Andrea interviews leadership communication expert Judith Humphrey. Learn about imposter syndrome, communication differences between men and women, effective self-promotion, the leaders’ script, when we should apologize, and what to do when your boss suggests you need to demonstrate leadership. This is part 1 of a two-part feature (ep. 94 & 95) on “Taking the Stage: Communication Skills for Leaders.”


 Judith Humphrey

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Taking the Stage by Judith Humphrey


Dr. Andrea Wojnicki & Talk About Talk 





Greetings and welcome to Talk About Talk. I’m your communication coach, Dr. Andrea Wojnicki (please call me Andrea!).

Today we’re focusing on “Taking the stage: communication skills for leaders.” Taking the stage is the name of one of the books written by our guest for this episode, communications skills guru Judith Humphrey.

I met Judith over a year ago on LinkedIn. Yes, I practice what I preach. I was networking on social media. Imagine! Given our common focus on communication skills, our paths crossed many times on LinkedIn. We started chatting. Then we realized that we live less than a kilometre away from each other in Toronto, Canada. She took the time to hand deliver a few of her books to my house! I devoured them. Then – I emailed her and invited her out for lunch. Judith was so generous with her insights and advice, that I asked her if I could interview her for this TalkAboutTalk podcast. And – here we are!

I have to warn you, this episode is dense. My conversation with Judith was so full of learning – that I decided to split it into two episodes.

This is good news – You’re going to learn a lot – I promise!

  • You’re going to learn Judith’s metaphor for the impostor

Here’s a hint. It’s a little character that sits on your shoulder.

  • You’re also going to learn a simple script for
  • You’re going to learn about the positive and the negative side of self-promotion.
  • You’re going to learn how we should think about When to apologize and when not to apologize.
  • You’re gonna learn some of the differences, yes, the stereotypes, regarding how men communicate versus how women And a whole lot more.

So much more, in fact. that I decided to split this conversation, this interview into two episodes, as I said. Here’s how it’s going to work. I’m going to introduce Judith to you now. And then you’ll hear the first half of the interview.

Then the next episode, episode number 95, will include the second half of our conversation, followed by my summary.

As always, you don’t need to take notes. Because I do that for you. If you go to, click on podcasts and then shownotes, you’ll see everything right there. A beautiful, concise summary. Links to all the references – books, articles, social media handles, and so on. And then also the full transcript of our conversation.

While you’re checking out, I encourage you to subscribe to the free communication skills newsletter. It’s free, and it’s like getting free communication skills coaching from me in your  inbox  once  a  week.  You  can sign up quickly and easily on the website, where you’ll also find the shownotes and the archive of past episodes.

So as I always say, just keep doing whatever you’re doing. Making dinner. Walking the dog. Or just lying on the couch. You don’t have to lift a finger to take notes because I do that for you.

Alright, let me introduce Judith Humphrey. Judith is a communications expert and Founder of The Humphrey Group, a pioneer in the field of leadership communications. She established The Humphrey Group in 1988 and today the firm works with clients globally, with offices in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, and Mexico City.

The Humphrey Group has a broad range of programs for leaders, including Taking the Stage® the firm’s landmark program for women, which has been offered to over half a billion women around the world, in five languages and on all continents.

Judith is the author of three books:

Speaking as a Leader: How to Lead Every Time You Speak;

Taking the Stage: How Women Can Speak Up, Stand Out, and Succeed; and Impromptu: Leading in the Moment.

You can find these books in the shownotes for this episode.

Judith is also a keynote speaker and a regular columnist for Fast Company, with over 100 published articles to her name. She’s now writing her fourth book.



Thank you so much, Judith, for joining us here today to talk about how leaders communicate.

Oh, it’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

So I’d love to get started with the mindset that we show up with when we’re taking the stage. And when I say taking the stage, I mean, when we’re showing up probably for a really important communication context, whether it’s giving a speech or leading a big meeting or doing a presentation to investors. I’m curious about confidence, specifically, and whether you had imposter syndrome.

I didn’t realize it at the time. But my whole life, I’ve really grappled with the notion that I have a right to speak up, I have a right to be heard. And I remember when I was actually very young, I was in church. And an older gentleman said to me, so how are you? And I started to reply, and he looked away. And I thought, there’s something here that I need to fix. Hmm. And so my whole life I’ve been speaking up. And speaking in watching people as they observe me and hear me, it’s very, very important to me to feel that I have a voice in any discussion. And I’ve expressed my voice in various ways throughout my life. As a violinist, I chose to play the violin, and played on many stages. When I was young. I went into English and communications and became a speech writer. In my early days of career, I was actually an instructor

also in university, taught communications, and ultimately created a company that was designed to teach leaders how to communicate.

