonly women than men, find evades them. They’re in a meeting, there’s something they want to say, it might be slightly controversial or critical, so they panic, stay mute and then the discussion moves onto another subject and they didn’t get to say the thing they wanted to. 

And it doesn’t stop there, because then the internal self-berating kicks in and escalates which doesn’t help and also means the person is no longer in the present, listening to the new item being discussed. 

So what can we do to seize that moment, speak up and get ourselves heard? 

Recall a motivating moment to help propel you into speech

In unchaired meetings there’s rarely the right moment to contribute, so you’ve just got to take the plunge. The quicker you take that plunge, the quicker your anxiety about making your point will abate. 

When I need to take a plunge, I find it helps to recall to mind a very particular moment when I didn’t do something that I went on to regret. I have a very specific situation (that happened almost half a life time ago) but when I bring it to mind the picture of a lift (that I should have got into) inside the hall of an office building on Poland Street, I immediately feel regret, and that gives me the push to do the thing I’m nervous about in the present. Better to try and fail than never try at all. 

Open by using names

By opening with, ‘Kate, I’d like to follow up on your point’ you now have Kate’s attention, at least. If you can’t do that – perhaps because you’re on foreign turf and you’ve forgotten the speaker’s name – then say, ‘I’d like to say something about…’ or even ‘I’d disagree with….’ ‘I’d like’ is a good way in. 

Hold eye contact

Making eye contact makes a huge difference to the effect you create when speaking. So resist looking at the floor, the table, above people’s heads or into the middle distance when making your point. Looking away is a by-product of anxiety; it’s a submissive response to ward off aggression. But do you want to give the impression that you’re anxious? Of course not. You want to look confident and calm. 

So make the effort to make direct eye contact. A tip that I find helpful is to look for the colour of the eyes when speaking. But if your eye sight’s bad and you’re thinking, ‘Look for the colour of the eyes, are you kidding?’, then simply look for the irises.  

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“Emma delivered 'Making Your Mark in Meetings' virtually for the council. Attendees thought the workshop was excellent; describing it as highly useful and enjoyable. Not that this came as a surprise. Emma has been successfully delivering workshops for me for over a decade!”

Duncan Jowitt, Wyre Council

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