I worked with a group of Executive Women in Sydney, Australia, in late July. As evidenced by the feedback they gave me at the end of my intensive two-day course, many found the course “inspirational” and “game-changing”.
They were clearly inspired by what I had to teach them. But ladies, I found you all inspirational also – your achievements, your enthusiasm, your commitment to overcoming public speaking weaknesses, and your dogged determination to move forward in a culture (Australian) that still actively holds women back was an inspiration to me.
So ladies – this blog is dedicated to you all. It is also offered to all those women out there struggling to move forward in their careers or struggling to achieve any goals no matter what they happen to be.
Women face specific challenges with respect to public speaking and communicating generally. The female voice sounds different and women use language differently. Women do not debate well. They do not defend their point of view convincingly. It is easy for a woman to unknowingly lower her authority when public speaking. There are so many psychological traps for the unsuspecting professional woman to fall into. Among these is a reluctance to accept the power that goes with public speaking and the psychological belief that will hold back any woman – possessing a strong need for the approval of the audience. Any audience – those in a meeting, a person on the other end of the telephone, a stranger in a store, a stranger on public transport – the list goes on.
Women have a strong need for approval from everyone.
Let’s firstly look at why and how this develops. I acknowledge some of these stereotypical examples are changing; however, generally speaking, they are still accurate.
The little girl is given dolls to care for. She is given miniature kitchens to play in and pretends to serve others. She learns that when she takes care of her siblings and when she offers her make-believe cakes to her family she is rewarded with praise.
The young girl observes her surroundings. The people in positions of authority are mostly men. She learns that men must be the important people.
The teenage girl, driven by her hormones craves attention from boys. She learns to attract boys but as the one in the submissive position of the interaction.
The teenage girl learns that boys prefer her seemingly more attractive girlfriend. She learns to compete with other females. And when he picks her friend instead of her, she learns resentment, perceived failure, and the feeling of inadequacy. She must be inadequate because otherwise he would have picked her!
The young woman copies her peers in the way they dress, the way they speak, the celebrities they follow. She learns to be submissive to others and craves their approval.
As she grows up, she is part of the social dialogue surrounding engagements, weddings, and finding a partner to marry. In contrast, the dialogue surrounding her brother is about achievement, career, and goals.
Even though she attends college and does well, her friends are getting engaged and many young women feel the pressure to be seen with a great guy. The belief is: “If I can have a great boyfriend, I will be seen to be socially successful”.
The woman enters an organization. She looks around and observes there are more men than women. The women are not supportive. She will experience the look, the sarcastic comment, the deadly silence from other women. If she’s attractive it’s worse. Other women are jealous. She craves approval. She is ambitious but learns to hold back. The need for approval overcomes the need to be successful.
In meetings she says timidly, “If it’s OK I’d just like to say…” “I’m not sure if this is relevant but…” “Sorry to interrupt but…”
A great example of this can be seen in the 2014 Pantene clip: “Not Sorry”
There are many steps to take. First, stop criticizing other women. Those women who devalue other women are ultimately devaluing themselves. I’m not saying for a minute there are not some women around who are simply nasty towards others in the same way that men are. However, I do propose that women support each other more, thus altering the balance of the negative influence scale surrounding the typical woman of today.
For a great series of messages pertaining to supporting women, watch Cassandra Kelly of Pottinger deliver an important speech written by Lynda Spillane at the Sydney Opera House earlier this year.
Third, learn how to use your voice in a way that attracts consistent perceptions of confidence and competence. If you’re someone who is not taken seriously in meetings perhaps that’s because your voice sounds apologetic and quiet. You have as much right to be heard as anyone else in that meeting. The question is, do you SOUND like you believe you have that right! We are part of the animal kingdom. Animals will attack or ignore the weaker animal. Especially humans.
Finally, teach yourself to not be dependent on others for your own validation. If you know you gave it your best shot that should be all the validation you need. Yes, of course it’s nice to receive praise and positive feedback. But see it as the ‘icing on the cake’ not something you need in order to feel confident. The one person who is the best validator of you…is you.
The Lynda Spillane Organization has an intensive two-day program in public speaking specifically addressing the challenges women face as speakers. We will teach you that acquiring power and influence through becoming an excellent communicator and public speaker is not only critical for your career development, it is critical for your personal confidence.