Staying On Message

Over the last five years, I have worked as a videographer for filmmaker Jane Praeger of Ovid Inc. and Columbia University. This past summer, just a few days after my shoulder surgery, I assisted her at a pretty tony company, but because I was recovering, my son Hayden helped out — he, too, found Praeger’s coaching helpful and inspiring.

I love Praeger’s style because she asks a lot of questions and she’s not out to ‘catch’ you in your errors. She builds you up on what you already do well. She’s genuinely curious. And she never lectures. She’s good at getting people to simplify their message. When speakers “get in the weeds” with too much insider lingo, she steers them back to a direct and straightforward style of storytelling.

In any case, I’ve been thinking about Praeger and her mentoring style because today, as I’m catching up on my old newspapers, reading some old New York Times, I find that on October 4, Jane Praeger wrote a letter to the opinion page addressing women’s anger and presentation skills. Here is Jane’s wisdom:

To the Editor:

Rebecca Traister makes the point that women’s rage is often “transformed into something more palatable” — like tears.

In my 25 years as a communications coach, I’ve found that “performance anxiety” or “stage fright” — the most common reason women seek coaching — is often rage turned inward.

I made this discovery early in my career, when a very prominent woman and capable public speaker came for coaching because she had suddenly developed a speaking phobia. A few questions revealed that she actually had a lot of anger (rage, really) toward specific men in the audience — anger she felt she couldn’t directly express.

When I asked her if she might be “shaking with rage” instead of “shaking with fear,” she closed her eyes for a few moments, then, clearly trying to hold back tears, nodded her head. We talked about how she might better communicate her anger and her speaking phobia literally disappeared.

Since then, my advice to women (and men) whose fear or anxiety keeps them from making their voices heard is to first ask themselves: “Who in this audience am I angry at?” Then, “what is the alternative to turning that rage in on myself?”

Jane Praeger
New York
The writer teaches in the Women in Leadership program at Columbia Business School.

See what I mean about asking a good question? She is asking, it seems, What is the alternative to inward rage? How can you employ your anger to tell your story more creatively, forcefully, and, yes, professionally?

Working with Praeger is one of my several side hustles. My full-time job as a teacher comes first, but I am fortunate to have crafted a part-time work life that enriches my personal life, and honestly, gives me a bit more status that my teaching gig does. Look, I am fanatical about teaching well. And a big part of teaching is to be a life-long learner about learning. I’m never going to stop asking the big questions.


Use your rage to ask the big questions; this has got to be the way women advance.


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