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The fear of public speaking is ubiquitous. But it often affects female speakers more than their male counterparts.
Here are five common hurdles faced by female speakers, and how to overcome them:
1. Language Women are notorious for using weak language. An example would be the subjunctive mode- sentences that start with “I think,” “I feel,” or “I believe.”
Why is this language categorized as weak? It makes your message sound doubtful. If you don’t believe in it, neither does your audience.
Replace weak language with strong wording. So, instead of saying:
- I think
- Does that make sense?
- This might be silly
- I am no expert, but…
… say the following:
- I am
- I am convinced
- Do you understand my point?
- What I do know is…
2. Voice Your voice has a major effect on your audience. It is the primary medium to convey your message.
A lively, exciting voice attracts and keeps listeners’ attention. A deep voice demonstrates vitality and strength. Women naturally have higher pitched voices. If you want to convey a message with force, you need to work harder to make up for the mismatched pitch.
Another pitfall to avoid is to end sentences with a rising intonation. It makes a statement sound like a question. End your sentences strong, with a lowering intonation- making a statement you stand by.
When you’re nervous, your voice tends to be especially high-pitched. Take the time to prepare your vocal chords. A few of my favorite techniques are:
- Humming Great if you have to do it on the go. Make sure to pick a song to hum that goes up and down, so you’re hitting all of those chords!
- The siren Pick a letter, and create a slide-shaped vocal wave. Go from low to high, and back to low. Repeat. I especially use it when I have an early morning speaking engagement.
3. Body language If there is a podium, do not get buried behind it. The goal should be to move the majority of the time, and only stand still occasionally; for example, when making a point, or for the opening and closing.
Stand straight, feet slightly apart, weight evenly distributed, look directly at your audience. Do not slouch your shoulders, or fix your eyes on the floor.
Moving attracts attention. And guess what, it doesn’t start when you’re on stage. The first movement is getting on stage! Appear confident, walk purposefully, head up and shoulders back, turn and face the audience. Don’t forget to do the same on the way back.
4. Pressure to perform According to studies, women experience greater stress in the workplace than men. Women also admitted to not being valued or promoted equally, dealing with unequal pay, and being expected to “look the part.”
Another reason for added pressure is a higher workload. A Harvard Business Review study showed that women are more likely to say yes to tasks, particularly those that do not lead to promotion. They have a strong aversion to saying “no” due to social conditioning.
Implementing habits, such as saying “no,” and challenging the voice in your head that says you can’t do something, can help manage anxiety and stress.
What does this have to do with public speaking? It’s two-fold:
- Don’t say “yes” to every opportunity- stick to only those that benefit you and your career.
- Focus on the task ahead, and don’t get distracted by worries when giving a speech or presentation. Meditation helps a great deal!
5. Being positioned as an expert One of the most frequently repeated lessons in the media training we are conducting at my enterprise, The Speakeasy Club, is to acknowledge where one’s expertise starts, and where it ends. Admitting, pivoting, and bridging the gap towards an area that you are comfortable in is the way to go.
In our experience, women are more likely to get nervous, especially during interviews and Q&As. The main reason we identified is a lack of confidence.
Only take on speaking engagements that fall into your area of expertise. Once you have been asked to be a speaker on a certain topic, remind yourself- you have been asked to take on this opportunity because you are the expert.
Also, remember that the stereotype of females being nurturing and emotional is still very much present.
While a male panelist might be asked about the productivity rate of employees working from home, the female colleague might receive the question, ‘How do employees feel about the change?’
Use the pivot-and-bridge technique to push the conversation towards a topic that matters to you. Your goal is to get your key messages across, and position yourself as the expert that you are.