Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Stephanie reflects on gender issues

Stephanie's a beginning speaker, but in this video, she shares her experiences with gender issues in public speaking--including her frustration at getting talked over in meetings where she had seniority and the authority to comment. She's responding to my coaching this week about gender issues in public speaking.

Her question is: How can you assert yourself and get your point across without feeling as if you have to be like a man, but take advantage of the messages and strengths women have? It's a great question, and Stephanie's coming to this early in her career, which means that if she starts tackling this now, she'll be more comfortable handling it throughout her career.

Here are some ideas on what she--and you--can do to better handle situations in which you suspect or see that your gender's being used to derail your speaking, whether in a meeting, a one-on-one exchange or a formal speech. (And by the way, both women and men sometimes undermine women or use their gender against them--it's an equal opportunity ploy.) Please add your ideas and wisdom in the comments, so we can build a database of help for Stephanie and all of us:

  1. Speak with "I" statements: Don't say "We" and don't say "us." Speak for yourself. Saying "I think..." or "in my experience..." is both powerful and accurate. Anyone can challenge a "we" statement; few can challenge you for speaking your own mind. In my view, the 6 strongest statements speakers can make all start with "I." Bonus: This is especially true when you are expressing your own feelings or ideas--no one can claim those, and if they try to, you can easily refute the challenger.
  2. Take the quieter route. As Stephanie alludes to in her video, trying to talk over the person talking over you rarely works. Instead, get quiet and thoughtful; listen to your challenger until he's done. Then take a deep breath and respond...calmly, or playfully, but never in anger. Use the time when your challenger's talking to gather your thoughts and develop a calm response. It's much more powerful to avoid escalating the tension--and if your challenger continues shouting, he or she will merely look out of control, while you stay in control.
  3. Be ready for the gender zinger. It may come when you're done with your presentation or right in the middle, but have some calm or fun responses in your back pocket that zing back just enough to set a boundary. Work with your friends to come up with appropriate responses for your workplace. Check out this one experienced by Jill Granoff, CEO of Kenneth Cole--it doesn't just happen to you!
  4. Team up with the other women. Don't be afraid to reach out to other women you trust in your workplace about this issue. You may be able to share information, back each other up or offer support in public and in private. Many women I know bring another woman to their meetings to ensure they're not the only woman--it works.
  5. Take charge from the start. If it's your meeting, signal that you're there to do business and do it right away, using the space, your voice, and your timing.

UPDATE: I'm pleased to say that this post was included in Andrew Dlugan's weekly roundup of the best public speaking blog posts on the Six Minutes blog.

Related posts:

Week 5: Gender issues in public speaking

Convey power without the "pow!"

The 6 strongest speaker statements

Signaling "let's get down to business"