Public Speaking Tips for Women
Since I started my company, The Gabor Group, in 1981, I have trained hundreds of corporate spokespersons and politicians.
For the first two decades they were mostly men. Fortunately, that trend has changed and more and more women are sent to our studios to learn this important skill.
The basics of communications skills are the same for men as they are for women, but there are some distinct differences, as you will see from these public speaking tips for women.
Presentations are performances.
We are all nervous before giving a performance and we should be. Nerves give us energy – a boost we need to perform well.
Actors will tell you they need to be a little nervous before going on stage. Broadway performers are often quoted saying that when playing the same part every night for months, or years, at a time, the butterflies stop fluttering, their excitement and energy level drops and the show starts to look and sound tired.
But let’s not confuse a little nervous energy with fear. An effective presentation is a balance between the speaker’s needs and the needs of the audience.
Every time you speak, you are negotiating, presenting and informing.
The complete speaker (the “natural”) deals with both style and content and excels at both.
Naturals are made, as well as born.
Here are some tips to help you succeed:
PREPARING YOUR PRESENTATION
Before planning the first word of your speech you must systematically assess:
What you want to happen.
Make sure you are clear about your goal and reach a high audience score.
From the moment you enter the room for a job interview, walk up to a podium, or stand up at the dinner table to give a toast, your audience takes your measure.
We all react first to the messenger, then to the message. First impressions matter and what your audience thinks of you matters. How the audience reacts to you will enhance or undermine your message:
- Whenever you speak, you aim to persuade.
- In a conversation you want to have your opinion heard and agree with agreed with.
- When applying for a job, you want to persuade the interviewer that you are the one she should hire.
- When giving a toast, you want people to like it. And, when you are giving a speech, you must have an objective.
In order to persuade your audience, you should strive for:
Credibility + Likeability = A Clear Message
CLARIFY YOUR KEY MESSAGE
In order to get your ideas across to your audience you have to focus your content and present it in a simple, direct, and easy- to-understand and easy-to-remember style. Memo writing is out. The basic principles of news writing are the rule:
- The lead – the core statement
- The body – the story itself with macro examples
- The summary – re-focusing of the core statement
The easiest way to understand this concept is through the three tells method:
1. Tell them what you’re going to tell them—signpost: tell them up front the main points and what they can expect from your presentation.
2. Tell them the heart of your presentation. These are the statements that say in a few words what you will expand upon and support in your remarks. Give units of information, offer simple illustrations, case histories, and human scale examples to demonstrate your key points.
3. Tell them what you’ve told them—review what you’ve covered, distill it to the key points, spell out the logical conclusion and invite action, decision, commitment or challenge.
There are many visual aids available, but regardless of which you choose, you must keep in mind that you are the presenter. The visual aids are there to help you, but you shouldn’t depend on them to tell your story.
Choose the visual aid according to the size and formality of
your audience, your budget and your message.
Most visual aids are now seen on a computer screen or on a tablet in a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation. Whether you use words, illustrations, cartoons, video or multi-media, the key is to keep them simple. Make sure you are comfortable with your aids and the mechanics of:
DELIVERING YOUR PRESENTATION
The key words are: preparation and rehearsal. You know what to say. Learn how to say it. Prepare and rehearse.
Keep these key points in mind:
If you are going to make a presentation or a speech, you should know what you’re talking about; you know your subject matter.
You must also look, and act, knowledgeable.
An energetic not excited about the topic, why should your audience be?
Be aware of the audience. The speaker must be willing to see and respond to the audience, constantly surveying person by person.
Really look into people’s eyes. Don’t just look above them. Pick out a person to your right, middle and left, and a couple in the back. Don’t look at any one person for too long. Move your eyes around.
Your body is also making a speech. Make sure it is the same speech.
How should I stand?
Stand straight with shoulders back and your arms relaxed at your sides, or bent at the elbows around waist high, a posture which allows you to gesture.
You can also rest your arms on the podium, but if you do, make sure you do it lightly; don’t squeeze the podium as if you were hanging onto it for your life! I have seen some light podiums almost fall over, so be careful.
Can I put my hands in my pocket?
Depends when, is my answer. You wouldn’t want to walk into
a meeting with your hands in your pockets and you shouldn’t have your hands in your pockets at the beginning of your presentation.
When you reach the ad lib, informal part of your speech, you may put a hand in your pocket. Don’t leave it in there for long and make sure there is no change or keys in your pockets so you won’t be tempted to jiggle them, which would be distracting.
Pauses and transitions
The audience only hears your speech once. Allow them to understand it.
- Give them time to digest what you are saying.
- Pauses are very important.
- Mark your script for pauses.
When we speak in conversation, we end some of our sentences up and some of them down [raised vs lowered]. This is natural. When we deliver a speech we must also be natural. Many speakers drop the end of all sentences and deliver their speeches in a monotone voice.
Practice this: speak as if you were speaking with someone.
Because of the still existing gender inequality in management positions, I trained many more men than women during the past 35 years, but many of the women I trained faced a common challenge. They projected a kind of apology for being at the podium and giving a speech or presentation.
This attitude can show in the way you stand as well as in the way you speak. Women tend to deliver statements as if they were asking questions, ending powerful sentences with the inflection up, as if they had question marks at the end.
Become aware if you are doing that and practice until you don’t. Record your speech and listen to it; do it again until the question mark in your voice is gone.
Another important thing to watch for is voice projection.
When we women project and put energy and emphasis into our delivery, we can end up sounding shrill. I suggest trying to start an octave lower than your speaking tone, so when you want to emphasize your point with increased energy and volume, your voice will sound natural and convincing.
What to wear
Simple is best. Your goal is to be credible, likeable and get your message across. “Don’t wear anything that could distract. No large jewelry, no noisy bracelets and no big prints or stripes. Less is more.
When English is not your native tongue
When we speak, our objective is to communicate, whether we speak with an Oxford English, East Indian, or Hungarian accent. It doesn’t matter what accent we have, as long as our audience clearly understands what we are saying.
When I started in this business, foreign accents and foreign- sounding names were not welcome on television, radio or at the podium.
Fortunately, that has changed. Accents today are welcome. But the fact remains, the audience needs to understand the speaker.
If English is not your first language, slow down.
Rushing through a presentation is never a good idea, but if you speak with a foreign accent, it is even more important to slow down. Your audience wants to understand you, and they will tune you out if it is too hard to make out what you are saying.
Everyone needs to practice, but people with accents of any kind, need to practice even more. We are used to hearing ourselves. Others may only hear us once.
Record your speech and listen to it many times and then when you think it is slow enough, make it slower.
Last but not least:
The first minute of your presentation
The first minute is the most difficult part of your speech. When you first arrive at the podium, take your time. Look at your audience; arrange your papers and your microphone.
Remember, you are not ON until you begin to speak, so take your time, and get comfortable with your space. Start with something very easy—maybe your name, or “It’s nice to be here.” After the first pleasantries, take a long pause, look at your audience. Establish eye contact with a few individuals. And then:
This guest post was authored by Agota Gabor
Agota Gabor is CEO of The Gabor Group Inc., and author of the Handbook: Public Speaking, Presentations, Media Interviews – Helping you succeed. Her memoir, Forever On Pointe, is due to be published in April 2022.