In January 2001, I sat down to prepare a speech that I would deliver to 350 women managers and executives. Though I had enthusiastically accepted this opportunity to promote my firm, I felt a pang of regret after agreeing to speak.

The prospect was daunting. Although I had spoken to smaller groups of forty or fifty people, I had never addressed such a large business audience. I wouldn't be able to “chat” with them as I did with more intimate gatherings; I might not even be able to see them, with the stage lights in my eyes. To add to the pressure, my company—The Humphrey Group—had spent the past decade teaching others how to speak. Many of the women in my audience were executives who recently had received speech coaching from ...

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