Five Facts Women Should Know About Professional/Public SpeakingMay 19, 2021
Five Facts Women Should Know About Professional/Public Speaking
Wowee...the last couple of blogs have been deep and honest and a bit tough (which I always try to be), and not even a little bit funny (which I also always try to be!).
So! Let’s lighten things up a bit, shall we?? Before I get going, though - remember to subscribe at the bottom of this blog so that you get the weekly content AND any other goodies I send out.
This week I’m going to level with you - and I’m calling it “Five Facts Women Should Know About Professional/Public Speaking”. I like to keep it real, but also practical, so let’s get you “in the know” about these facts, starting...NOW.
- NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU TRY, IT WILL NEVER BE PERFECTI know you know this. But do you really accept it?
I ask, because it’s in the acceptance of this fact that the real power lies. Many - if not most - women will give lip service to this idea, but in their secret heart-of-hearts, they’re really thinking that it can and should be perfect.
That others expect that of them. That others are doing ‘perfect’ presentations and public speaking.
What is this notion of ‘perfection’ anyways?? Is it that every word is smooth, crystal clear, with no ‘unauthorized’ pauses or stumbles?
Is ‘perfection’ a condition where everyone else ‘approves’ of what you said AND how you said it? (good luck with that, btw)
Does ‘perfection’ have to do with the right outfit, the right gestures, the right slide deck?
This is complete bullshit.
And it’s the major contributing factor in women NOT taking on opportunities to engage in this kind of work.
- Saying “um” is bad
UM: Expressing hesitation or a pause in speech.
THIS ONE DRIVES ME NUTS.
Now, I will admit that an abundance of ‘ums’ (aka ‘verbal fillers’) is disruptive to the flow of speech AND distracting.
I actually use a ‘clicker’ - the kind you use for keeping track of how many people come in a bar - to count ‘fillers’, in instances clients have an actual problem. But that is the MINORITY of clients.
Being uptight - and hypervigilant - about such verbal mannerisms drastically increases your anxiety level, with no significant benefit in the long term.
In fact, it can become such an overwhelming issue that you avoid speaking opportunities because you’ve aligned this notion of ‘um’ with ‘perfection’ (see #1!)
Why you - or anyone else - would say ‘um’ is because of thinking - running out of thoughts or trying to organize those thoughts or feeling/sensing something that’s being processed.
We’re so accustomed to keeping the flow of sound going that we insert a ‘placeholder’, like ‘um’, until we’ve got the next ‘batch’ of words. Then we judge ourselves.
STOP. IT. NOW.Better strategy? SLOW DOWN. ADD INTENTIONAL PAUSES. REMEMBER TO BREATHE DURING THE PAUSES.
- There is NO ONE WAY to present/speak
Sorry. In a world of quick-fixes and formula-living, I have to keep bringing it back to the basics - one of our biggest anxieties about presenting/speaking is that we have the half-formed, nebulous notion of what the “right” way to speak is. Except it doesn’t exist.
Yes, there are things that matter - like, can your listeners understand your words? (vocabulary, pronunciation, pacing, clarity)
Are you speaking in a manner that allows for people to follow your thoughts? (which isn’t, by the way, necessarily a linear undertaking - but neither is it scattershot and chaotic).
Can people hear you and parse out the different key ideas? (pitch, inflection, volume, emphasis) But there IS NOT a magic wand...AND I DON’T CARE WHO I HAVE TO FIGHT ON THAT POINT.
You know it’s true if you think about it - Tony Robbins, Oprah Winfrey, Kamala Harris, Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington, Sir Keith Robinson, they all get the job done while attending to the things that matter BUT DOING SO IN THEIR OWN STYLE.
- You WILL face more biases, judgment, and bigotry as a woman speaker
I HATE that I have to say that. I HATE HATE HATE it.
I grew up believing that I COULD DO ANYTHING (not that I was necessarily allowed to, which is another story for another day), and it came as quite a shock to me when I started to understand that others didn’t agree with me.
Their disagreement wasn’t based on something fact-based, like “D will never be a professional basketball player” (which is truly a FACT), or “D will be the tallest woman in the world” (I am solidly average).