So it sounds like you were from the get go from a very young age, you were intrinsically motivated to ensure that you personally, were being heard through these various media, right? Whether it’s a musical instrument or your voice or your career impact, but then in your career, you, you evolve to actually encouraging other people to do the same thing?

Yes, because I knew how important it was to me. And so when I became a speechwriter, I thought this is such  a  powerful  way  of  expressing  myself through those speeches, but having those executives express themselves. And I really got tremendous joy of being a speechwriter. I didn’t care whether I was giving a speech. I just knew that my words were being expressed publicly. And it was very exciting to create those words that would be heard by larger audiences.

Wow. I keep thinking when you describe that I keep thinking of the word amplify.

Yes, yeah. Yes. When you write something on the page, it just stays there on the page until you have somebody express it. And then when, when is the CEO and I was writing for all CEOs, several banks. They would be speaking to large groups of employees or the public or clients. Some speech writers have told me they don’t like to go to hear their speaker deliver their speeches. Oh, but I enjoyed it.

I’ve provided input and coaching to people that are giving speeches. But I’ve never actually written an entire speech. So that I guess I got to put that on my to do list. I read in one of your books that your college boyfriends, called you a modern woman. And I put that in quotes. Does that mean that you were always confident back to the imposter syndrome thing?

Sure. I had a little voice inside my head, as we all would say, don’t speak up. You’re not as good as the other people in the room. I mean, for example, when I was in college, first year university, I was in a university where there are a lot of prep school grads, the women it was a women’s college. And a lot of the women had gone to private schools, like going to public school. So they were very assured. And they would raise their hand and arrange their cigarette. Clock and literally, it feels so confident doing that. I wasn’t I didn’t have that confidence. So when I did, I made a resolve that I would speak up once in every class and I did And at first, it was difficult, but it got easier and easier.

And I think that’s the the message I would leave about this. The more you speak up, the more confident you’ll become.

I agree 100%, in one of my previous podcast episodes, focused on confidence, I share the story about me having an epic failure at a national sales meeting that I gave a speech at when I was probably 25, maybe 26. It was horrific. And from that moment on, I made a promise to myself that that would never happen again. And I would seek opportunities to do public speaking so that I would accumulate experience and overcome it. And I would say that it does work. So I agree 100%. And that preparation is so important. I mean, when I talk about the imposter syndrome, in my book, taking the stage, and I don’t actually refer to it as the imposter syndrome, I refer to it as the inner crow cackling away, telling us we’re not good enough to speak up to be hard to be listened to. And so, when I talk about that syndrome, I say there are a number of things you can do to counteract it. First, recognize that it’s not you, you know, that voice inside you saying sit down or don’t speak up is your socialization? Yeah, it’s something we’ve been taught to believe about ourselves, but we don’t have to believe it. And we need to acknowledge it as something different. It’s something that’s not really us. And it doesn’t reflect our capabilities. That’s the first thing. The second thing, when that voice inside you that you can call the imposter voice. You need to talk back to it, see it for what it is, and say, No, I’m not going to listen to that voice. It’s not me. It’s not real. It’s nothing I need to carry with me through life. And the third thing to pick up on your point, you need to prepare, you need to put time into preparing, whenever you do, whether it’s offering a point of view in a meeting, if you can prepare that the night before, think about the fact that you want to raise that point. It’s it’s great to prepare it, write it down, jot it down in bullet points, and learn it, rehearse it out loud. Or if it’s a speech do the same. So you’re prepared so that when you walk up to the podium, let’s say it’s informal speech, you can say I am ready. I am good. This is going to be great. And you leave that imposter syndrome behind.

Oh, that is beautiful. I love all of that advice. I love your metaphor, I guess of the inner crow. I can see this black crow sitting on my shoulder and I’m swatting it away. Right like it, it makes it something as to use the term you’re labeling it and and rejecting it as another.

Yeah, it’s an other. It’s not you. It’s that black crow on your shoulder. We hear it. But it’s outside us.

