Ponderances of Steve

July 5, 2009

14 Mistakes Women Make in Speeches

Filed under: Coaching,Reviews — Steve LeBlanc @ 6:37 pm
by Steve LeBlanc 2009
If you are a woman speaking to large groups of people, you may be doing things that weaken your presentation.  This particularly applies to a call for action and inspirational talks.  Women are different from men.  They speak to their friends differently than men do, and those differences can show up in their speeches.  Certainly not all women make these mistakes.  And a few men make some of them.  But in general, men make different mistakes in their speeches than women do.  You can’t learn from the mistakes you don’t know you’re making.  So what mistakes do women make?
~~  Women’s voices sometimes go up in tone at the end of their statements, instead of going down.  This gets head-nodding agreement long before they have said anything of merit.  It comes across as insecure, insincere and approval seeking.  Your tone should only go up at the end of a sentence when you really mean to ask a question.  If you are making a statement, you go down.  For example, “You understand? (up)  Great, you understand. (down)”
~~  They ask for agreement on inconsequential points.  For example, “Don’t you think everyone should just get along?”  “Women are different from men, aren’t they?”  This speaks of insecurity and the need for lots of approval before you have proven yourself.  Prematurely asking for agreement is a sales technique and makes people nervous.
~~  They sometimes speak too softly.  Making your audience work too hard to hear you costs you in credibility and irritates your listeners.  Practice in a large empty room with someone in the back and get their feedback.  If you are not speaking to the back of the room, you are not speaking to the room at all.
~~  They over talk and get redundant.  Such people are talking primarily to allay their nervousness rather than to inform.  They talk until they “feel” they have said enough, rather than talking until their audience gets the point.  The problem is that their focus is on their own feelings, instead of on their audience.  The rule is this.  The more words you use to express something, the less likely you are to be understood.  The only way to know if they got your point is to ask your audience.  While strategic redundancies can sometimes work, over talking leaves your audience tired.
~~  They don’t pause.  Nervous talkers fear silence.  Give people the chance to take in what you just said.  Give them some space in between sections.  Take a drink.  Look longingly to the back of the room.  Catch your breath.  Then begin anew and wow them once again.
~~  They apologize.  If you are more than ten minutes late, you might give a brief explanation.  Then thank them for their indulgence and get on with it.  But never, ever, ever apologize for something as trivial as losing your place.  They don’t want your apology.  They just want you to get on with the talk.  Your nervousness is none of their business.  They came for the content.  Simply pause and say, “Ah yes, here we are.”  That way they never know if you were lost or just searching.  [[ BOLD PULLQUOTE: Your nervousness is none of their business.  They came for the content.  ]]  Never apologize when you can thank someone.
~~  They use filler words such as:  Just really, like, ya know, just kidding, but anyway, whatever, Um, Uh.  Start counting your filler words, for surely someone in your audience is doing that.  If a word  or phrase does not add to your presentation, it distracts from it.  I am not saying your talk should sound scripted.  You might use some free-form stories to break up the formality.  But then those quirky words are serving your talk.
~~  They neglect a “call to action” in their talk.  Afraid of being thought of as pushy or masculine, they don’t actually say what they want their audience to do.  Go ahead and tell them.  They want to know where you stand.  They can make up their own mind.
~~  Some women offer defensive explanations and reasons.  They explain why on questions of little consequence.  This comes across as whining.  Your reasons will rarely be as interesting to others as they are to you.  The exception is when it actually adds flavor or humor to the story.  We want to know how you came to your final conclusion and why it should matter to us, but we don’t want to know why you chose that color paper.
~~  They hide their real feelings.  With the exception of insecurities and hostilities, showing emotions can often serve to make your talk more powerful.  Got tears?  Let the tears flow.  Unless you are sobbing or competing in a field dominated by men, it will strengthen your talk.  Excited about something?  Bubble away.  Touched by someone’s heroism?  Show us how deeply it touched you.  Were you hurt by someone in your story?  Tell us how it broke your heart.  Even anger is okay, if you can keep out the righteous indignation, which is only insecurity.  Fear, however, can be most powerfully expressed with no emotion at all.  Watch “The Contender” (2000) starring Joan Allen. She plays a presidential running mate, and gives some wonderful speeches.  If your message is strong, a healthy display of emotion will strengthen it.
~~  They speak in a single tone or volume.  Or they whine or “sing song” their whole speech.  Whether it is all hushed or all yelling, it gets tedious.  Remember Billy Mays, the TV pitchman?  Expand your dynamic range.  Raise and lower your voice throughout your talk to captivate your audience.  You can even whisper to make something more dramatic.  Even if your speech is a rant, you need some quiet spots.  It makes it easier to absorb your material.  And your audience will thank you for it.
~~  They would rather look cool than be effective.  Speaking is theater.  Make it dramatic enough for others to hear your point.  You might only feel a little excited about your message.  But for your audience to get it, you will need to double the expression of that excitement.  If you authentically express your little enthusiasm, it will appear as if you don’t care at all.  Why?  Your audience will only perceive 50% of the emotion and enthusiasm you put into the talk.  Sometimes you have to feel inauthentic in order to authentically deliver your message.  Such is theater.
~~  They confuse put downs of self with self-effacing humor.  Humor is hard.  Self-effacing humor is even harder.  Don’t ever put yourself down, especially to an audience.  But poking fun at your frailties in a playful way can add to your talk.  The audience should always know that you believe in yourself, in spite of your shortcomings.  You want them to relate to your humanity, not feel sorry for you.  Everyone can be funny, but it usually take coaching to get there consistently.
~~  Finally, they thank the audience for listening.  Don’t do that.  It is not professional.  It makes you look desperate for approval, rather than confident you had something of value to contribute.  Never thank the audience, even if you had to beg to get in to see them.  You came bearing gifts.  You gave your speech.  It is they who need to thank you.  And they will if you have delivered.  Your close should be so powerful that there is simply no room for thanking them.
~~  CLOSE:  Women bring a warmth and richness to their talks that men rarely approach.  They offer a more holistic and inclusive view of things.  They add textures and colors and meaning that make their stories come alive.  Don’t let the mistakes we covered get in the way of the wonderful stories you hold for the world.  File down those rough spots so that only the message shines.  We need your stories now more than ever.
Possible Resources
~~  http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6054183834057243507 Apple WWDC 2006 Keynote by Steve Jobs – Aug 10, 2006.  Lots of Uh’s.
~~  http://www.computerworld.com.au/article/303841/5_ways_ruin_your_next_presentation?fp=2 @twailgum
~~  http://www.businessweek.com/technology/ByteOfTheApple/blog/archives/2008/12/whats_the_most.html  Steve Jobs’ Most Important Macworld Keynote?
~~  http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2006/06/the_art_of_the_.html Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start Video.  Some Uh’s in the beginning.  Soft start, great development, smashing ending.

