Thursday, January 4, 2018

What's the outlook for women and public speaking in 2018?

The world seems all chaos at times, these days, and we're hearing more all the time about manels and manterruptions, women being systematically denied turns to speak in conferences or Congress, harassment of women speakers, and stultifying speaking conditions that would drive any woman to decline an invitation to speak. Some days, the view for women and public speaking can seem pretty bleak.

But in fact, all those things are signals that change is afoot. Backlash can be seen as a sign that your speaking is actually effective, and hitting its mark. Throughout history, over and over again, we've seen periods when women were largely forbidden to speak in public--most of history, in long stretches--interrupted when war and economic chaos shook things up and prompted change in women's ability and opportunity to break those norms and come out speaking in public. There's a good discussion of that phenomenon here in The only thing, historically, that's curbed inequality: Catastrophe, to get you started thinking about it.

I believe we are in such a time, and catastrophic times do benefit women speakers, opening up new opportunities and reasons for them to lift their voices in protest, in leadership, and more. And these types of events are in fact cyclical. It is not a mistake, historians tell me, that this is happening 100 years, roughly, after the British and American suffragists sought and won votes for some women, an effort that not only opened up opportunities for women's public speech, but depended on it as a strategic tactic. Not a mistake.

Today, that translates into more frequent, more public, and easier conversations around issues women face in public speaking, a pre-condition for being able to speak more readily and to address issues and bring them forward. But it also means more chances to speak, more reasons to speak, more opportunities to speak.

So the question in 2018 for women who speak in public is: How will you use this moment? The fulcrum of history, the pivot point, is here. That's not to say that all the barriers are removed, but the conditions are ripe to make some progress. Here are some ideas for how you can make the most of this historic moment while advancing yourself as a speaker:
  1. What should you be speaking up about right now? It doesn't have to be at a protest rally, it could just be in a workplace meeting. Conditions are good for you not only to try more speaking up, but to be able to point out things like manterruptions or others taking credit for your work--because part of the foment is that we are discussing such phenomena more and more, making it okay to say. So now you have the luxury of asking yourself: What should I be saying now that will make a difference?
  2. How can you use this moment to build more speaking opportunities? When catastrophe cracks society open, opportunity is created. Ask whether you can keynote this time, or get off the panel and speak as an individual. Try that TEDx talk. Find or create more chances for yourself to speak while the opportunities are expanding. Seize this speaking day. Start a women's speaking forum at your workplace, or in your community. Try new-to-you speaking styles and venues. Put yourself out there.
  3. Build skills and reputation: Strike while the iron is hot, as they used to say, and use this moment to develop speaking skills you don't have now. Seek speaking opportunities so you can build a reputation as a good speaker--that will last long after the foment. Be sure to document your speaking: Create a speaker page that lists your engagements, publish video or audio of your talks, publish the text of your talks and your slides, share any social buzz, stay in contact with conference organizers and make it easier for then to find and choose you.
I wish you a 2018 full of speaking up about what's meaningful to you, and thank you for coming here for your ideas, info, and inspiration as you do so. Happy new year!

(Creative Commons licensed photo by TEDxNY)

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