Each month, Girl Tribe Gang asks one of our members to share a few pearls of wisdom with us in our Knowledge Exchange. Below, Carole Spiers, CEO of a leading UK stress management and wellbeing consultancy and Chair of the International Stress Management Association UK, shares her valuable insights into how women can speak with confidence.
Over the years, I have mentored many talented businesswomen. These women were insightful, creative, dynamic and brilliant in many ways, but what they particularly wanted do was raise their profiles – both business and personal.
In our mentoring sessions, the subject of public speaking would inevitably arise, and they would often say, ‘Gosh, speaking in public is something I absolutely hate. I could never do what you do… I would rather die than stand up in public!’
Fear of public speaking is common
And they’re not alone. Believe it or not, speaking in public is a fear many women who work for themselves experience. They may have strong personalities, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are able to develop their ‘voice’. But if they can’t do that, they won’t be able to express themselves well when speaking in public.
Why didn’t I say that?
Women who are self-assured and confident get listened to and are taken seriously. They are the ones who stand up in meetings and share their views. Perhaps you can hear yourself saying, ‘Why didn’t I say that?’
And, of course, there’s no answer. But maybe the real problem was that you didn’t think you had the right to stand up – you weren’t confident enough. Maybe you still heard your parents’ words, spoken when you were 10 years old, ‘Little girls should be seen and not heard’, ringing in your ears!
Women who work for themselves need to have a professional presence together with the ability to speak up and speak out. You may have a great product, an innovative service or a great idea, but these are of no consequence if you can’t speak with confidence. If you wink at someone in the dark, no one knows except you!
Develop your self-confidence
Public speaking can help increase your self-confidence dramatically. And you can learn to enjoy doing it! It can even be addictive. One of the worst fears you can have might be walking into a room where everyone seems to know one other – yet you feel a complete outsider.
Public speaking is important because it builds your interpersonal skills and your self-confidence. Even when you’re with one single person, not in a group, you’re less likely to feel awkward and more likely to come across as knowledgeable and interesting.
You will need to give a speech sometime
Every speaking opportunity is an opportunity to grow your standing as a leader and influencer. Whether you’re in sales and need to market goods or services to potential purchasers or clients, or you have to make a presentation at a meeting, or give a speech at a wedding – no matter who you are, or what business you’re in, it’s almost 100% certain you will need to give a speech at some point.
That’s not to say you can never be successful without speaking skills, but having them will certainly pave the way for you. The more people you can move with your words, the greater the chance that you can take yourself and your business to new heights.
The opportunity you’ve dreamed of
I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, ‘Carole, I can speak to two or three people, but no more than that!’
So what happens when a prospective client asks you to deliver a presentation? How do you feel? In or out of control? Do you have sleepless nights? Does panic start to set in?
You know you should stretch yourself, but you really don’t want to deliver this presentation. You think there might be a way around it, but try as you might, you can’t find another way. You can’t delegate this one. Yet this is the opportunity you’ve always dreamed of. The moment you thought might never happen. People could take you seriously. You could be influential.
We all know there are no such things as miracles – but there is speaker coaching and training. Are you trainable? Yes, of course you are! Everyone is. Even if you’re really anxious. You’ll be pleased to know there’s a toolkit chock-full of speaking tools at your disposal, and you can practise with these for as long as you need before making a presentation.
Don’t allow emotion to take over
Women who work for themselves must learn to communicate in order to be able to connect with other people, and speaking in public is a vital skill to help you grow your business. Women can be over-sentimental and take things too personally. But, with training, you can learn to express yourself professionally without allowing emotions to take over your thoughts or words.
Speaking in public while relating to your audience
But speaking in public isn’t just about speaking in front of people. It’s also about relating to them. Anyone can stand on a podium and read from a script or run through PowerPoint slides, but how many can actually engage with their audience at the same time? How many speakers have charisma and can deliver in a way that makes real impact? How much of what they say will actually be remembered after they put down the mic?
The fact is that inspiring people and influencing perceptions is tough, because it requires the presenter to speak with authority and credibility.
It’s important to customise each presentation you give. You don’t want to be seen as an outsider, you want to be seen as someone who has empathy with the audience and understands their business.