It wasn’t even based on something entirely subjective or unprovable (D is the most beautiful woman in the world - about the only takers there are my sons, and they’re biased - or D is the smartest woman in the world).
No, the judgment was based solely on a biological fact - that I was born with XX chromosomes and I phenotypically present as a female - and I also identify as female.
And because of this biological fact, I am deemed less capable, less worthy, less...everything. EXCEPT, of course, things like ‘maternal’ and ‘caring’ and ‘loving’ and ‘nurturing’ and ‘gentle’ and and and.
Those making those assumptions know nothing about me, other than I AM female, but that’s enough for them.
I wish I could say that that changes once someone gets to know you, but it often doesn’t: because we all frame our experiences through our perception of ‘norms’ (which are far, FAR from universal), we still interpret the ‘other’ that way.
To make this clearer, think of it this way: I know someone who raised his daughter to be a powerhouse. She’s truly a force of nature. She’s the primary breadwinner, a community leader, a fierce, loving, and demanding mother, an executive, and an entrepreneur, the whole package.
However, in conversation recently, he informed me that “women are getting too big for their britches” and his wife chimed in with “women should be more grateful.”
I damn near scraped my jaw on the pavement.
So, while they’ve raised this dynamic and successful daughter, of whom they’re understandably super-proud, they still categorize all women with these biases. And interestingly, my friend modifies her behaviour (somewhat) around her father - DESPITE KNOWING ALL OF THIS.
And I do it, too.
I really have to fight against waiting on, kow-towing, and treating my father like he’s emotionally fragile and easily upset (which he is).
If I upset him by challenging his words and beliefs and biases, he pouts.
Like, literally, POUTS. Then I have to hold on tightly because EVERY cell in my body wants to appease him/make it better. I want him to approve.
And I find I have to fight the urge to do this with males, in general.
What in the actual fuck?
So yes, when you stand up, speak out, publicly and professionally, you are potentially drawing the ire and judgment of others, most of which has nothing to do with YOU. It has everything to do with other peoples’ frameworks for seeing the world.
But if you DON’T stand up and speak out, it will NEVER change, because it will simply reinforce the (entirely wrong) notion that women’s voices aren’t worthy of being heard - by virtue of NOT being heard!
Don’t make this a self-fulfilling prophecy.
YOU WILL SURVIVE
Do you know how many clients, students, and people in my life have sworn up and down that if they speak in public, they will DIE? More than I’ve ever been able to count.
And guess what? Yeah. Not one has croaked.
No matter what happens, you will walk through the fire and arrive on the other side. You could be a bit crunchy around the edges, or downright crispy (pretty rare, but it DOES happen); You could be lightly toasted or barely even warmed.
You really can’t know.
The VAST majority of speaking DOES NOT entail opportunities to be torched alive. If you’re an executive or a politician, then yes, the odds certainly increase, but by no means does that mean you won’t make it through. YOU WILL.
It will become - if you let it - part of your learning and your journey, something you can draw from for inspiration, motivation, and personal education.
For example, if you find out that the way you practiced with a teleprompter didn’t work, then you can change that in the future.
If you discover that the particular terminology you used didn’t make sense or resonate with your listener, you can choose different words - sometimes in that actual speaking moment, or in your future speaking moments.
The point is, you take your experiences and learn from them. Every person has that opportunity available to them.
At the end of the day, professional/public speaking has EVERYTHING to do with the attitude you approach it with. Some things to bear in mind (and keep it real):
- You will be nervous (could be excited-nervous or anxiety-nervous, but they’re actually the same thing - more on that in the future!)
- You won’t be perfect (see #1)
- The time will pass, and there is a moment that exists BEYOND this one, where this will now be part of your history.
- People will have their own thoughts, feelings and beliefs about your topic, you, your style, the world, and on and on, and that’s okay.
The Biggest Truth of Them All
If there was ONLY ONE THING I could tell you about professional/public speaking, it’s this:
Keep at the front of your mind the purpose behind the communication - what are you offering, providing, explaining, sharing, etc., to or with your listener(s). Everything you do, every choice you make, comes down to how you are trying to connect. IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. Sorry, but it’s not.
And there you have it! Some food for thought, a few tips and tricks, and - best part of all - FACTS THAT HELP YOU EMBRACE OPPORTUNITIES. I love it.
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