Most tips for public speakers are universal: stand up straight, warm up your voice, know your topic. From striving to seem confident to the importance of telling stories, there are a range of golden rules of thumb that can work for most speakers in most situations.
That said, speaking is an exchange between speaker and audience. That’s why it’s so important for speakers to do their research, and to learn about their audience so they can tailor their delivery and material. The truth is that the best speakers also cut their cloth according to their own quirks and qualities, too. In other words, there are golden rules … and then there are rules for you.
It’s worth considering, then, how gender affects speakers. For a start, unavoidably a speaker’s gender affects an audience’s expectations: famously, Margaret Thatcher had vocal training to obtain a deeper voice, since audiences prefer those to the naturally higher voices of women. We should rail against these prejudices, but in the here and now speakers also need to be aware of them if they are to succeed.
Women speakers can tend towards the pre-emptive apology; “ I could be wrong but…” It’s so important that female speakers avoid these phrases: you know your topic and you’re a great speaker … so why pretend otherwise?
One of the most common of these kinds of phrases uses the word “just”: “I’m just going to say” or “I just think” both are weak formulations. Defensive or diffident speakers don’t take audiences with them.
Any form of nerves can lead to pace issues: don’t rush your talk. Speak in a measured way, and own your allotted time. Likewise, use clear syntax and grammar: short, declarative sentences that are clear and concise. Pause between those sentences. Take time to breathe. Enjoy yourself!
In fact, one good way of feeling less like speaking is a chore is to be yourself while doing it. Know your audience; adapt your tone or content for sure; but don’t lose yourself in the process. You need to seem comfortable when speaking, and the best way of doing this is by simply being natural. Don’t be intimidated into adopting “male” ways of communicating: you can successfully communicate as a woman. In fact, sometimes you can more successfully communicate!
The culturally defined expectations at large in sectors of society can place additional obstacles in the way of women when it comes to public speaking. But the truth is that many of these are all in the mind – either of the speaker or the audience – and great communication can go a long way to changing those. Ultimately, remember the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “Courage is more exhilarating than fear, and in the long run, it’s easier.”
Let your voice be heard!