Speaking in public is a skill that can only be mastered with practice, but it’s an essential string to your business bow. A presentation that’s thorough and comprehensive can open many doors for you. It can help you build strong relationships with your listeners.
Whether you’re talking to employees or you’re getting ready to close a deal with an investor, what’s paramount is not only being in possession of all the facts, but speaking with sincerity and conviction. You can influence decisions providing you have the courage to showcase your expertise using the power of words and body language.
Controlling your tone of voice
It’s important to be able to control your tone of voice when giving presentations. Stay away from sentences that appear to be questions. Raising your voice at the end of a phrase creates confusion.
That’s why you should listen to yourself speak first. Do this in private in front of the mirror, or record yourself speaking. That will make it easier for you to identify problem words, phrasings or inappropriate conclusions. And, of course, if you like what you hear and see, then your self-belief is bound to increase too.
Finding your style
Try not to be intimidated by other speakers. In order to feel self-assured when speaking in public, you must find your own unique style and make sure you come across as open and honest at all times. Show compassion, altruism, and empathy. Don’t be afraid of letting people see the real you.
Good public speakers attract opportunities. Why? Well, simply because speaking up makes you visible. Next time you attend a conference, make sure you are one of the audience members who asks a question. Say who you are and then deliver your question clearly and concisely. Then wait for people to come over to you during the break.
Hey presto! People know you are there! You’ve become visible and identifiable! You are a personality and have made your mark.
Speaking in public allows you to demonstrate your knowledge. By standing up and speaking to an audience, you are positioning yourself as the go-to person in your field and have a great opportunity to share your expertise.
I’ve been a professional speaker and BBC guest broadcaster for over 20 years. I love what I do. It’s a role I take very seriously and it’s a privilege for me to be ‘on platform’. But we shouldn’t forget that being on platform is ‘front of house’. What goes on ’back of house’ – all the preparation it takes to ensure that a presentation is completely seamless, and has the right tone, emphasis and timing – is crucial before speaking in public.
Things can and do go wrong
But beware! The tech side can let you down: microphones may not work or the projector lamp may blow – I could go on. Experience has taught me how to deal with such challenges as and when they happen. I remember working in Dubai several years ago and, just as I started to speak, the power failed. There was no lighting and so I started the presentation in front of 300 people in candlelight.
As a speaker, you need to ask yourself various questions before you take to the platform. For example, what’s the average age of the audience? If I’m speaking on subjects like ‘How to minimise stress’ or ‘Ways to manage organisational change’, then I’ll need to know what other challenges are going on within the organisation at that time, as I may want to refer to them.
These are the types of question I’ll ask before I set foot on the platform. And remember to ask fundamental things like, ‘Will a lapel mic be available?’.
Public speaking isn’t about ego
Being a professional speaker is an amazing profession. It’s an honour to speak from the platform and present on radio and TV, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. But never forget that public speaking is about ensuring the audience benefits from your presentation or performance – it’s not about ego.
It’s not necessarily all about business either. It’s also about being able to speak up and speak out for those who are unable to speak up for themselves. I think there is nothing more humbling than being given the opportunity to do so.
You are there to be judged every time you stand up to speak – and that in itself is quite a challenge. But you should never let the fear of being judged hold you back from giving a great presentation.
For all Girl Tribe Gang members who want to be seen, heard and remembered – in business and elsewhere – good luck and enjoy the journey.
Carole’s Top Four Tips
Don’t hide from opportunities to speak at networking meetings
Ask a question at that conference so people can see who you are
Practise face-to-face with the camera: create short videos of yourself speaking, to identify what the benefits might be for your audience
Use Facebook Live and create your own YouTube channel.
About the Author Carole Spiers FISMA, FPSA, MIHPE
Carole is the CEO of a leading UK stress management and wellbeing consultancy. She is a BBC Guest-broadcaster and author of Show Stress Who’s Boss! Carole is an international motivational speaker and is regularly called upon by the national press and media for comment. She is Chair of the International Stress Management Association UK, founder of Stress Awareness Day, Fellow and Past President of the Professional Speaking Association, London.