I love. It reminds me also, I recently read a fantastic book. I don’t know if you read it. It’s called Chatter by Ethan Kross. And it’s about our inner dialogue or monologue. And it’s about our inner talk our self, it’s about our self talk. And he recommends that we actually talk to ourselves in third person actually based on research. So if you said, Judith, push that inner crow away, then it’s almost like you’re taking, you know, a Mind’s Eye View or it’s almost like you’re coaching yourself or someone else is coaching you. So saying it in third person and I. So I think we could combine those two, right? And say, Great, Judith, that’s the crow. Push the crow out of your mind or push the crow off your shoulder.

Yeah, that’s a great suggestion. Yeah. Yeah, I think I think there’s some power in that. So we spoke a little bit about taking opportunities to present yourself whether it’s giving a speech, and I shared my experience, after my epic fail of trying to do that. In your book, you talk about seizing opportunities to shine, and showing up. Can you talk about what some of these opportunities may be? I mean, there’s there’s the obvious ones, right? There’s giving the speech at the national sales meeting, but when else might we seize the opportunity to shine.

Any opportunity where you’re in front of an audience is an opportunity to shine. So it could be the sales conference. It could be taking on a special project, a high profile project, volunteering for that, not waiting for someone to come to you and say would you do this. Speaking up at meetings, I think meetings always are the most constant item in our business lives. And speaking up at a meeting, as I mentioned, I did in classes and I graduate, forcing myself to speak up at least once. In every class, the same thing could be true. Speak up at least once in every meeting. And know that you’re going to do that before you go into the meeting and think about what you might say. Speaking up, in conversations, even casual conversations where the discussion is, when you feel you can make a contribution to speaking to your boss, if you feel your job, for example, needs to be redefined in some way or you feel you’re ready for another job. A higher level jobs, speak up, go to your boss, prepare to make your case. Every day is full of opportunities. I actually interviewed people for my last book, impromptu, and I asked about 20 executives, how many times a day, would you have an opportunity to speak up  impromptu?  And  they  said, anywhere between 19 and 25. Even at the end of a zoom call, you can say do you have a moment? If you want to speak to somebody about a particular topic? That’s a great suggestion. Yeah. So you don’t need to let other people define your agenda. Say Do you have a moment, if it’s your boss, or colleague, or someone you want to work with? introduced that idea that there’s something more that you have to offer? The day is full of opportunity.

It is. So that relates to the next question I wanted to ask you, which is about demonstrating leadership potential. And you talked about maybe proactively suggesting to your manager or to your boss about how your job might be redefined. Or maybe suggesting that you’re ready for the next step. Yeah. And I know from talking to my clients that many of them say that their boss has given them the feedback that they need to demonstrate leadership potential. Do you have any advice about how people can do that?

Well, first of all, if my boss said, I need to develop leadership, or demonstrate leadership potential, I might ask myself, Is this someone who just wants to keep me in my present job? Because there are a lot of reasons why our bosses don’t want us to leave. If we’re doing a great job. And we go to our boss and ask for a promotion or a new assignment. The  boss  might  well  say,  where  you  first have to develop leadership potential, meaning, I’m not interested in elevating you. So we have to find out whether that’s a genuine comment, or whether it’s describing your boss’s reluctance to move you.

Yeah, that that is fantastic advice. That’s not what I was expecting you to say. But I think that’s really true. If you really soul search for what the reason is that they would say that to you. Is it because you genuinely haven’t demonstrated that potential? Or is it because there’s an expectation within the organization that there’s a two year tenure before anyone can get promoted? You know, and so I think clarifying that,

So if a boss genuinely says to you, I’d like you to demonstrate leadership potential first.

You say? So what leadership opportunity you’re going to give me. I’d like an opportunity to shine in a leadership role.

I like to lead a project. Yep. I’d like to lead. Lead a team, I’d like to be able to demonstrate my leadership potential by actually being given a new assignment. Yeah.

Yeah. So increasing my responsibility in some way.  It  could  be  a  team  and  I have a list of suggestions. You could lead a team, you could lead an initiative, a project, a new product launch, you could you could even lead meetings, right, you could lead status meetings on a weekly basis or something like that. So

Yeah. I think also you, you demonstrate leadership potential by doing a great job with every project you have, by making sure that everything is delivered on time, on budget, according to the terms of that project. So you become a very reliable person within that organization. Yeah. And you also shows very strong communication skills that’s really important for leadership, and communication skills that not only are directly to your boss, but to everybody, all your colleagues on the team.

