This post is going to give a bunch of great public speaking tips for women, but I am sure that there are a lot of men who can also benefit from these tips.
If you are a woman trying to improve your public speaking skills, I do have good news for you: most men who give speeches and presentations are awful and they’re boring. Why? Because everybody makes the same mistakes – they do data dumps, they read, they have PowerPoint with lots of bullet points, etc.
I’m here to tell you that you can be an absolutely fantastic, world-class speaker – regardless of your gender. There are some things that are specific to women though, and I will address that in this post. Therefore, let’s hop right in…
As a side note, definitely check out these books about public speaking and you’ll get even more good tips.
Something to remember: most public speakers are boring
Most speakers everywhere are awful, which means you can really stand out as great just by not being as awful and as boring as most. So, it really doesn’t take that much to stand out and be better than most public speakers out there.
Also, I will say up front that what makes a woman a great speaker is quite often the same thing that makes a man a great speaker – be memorable, be entertaining and be easy to listen to.
But your first goal should be not to sort of compensate for being a woman, or to do something different. Instead, look at what everyone else is doing and don’t do it like that because – as I said – most speakers just give boring speeches.
The Differences Between Men and Women
First of all: let’s clear the air right now on some controversial issues about the differences between men and women. Certainly, there are some differences and certainly, men have some unfair and some fair advantages.
If we talk about public speaking, it’s a lot easier for men than for women. For example: hair and wardrobe are areas that are just unfair. There’s no doubt about it.
Here’s the great news for women who want to do public speaking. Your strength and height don’t matter: if you’re on the stage in front of a thousand people, you can be four foot ten, but since you’re on stage, you’re the tallest person in the room. People are looking up to you.
Typical men things, like strength or brute force, don’t matter in public speaking
Typical things – like strength or brute force – don’t really help in public speaking at all. You can’t grab someone and say, “Listen to me!” and make him/her enjoy your speech.
So, that’s the good news about public speaking. If you’re a woman and you’ve ever had a single interesting conversation with one person in your life, you already have all the skills you need to be a great public speaker.
Now, I have worked with a lot of women in many fields, and I will tell you that women can be just as good (if not better) at public speaking than men. And better not by mimicking men, but just by doing good public speaking. For example, the top three speakers of the Toastmasters 2018 World Championship of public speaking were women.
Women tend to prepare and rehearse more than men
Interesting fact: women TED speakers actually get a lot more individual video views than men. And the theory behind it is that women actually spend more time preparing and rehearsing.
This is one of those things where the more you put in, the more you get out if you practice the right way.
Women tend to avoid speaking in public more than men
Now, another thing that is different about men and women is that you can be a man on a job for two weeks and if someone asks if you want to speak to a major trade association about your industry, the guy will say, “Sure why not? Sign me up.” This happens even if he knows almost nothing about the industry.
On the other hand, a lot of women can be working in the industry for five years and say, “You know what? I’m not quite credentialed enough. Let me wait another year, then ask me.”
Of course, it is a big generalization, but I have seen this happen quite often.
Public Speaking Tips for Women: Speech Goals
Let’s start off by really defining our goals (and what aren’t our goals) when we speak.
Speech goals to be avoided
I have seen a number of my female clients come in with these goals:
- Wanting to seem serious
- Wanting to seem like they have just as much gravitas as their male counterparts
- Wanting to seem official
These are not the goals you should have when you speak.
Speech goals you should have
Here are the goals you should have when you speak:
- Speak so you come across as comfortable, confident, relaxed and engaging
- Speak so that people can understand you
- Speak so that people can remember your messages (that’s the hard part for most).
- Speak so that after you have finished your speech, people can take the actions you want them to take
If you do these things, you are automatically going to be in the top one percent of all speakers – male or female.
And those are tangible goals that anyone can achieve if they focus – but you’ve got to focus on the right goal.
Your speech goal should be a specific
So, I want you to think of a topic on which you’re going to speak, and now I want you to really come up with this specific goal.
A question such as, “What is it you want people to do?” should always be the starting point. From that, you can determine what the message is and what you want people to remember, and now you can figure out ways of getting people to remember it.