by Steve LeBlanc 2009

If you are a woman speaking to large groups of people, you may be doing things that weaken your presentation.  This particularly applies to a call for action and inspirational talks.  Women are different from men.  They speak to their friends differently than men do, and those differences can show up in their speeches.  Certainly not all women make these mistakes.  And a few men make some of them.  But in general, men make different mistakes in their speeches than women do.  You can’t learn from the mistakes you don’t know you’re making.  So what mistakes do women make?

  1. Women’s voices sometimes go up in tone at the end of their statements, instead of going down.  This gets head-nodding agreement long before they have said anything of merit.  It comes across as insecure, insincere and approval seeking.  Your tone should only go up at the end of a sentence when you really mean to ask a question.  If you are making a statement, you go down.  For example, “You understand? (up)  Great, you understand. (down)”
  2. They ask for agreement on inconsequential points.  For example, “Don’t you think everyone should just get along?”  “Women are different from men, aren’t they?”  This speaks of insecurity and the need for lots of approval before you have proven yourself.  Prematurely asking for agreement is a sales technique and makes people nervous.
  3. They sometimes speak too softly.  Making your audience work too hard to hear you costs you in credibility and irritates your listeners.  Practice in a large empty room with someone in the back and get their feedback.  If you are not speaking to the back of the room, you are not speaking to the room at all.
  4. They over talk and get redundant.  Such people are talking primarily to allay their nervousness rather than to inform.  They talk until they “feel” they have said enough, rather than talking until their audience gets the point.  The problem is that their focus is on their own feelings, instead of on their audience.  The rule is this.  The more words you use to express something, the less likely you are to be understood.  The only way to know if they got your point is to ask your audience.  While strategic redundancies can sometimes work, over talking leaves your audience tired.
  5. They don’t pause.  Nervous talkers fear silence.  Give people the chance to take in what you just said.  Give them some space in between sections.  Take a drink.  Look longingly to the back of the room.  Catch your breath.  Then begin anew and wow them once again.
  6. They apologize.  If you are more than ten minutes late, you might give a brief explanation.  Then thank them for their indulgence and get on with it.  But never, ever, ever apologize for something as trivial as losing your place.  They don’t want your apology.  They just want you to get on with the talk.  Your nervousness is none of their business.  They came for the content.  Simply pause and say, “Ah yes, here we are.”  That way they never know if you were lost or just searching.
  7. They use filler words such as:  Just really, like, ya know, just kidding, but anyway, whatever, Um, Uh.  Start counting your filler words, for surely someone in your audience is doing that.  If a word  or phrase does not add to your presentation, it distracts from it.  I am not saying your talk should sound scripted.  You might use some free-form stories to break up the formality.  But then those quirky words are serving your talk.
  8. They neglect a “call to action” in their talk.  Afraid of being thought of as pushy or masculine, they don’t actually say what they want their audience to do.  Go ahead and tell them.  They want to know where you stand.  They can make up their own mind.
  9. Some women offer defensive explanations and reasons.  They explain why on questions of little consequence.  This comes across as whining.  Your reasons will rarely be as interesting to others as they are to you.  The exception is when it actually adds flavor or humor to the story.  We want to know how you came to your final conclusion and why it should matter to us, but we don’t want to know why you chose that color paper.
  10. They hide their real feelings.  With the exception of insecurities and hostilities, showing emotions can often serve to make your talk more powerful.  Got tears?  Let the tears flow.  Unless you are sobbing or competing in a field dominated by men, it will strengthen your talk.  Excited about something?  Bubble away.  Touched by someone’s heroism?  Show us how deeply it touched you.  Were you hurt by someone in your story?  Tell us how it broke your heart.  Even anger is okay, if you can keep out the righteous indignation, which is only insecurity.  Fear, however, can be most powerfully expressed with no emotion at all.  Watch “The Contender” (2000) starring Joan Allen. She plays a presidential running mate, and gives some wonderful speeches.  If your message is strong, a healthy display of emotion will strengthen it.
