We all know that, at least in some ways, men and women typically communicate differently. That is why, as a female writer who researches and writes about public speaking on a daily basis, I often wonder if the tips I share with my readers are applicable to both male and female public speakers. For the most part, I think the advice I share is relevant to all speakers, regardless of gender, age, and background, however my curiosity about how my advice resonates with both genders prompted me to research public speaking techniques specifically geared towards women.
During my research, I stumbled upon a Forbes article in which Kathy Caprino shares a fascinating quote from the book The Female Brain by Dr. Louann Brizendine; the quote outlines just a few of the physiological differences that separate women from men:
…In the brain centers for language and hearing, for example, women have 11 percent more neurons than men. The principal hub of both emotion and memory formation – the hippocampus – is also larger in the female brain as is the brain circuitry for language and observing emotions in others…The female brain has tremendous unique aptitudes – outstanding verbal agility, the ability to connect deeply in friendship, a nearly psychic capacity to read faces and tone of voice for emotions and states of mind, and the ability to defuse conflict. All of this is hardwired into the brains of women. These are the talents women are born with that many men, frankly, are not. Men are born with other talents, shaped by their own hormonal reality…
The quote from the The Female Brain is a great reminder that, even though all humans are equal, men and women are also created to be wonderfully unique. In addition, Brizendine’s insights into the physiological differences between men and women are evidence that communication advice should, at least occasionally, be crafted for a specific gender, instead of stretched in an attempt to impact both men and women.
In that spirit, here are some tips for female public speakers.
Before you take the stage, look at a photo or video of another female speakers who inspire you.
Looking at an image of an inspiring female leader before delivering a speech is proven to improve the speaking abilities of women, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. For example, women who viewed an image of Hillary Clinton before they delivered a speech had a more positive perception of their own performance, and also received higher ratings by audience members.
What female speakers inspire you? Find a photo or video of that speaker and have it ready to view before your next presentation.
When reviewing the terms for a public speaking gig, don’t shy away from negotiation. For example, if the first offer for financial compensation is less than you think you deserve, fight for a rate that is appropriate for your expertise and experience. Also check the fine print of the agreement and ensure that all of the other terms are a good fit for what you are bringing to the table. For example, if you think you deserve to have your travel expenses covered, be clear about what you think is fair. You will likely get what you ask for, and if you don’t, consider passing on the opportunity.
Women are typically less likely than men to negotiate terms and compensation. For example, one study revealed that only 7% of women negotiate their first salary, as compared to 57% of men.
Knowing your value is important for public speakers. If you are not getting a fair rate for your time and efforts, stand up for yourself, and don’t back down. In addition, if you’re being overlooked for speaking opportunities, be bold and let people know that you are not a wallflower, but a leader worthy of the spotlight. Public speakers need to be fearless. Start demonstrating your fearlessness by asserting yourself during negotiations.
Women are less likely than men to take credit for their successes. Men typically don’t hesitate to pat themselves on the back, however women will often share the credit with their team or partners by saying we did this, instead of I did this, even if in reality the success can be directly attributed to the female leader.
When delivering a presentation, be honest about who did what. If you and your team collaborated on a successful project, then say so. However, if you alone paved the path to success, don’t hide behind your team – give yourself credit, and be proud of your accomplishments. If audience members know you deserve the credit, and yet you decide to share the credit with your team, they might think you are generous and humble, however they might also think you lack confidence and leadership skills. Honesty is always the best route.
Many women do not speak as confidently as men. Small phrases and words often get in the way of otherwise confident communication. For example, women will often unnecessarily add the word just to their statements: I just think…I am just wondering…I just want to add. The word just is not necessary and it shrinks the power of the statement. Instead, say: I think…I wonder…I will add.
Women often use the word actually in a similar fashion: I actually have a question…Actually, I have an idea…I was actually the leader. When you use the word actually in this manner, it sounds as if you’re surprised you were the leader, or you’re asking permission to contribute an idea.
In addition, watch out for uptalk, a speaking pattern that makes your statements sound like questions. According to a 1995 piece in the Houston Chronicle, uptalk is a remnant of the valley girl manner of speaking. To avoid sounding like a teenager at the mall, end your statements with a period, not a question mark? Be confident in your communication, and watch for subtle shifts in your speaking to ensure your communication style is consistent with the meaning of your message.
Men and women are different in many ways; communication advice needs to be adjusted accordingly. These few tips are just the tip of the iceberg of what I want to share with female speakers. Stay tuned for more tips for women in the public speaking world. As this post was focused primarily on the struggles female speakers might encounter, my next post on this topic will focus more on strengths female speakers can leverage.
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