So, that’s the real goal of your speech – anytime you present. If you do these things, people will:
- Assume you’re smart
- Assume you’re confident
- Assume you’re authoritative
They will assume all sorts of other good things, too.
If you come across comfortably relaxed in your own style, you can actually get people to understand your ideas.
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Don’t go into a speech with a defensive mentality
What I don’t want you to do is to go into any speech with a defensive mentality: “Well, I want people to think I’m just as serious as my male counterparts, so I’ll be serious by going through all the data quickly and by having more PowerPoint slides than anyone else.”
That’s not going to work. Instead, that’s going to make you seem insecure and boring as every other speaker we have seen.
What to say during your speech
Now, when you have figured out your goal, it’s time to figure out what to say during your speech.
You should have no more than five key points
Brainstorm on every message you could possibly say on this subject. The big mistake, of course, is that most people try to communicate 50 – 100 ideas. Instead, they communicate nothing. You should narrow your ideas down to the top five. Why five?
I frequently have asked for feedback from the audience about what they remember from previous speakers they have seen and listened to, and I have never found an audience that remembers more than five key ideas.
So let’s narrow it down.
Flesh out each one of these message points with an example
Once you’ve got your five points, flesh them out because you can’t just stand up and give five points in 10 seconds and sit down. That’s not really a speech or presentation.
Therefore, you need to flesh out each one of these message points with an example. Now, it doesn’t have to be this emotional, exciting story where you’re walking around the room, crying.
People need specific examples to visualize things so they remember your presentation. In order for that to happen, it’s critically important for you to have an example that fleshes out each one of your points.
If you can’t think of a good example, then probably it isn’t an important point. So just get rid of it.
Seven Professional Public Speaking Tips for Women
You’re going to hear me stress, throughout this blog, the need to practice on video, watch and critique yourself. To be prepared for your presentation, you need to figure out what’s working and what isn’t working. Let’s take a closer look at what to focus on during your practice sessions. Here are the seven public speaking tips for women.
#1 Don’t lower your voice
I do want to caution you on a very common false diagnosis. And this is something I see much more frequently with women than men (although sometimes it happens with men).
The false diagnosis is this: you record yourself, you watch it and you conclude, “Wow! My voice is too high. People will not take me seriously. I need to sound more authoritative, so I need to lower my voice.”
It’s just not true, although there are a number of so-called experts who advise women to lower their voice by octaves. But that’s a bunch of baloney.
Audience members (both men and women) relate to speakers who talk like real human beings and who sound conversational.
What makes somebody conversational? It’s when his/her:
- the voice goes up and down,
- speak fast and slow,
- speak loud and soft.
It’s constant variation in the tone and inflection of your voice – that’s what makes someone interesting to listen to, and that’s what makes someone sound believable.
But if you’re acting, you bring your voice down and sound unnatural and phony…and it’s going to seem contrived.
Also, if you lower your voice, it destroys its range and it makes you sound monotone. And the other problem with speaking in a low voice is it tends to lower your energy level, which makes it harder for people to hear you.
And if they can’t hear you, they can’t understand you. And how are they going to remember your messages if they don’t hear and understand you?
So, use the full range of your voice, and you’ll come across as more believable, more likable and more interesting, and people will want to listen to you. Do what you naturally do when you are talking to your colleagues, your friends or your family – when you are comfortable and relaxed.
#2 Don’t end a sentence with a question mark
There is one type of delivery problem that I have noticed is much more prevalent with women than with men and that is stating or declaring a sentence and ending it with the tone of voice being up.
“I am one of the best consultants(?) in this field and I think I can help you(?)” If you put a question mark and you end with your voice being up at the end of your sentences, then that is going to undercut your sense of confidence, the perception of confidence and any sense of you being authoritative.
That is a legitimate problem. So, if you detect that, as you get going through the process of practicing and video recording your speeches, then it’s a problem you’re going to have to take very seriously.
You’ve got to speak with authority, confidence and no question marks – unless you’re actually asking a question.
