Hollywood, there was the equal pay debate, with Jennifer Lawrence calling it for female leads to get the same pay as men and Geena Davis bringing attention to the under representation of women on screen with her commendable Institute on Gender in Media.
Here in the UK the BBC World Service celebrated its 100 Women series, bringing together the achievements of women from around the globe, and Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party, was universally praised for her public speaking style and changing the political landscape.
The ability to say what you feel with passion and power is valuable whether you are just starting out in business or already established. Yet public speaking is cited as one of the activities that people fear the most. With so many self-styled gurus writing and talking about how to present yourself, it can be difficult to know where to begin.
I have worked with hundreds of women in comedy over the last 13 years, which has given me a unique insight into different performance styles and methods for building confidence. Here I have put together a few of my favourite ‘top tips’ for promoting yourself in the new year ahead:
Find your own unique voice.
Speaking out in public can be a tougher call for women than men as female brains are wired slightly differently to male brains. We take longer to formulate and process our responses because we have so much more going on in our prefrontal cortex. While this gives us a greater mental bandwidth for multitasking, it is often misinterpreted as procrastination. In fact, we are mentally weighing up the pros and cons before we act and say anything. Learn how to use this ability to be a powerful and effective diplomat, especially if you aspire to public life. Don’t feel pressured into a particular style of presenting; go with what feels comfortable for you. Say it like it is and how it comes naturally.
Discover your style of presenting
Whether that is standing up, sitting down, or moving about. Just be wary of pacing, as this tends to distract from the content. Only use PowerPoint to illustrate your talk, draw attention to a point or get a laugh; don’t just write out your script. When it comes to slides, pictures are always better than copy. You want them to listen to what you are saying, not be reading ahead. Less is always more powerful.
Maintain eye contact with your audience
Whether it is to 500 people in a room or a boardroom table. At Funny Women we work with voice coach and actor, Lisa Armytage, who teaches an amazing technique which helps you to envisage your audience however big or small and draw them into your space. Once you have ‘got cosy’ with them, the rest will be plain sailing.
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
The best comedians have performed their acts hundreds of times in their heads as well as on stage. The old adage of practising your material in front of a mirror with a hairbrush still stands. Watching yourself back at such close quarters will also make you aware of how you use your hands, help you adjust your posture and learn to focus your eyes. Check how often you blink and even what clothes look right. If you’ve got a camera and a tripod, record yourself. Watching it back might be painful at first but you’ll learn so much.
Match your public voice with your virtual voice so that there are no surprises when you turn up to speak. Ensure that you represent yourself consistently on your website, via social media, emails and even in good old-fashioned letters. So often you meet people in person and they are completely different to how they are portrayed on their social media profiles and websites. Get a good up- to-date portrait photograph taken and, if necessary, get some expert advice about writing your profile. Don’t be afraid to use the same sort of jargon and colloquialisms that you would when speaking out loud. Trust your ‘material’.
As an expert you know your subject better than anybody else and if you second guess yourself, so will your audience. Everything you need to say is filed away in your brain and you just need to find the best way to access this – cue cards, slides with pictures or even notes written on the palms of your hands! Anything goes, as long as you can carry it off with confidence and a smile.
Perfect the art of the ‘soundbite’.
A pithy one-liner has more impact than going all round the houses with a meaningless analogy. If you hear something good, write it down as you might be able to recycle it later. Conversely, a good storyline can really help to illustrate a situation or impart some advice. Just cut out the excess and think about how you might feel on the receiving end of this narrative. Good stories have a beginning, middle and an end. They help people remember the point you’re trying to make, so a little bit of magic storytelling dust can raise your talk to another level.
Take a leaf out of the comedy book and listen.
Listen to other speakers – check out both TED and The Moth for examples of good talks and storytelling – and listen to other people talking when you are out and about, traveling on public transport or queuing up in the supermarket. You never know what witticisms (or gossip!) you might pick up along the way.
by Lynne Parker