Thursday, November 18, 2010

DeeDee Myers on speaker appearance: "Bad hair day=virtual mute button"

Last week, I saw Dee Dee Myers, former White House press secretary, speak at a luncheon. She covered topics from her recent book, Why Women Should Rule the World, and touched on many issues that face women who speak -- or speak up. But the one that caught my ear was a story she told on herself, about how her friends reacted when she appeared on network television. And it was all about her hair.  Her conclusion? "A bad hair day is like a virtual mute button" when you're a woman and you're speaking.

Myers had a way of making this audience of mostly women laugh (although the loudest laughs, I noticed, came from men in the audience), but she put her finger on an inconvenient truth when it comes to women and public speaking: The many ways in which women's appearance varies from men's makes them stand out, not always comfortably, when they put themselves forward to speak in public. 

I call these the double-edged swords for women who speak in public. You can do more with your hairstyle, clothing, jewelry and overall appearance than can men...and yet, it's tough not to notice that men have plenty of appearance advantages, from flat shoes to a relatively uniform appearance code. Hairstyle's just one variable for women, and if you think it's not controversial, read this New York Times article (and many reader comments) on why middle-aged women can't wear their hair long.  At the same time, those variations can be worked to one's advantage.

I liked Myers' easy way of acknowledging the issues, and yet I know there's no easy solution. How do you feel about your "virtual mute buttons" of appearance?  Tell us in the comments. I'd love to hear how it makes you feel when you're speaking, any comments you've had from others and your thoughts on options.

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