  11. They speak in a single tone or volume.  Or they whine or “sing song” their whole speech.  Whether it is all hushed or all yelling, it gets tedious.  Remember Billy Mays, the TV pitchman?  Expand your dynamic range.  Raise and lower your voice throughout your talk to captivate your audience.  You can even whisper to make something more dramatic.  Even if your speech is a rant, you need some quiet spots.  It makes it easier to absorb your material.  And your audience will thank you for it.
  12. They would rather look cool than be effective.  Speaking is theater.  Make it dramatic enough for others to hear your point.  You might only feel a little excited about your message.  But for your audience to get it, you will need to double the expression of that excitement.  If you authentically express your little enthusiasm, it will appear as if you don’t care at all.  Why?  Your audience will only perceive 50% of the emotion and enthusiasm you put into the talk.  Sometimes you have to feel inauthentic in order to authentically deliver your message.  Such is theater.
  13. They confuse put downs of self with self-effacing humor.  Humor is hard.  Self-effacing humor is even harder.  Don’t ever put yourself down, especially to an audience.  But poking fun at your frailties in a playful way can add to your talk.  The audience should always know that you believe in yourself, in spite of your shortcomings.  You want them to relate to your humanity, not feel sorry for you.  Everyone can be funny, but it usually take coaching to get there consistently.
  14. Finally, they thank the audience for listening.  Don’t do that.  It is not professional.  It makes you look desperate for approval, rather than confident you had something of value to contribute.  Never thank the audience, even if you had to beg to get in to see them.  You came bearing gifts.  You gave your speech.  It is they who need to thank you.  And they will if you have delivered.  Your close should be so powerful that there is simply no room for thanking them.

CLOSE:  Women bring a warmth and richness to their talks that men rarely approach.  They offer a more holistic and inclusive view of things.  They add textures and colors and meaning that make their stories come alive.  Don’t let the mistakes we covered get in the way of the wonderful stories you hold for the world.  File down those rough spots so that only the message shines.  We need your stories now more than ever.

Resources

~~  http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6054183834057243507 Apple WWDC 2006 Keynote by Steve Jobs – Aug 10, 2006.  Lots of Uh’s.

~~  http://www.computerworld.com.au/article/303841/5_ways_ruin_your_next_presentation?fp=2 @twailgum

~~  http://www.businessweek.com/technology/ByteOfTheApple/blog/archives/2008/12/whats_the_most.html Steve Jobs’ Most Important Macworld Keynote?

~~  http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2006/06/the_art_of_the_.html Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start Video.  Some Uh’s in the beginning.  Soft start, great development, smashing ending.

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4 Comments »

  1. I think I’m batting at least 500 here and got some good tips to knock some home runs.

    Reminds me of Clay Shirky’s recent rant on why women don’t get hired as often. We can shoot ourselves in the foot/feet.

    Thanks,
    Cris

    Comment by criscrissman — September 28, 2010 @ 8:02 pm | Reply

  2. Hey Cris,

    You stepped up and weighed in. You claimed your space and decided where you need work. That alone is rare and admirable. And you did it with a peaceful grace that suggests you care more about getting better than you do about pretending you are already there. That’s great.

    Here is another article I stumbled on tonight that had a similar purpose, How to Look Authoritative when you Feel Anything But by OLIVIA MITCHELL

    http://www.speakingaboutpresenting.com/delivery/look-authoritative/

    Comment by Steve LeBlanc — September 28, 2010 @ 11:41 pm | Reply

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Steve. And the amazing article. There are layers and layers of tips that are real eye-openers to me — like eye connection. I think I had sensed this difference than in just making eye contact but had no idea that there’s such a science to it. I love learning practical insights like these.

      Found the Clay Shirky article that you might enjoy: http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2010/01/a-rant-about-women/

      And his follow-up on the BBC.

      Enjoy!
      Cris

      Comment by criscrissman — September 29, 2010 @ 10:52 pm | Reply


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