The perfect hair, clothing and make-up
It’s time to talk about hair, wardrobe and make-up. There’s no doubt about it – this is one of the areas that’s just unfair. It’s a lot easier for men than women. For example, men can wear the same suit, tie and shirt for thousands of videos and no one will ever comment.
Men can get away with more of a generic uniform, whereas women do have their clothes and hair analyzed more.
#3 Don’t wear a hairstyle that covers your eyes
Now, there is no one type of hairstyle that I would recommend, but there are a few things to avoid if you are speaking in front of people; there is something I would caution you about.
If you have a hairstyle that covers your eyes, then you have to brush your hand through your hair or throw your hair in order to see something, which can be distracting.
Also, if people can’t see your eyes, they can’t focus on what you’re saying, and they may perceive you as not trustworthy.
#4 Don’t wear anything that distracts the audience from your message
In general, you want people to focus on what you’re saying, not what you’re wearing. You want to augment your message, and that is the reason you should not wear anything that distracts the audience from your message.
For example, if you are a woman standing up on an elevated platform and your skirt isn’t long enough, you can attract people’s attention on things that you don’t want them focusing on.
If you are running to be the president of the American Bar Association, you’re probably going to be wearing a very conservative suit. Whatever it is you’re speaking about, how you’re dressed should send an appropriate message and shouldn’t confuse people. It shouldn’t make them wonder about anything.
Just make sure that your wardrobe is consistent with what you’re trying to convey and what you’re all about.
#5 Don’t wear high heels
Many women feel that they must wear fashionable shoes with heels. But here is the one thing I want you to think about.
If you are really doing everything you should as a speaker, you should be walking around, right? You shouldn’t be standing frozen behind the lectern.
If you’re actually going to be walking around, especially on a stage in front of a large group of people, you need to be comfortable in your shoes. Especially if you’re standing and speaking for 60 minutes and then taking questions for half an hour.
Are you absolutely certain you’re going to be comfortable in these shoes for 90 minutes? And if you’re not, then I would get rid of them or wear them another time.
Also, if you are wearing heels, make sure that you can walk in a way that is one hundred percent natural, comfortable and natural looking to others. Some people just do not look like they can walk comfortably in high heels above so many inches.
Bottom line: it’s up to you whether or not you wear high heels. But what I’m suggesting is that you make sure that when other people see you walk, it seems completely natural, and you’re not having any difficulty and there’s nothing awkward about it.
#6 Be careful about adding red, rouge or color
If you’re going to speak and you’re on any sort of a stage, there’s light. So, you will need make-up. That’s not sexist advice; that’s advice I give to men and women.
If you’re on a stage where there is photo lighting, you need make-up (or just powder) to alleviate the shine.
The one thing that’s a little bit different when you are speaking at larger conferences – and there’s a camera on you and people are looking at you on a big screen – is that the camera can magnify make-up, so a little bit of rouge may look almost clownish. So, I’d be very careful about the amount of rouge you wear.
#7 Lip gloss can dominate your entire image on TV
Any kind of lip gloss that has a shine may dominate your entire image if they’re blowing it up on a TV screen.
Now, if you’re speaking to a smaller group, and it’s not being broadcast on a much larger screen, then it’s not as noticeable.
But this is where it’s crucial to practice on video so you can see exactly how others see you. Keep in mind – people are judging every aspect of your style and substance. Since you want your audience to focus on your ideas, and not on your appearance, you should mostly have a very conventional look.
So, decide how you want to present yourself with your hair, your make-up, your clothes, and your shoes. Be sure you’re happy so you don’t worry about it when you’re on the stage or you’re in front of people.
Final thoughts: Professional Public Speaking Tips for Women
I want to thank you for reading this post on public speaking tips for women. The fact that you’ve gotten here so far puts you way ahead – not only of other women, but of almost all the other men in your organization. It’s because most people don’t take public speaking seriously.
They figure, “I’ll just have somebody read the slides and I’ll look at the slide deck. I know there will be no problem.”
And then they deliver a boring data dump. Nobody’s fired for it but nobody really remembers anything that person said.
You now have the skills you need to outline your speech so that you can deliver it with absolute confidence.