What Holds Women Back from Becoming Strong Public Speakers?
While women have advanced in many arenas, women will never achieve their full potential if they avoid public speaking. Whether addressing a crowd at an event or conference or leading an internal meeting, strong public speaking skills are necessary for career advancement. I spoke with Deborah Shames, co-founder of Eloqui, a communication and presentation company, and author of the new book Out Front: How Women Can Become Engaging, Memorable, and Fearless Speakers.
Throughout history, women have been judged by different standards than men and it’s not uncommon to hear comments about a woman’s likability and style of address (i.e. “I’m put off by her shrill voice,” or “She’s too excitable.”). And if a woman stands up for what she believes in, she will likely receive comments about how aggressive she is.
However, there are areas within our control. According to Deborah, women can confront and correct the self-defeating behaviors that hold them back.
Striving for Perfection
“Women professionals often want to be polished or perfect,” Shames said. “The truth is, audiences don’t trust a speaker who is too polished. Being perfect doesn’t create a connection with or engage an audience.” Shames explains, “Women strive for perfection out of fear. They feel compelled to do well. To be the good girl. And to make people proud.” Thus, they tend to over-prepare, write out, read, or memorize their talks. They tell themselves, “I may be boring, but at least I won’t make a mistake or get it wrong.”
Instead, according to Shames, women should have a clear intention of what they want to achieve and tell themselves, “The audience needs what I have to deliver.” And then construct an outline. Think of it as a GPS to keep your speech on track and ensure that you cover your key talking points. The most successful speakers understand their job is to persuade rather than educate.
As Deborah explains, “Don’t leave yourself out of your talk. Include ‘I’ statements that give your perspective, like ‘I see… I know… I feel…’ to better engage audiences.” I-statements will also reduce anxiety, because you always know where you stand on a topic. And rather than getting every word or phrase just right, strive to be conversational and natural. The audience will respond to a speaker’s authenticity.
If I’m Not an Expert, I Don’t Deserve to Speak
Too many women refuse to speak publicly, Shames believes, because they think they’re not an “Expert” or don’t know enough. News flash – we don’t do business with Experts, who can be boring, speak too long, and rarely include the speaker’s perspective.
Shames offers the following advice for mentally preparing, “Better to think of yourself as a Seasoned Veteran, Motivator, Coach, or Facilitator. It’s not about pretending to be someone else. It’s matching your experience or your comfort level with a mindset to best achieve your intention.”
The Audience is Judging Me Harshly
“This one is a major roadblock for women, and patently untrue,” Shames says. Have you ever sat in an audience and wished that the speaker would be boring or fail completely? Of course not. The audience wants you to give them something of value, a useful takeaway, or an idea or concept that stimulates their intellect. “If you see serious faces in the audience, they are likely concentrating on what you are saying, and not judging you negatively.”
Shames advises persistence. “The only way to move forward is to throw yourself into the fray of public speaking and power through, driving a strong intention with the confidence that you are improving each time you stand out front.”
“It’s time for women to create their own destinies,” concludes Shames. “Better communication and public speaking gives women the ability to seize every opportunity and aspire to new heights. Whether pitching for new business, delivering a talk at a conference, raising money for a favorite non-profit, or communicating one-on-one, women can become a powerful force when they speak with authenticity and confidence.”