But it’s a beautiful segue to the leaders script, which you talked about in your book, can you share with the listeners, what what is the leader script, at the heart of all of my training, and my three books, speaking as a leader, taking the stage and impromptu, at the heart of all of my intellectual property, is this template called the leader script. And it actually goes back to my university days when I was teaching students how to write. And as you all know, when you learn how to write an essay, you learn to have a thesis, and then develop that thesis. But that doesn’t seem to be known in the business world. People write whether it’s a speech or a presentation or an off the cuff remark. There seems to be no clear structure, no purpose, no message, no point. How many times do we listen to people speaking? We’re saying, what is the point? Yeah,

get to the point, please. So my training is based on the leader script, and the leader script is a template for designing whatever you’re saying, whether it’s impromptu or whether it’s a presentation, or whether it’s a speech, designing it around a message. And there are actually four dimensions of the leader script. The starting point is a grabber you always want to start with a bridge to your audience, grab your audience’s attention show that you’ve heard them show, you’ve heard the question. So there’s the grabber, then you come to your point. And your point is framed. So the  people  understand  that’s  your  idea.  That’s what you want to get across. Here’s my message, you could say, or my point is,

also you’re very sorry, interrupt. You’re very explicit about this is my point.

Because otherwise people just hear it as one other sentence in the larger document. Yep. So my messages are, my view is my point is, or here’s what I feel, or here’s what I think. Here’s what I believe is even stronger. Yep. One sentence. We should move ahead with this project. That would be a message or I need a leadership. Opportunity. If I’m going to prove that I have leadership potential that’s a message right so many stages crisp, short into the point. And then the next part of the leader script is persuasion. It’s taking that message and saying how can I best develop it. And there are various ways to develop a message. One way would be giving reasons. So, three or four reasons why you believe you’d like an opportunity to prove your leadership potential are ways ways that your boss might deliver on that request. So you, the boss might give you a team to oversee might give you a project to bring home might give you a high profile event to host. So there are many ways but those are ways so you can develop that message was ways you can develop other messages chronologically. So over time, so if your message has something to do with something happening over time, so if somebody says, let’s say you’re in a job interview, and somebody says to how do you see your career evolving over the next 10 years, if you’re hired, then you say, Well, to begin with, and then and then by the third year, and then by the 10th? Year, right? So it’s quite a logical development. So those are some of the patterns of organization, you can also use, there’s a final pattern that I think is very important, and that is situation response. If someone said to you tell us how you solve the problem, a typical interview question, say, what the problem I saw was this, and then you describe the problem, right? And when you finish that, then you say, and here’s

the solution I brought about our I and my team brought up around them out. So that situation response or problem solution. So those are all patterns of organization that can develop your  message.  So  so  far,  we  have  the  grabber the message. And then when I call the structure or the proof points, yeah, the final part of the leaders script is a call to action, call to action is something all great speakers use to end their speeches, John F. Kennedy said, Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country that was part of his call to action in his inaugural speech. But when you’re in a meeting, your call to action might be, let’s say the meeting with  your  boss  in  which  you’ve asked for a leadership opportunity, you can say, so will you be willing to give me a leadership opportunity, or so I look forward to a new leadership opportunity? What do you think the best  approaches,  so  you  want  to  really close on a high end, even if you’re a job interview, you don’t want to end with ambiguity, you want to end by saying, I look forward to the prospect of being hired by your company, it would be great to be in this role. And so that would be a call to action because you’re describing  the  action  you  want  to  happen next. So that’s the leader script for parts, grabber. Message, proof points, or structure and call to action.

I love it. It sounds a little bit like an outline for an essay that we would have learned in English class, and you’re nodding your head. It absolutely is. But you’re right. It is uncommon. And I love how explicit it is right? You have the grabber. And then you declare your main message or your main point, right? And then you support it. And then you ask for what you want or what you need, right? You close it out with the action. I’m going to leave that outline in the shownotes for the listeners, because I always say to them, you don’t need to take notes when you’re listening to the podcast, because everything’s there for you. I’m also going to leave links to the books so they can read more about that in detail. It’s fantastic. I love mostly how explicit it is very explicit. Yeah. And it’s scalable to right. So if you think about it, it can be stretched out for a full speech, right? Or it can be compressed for short, impromptu comment, right?

In a meeting, right? You know, but when you hear people that are worthy of

being listened to, what do they have, they have the those components, they grab our attention. They make a point, they prove their point. They ask for action. And really when you think about it, that call to action, is translating your leadership message into activity is something that has consequences. So I found it to be very powerful. People really love it.

THANKS for LISTENING.  Talk soon!


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