Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Workshop journal: What happened Friday at 'Be The Eloquent Woman'

I launched a new workshop last week: Be The Eloquent Woman had its debut in my home city of Washington, DC, with a diverse group of women who came from as far away as Panama and as close as down the block.

At the start of the day, I asked everyone to give me one word they thought defined "the eloquent woman." Here's the list from Friday: Confident, succinct, prepared, inspiring, funny, and engaging. Participants were asked to come up with one-word definitions of themselves as speakers, and later, to think about their distinct speaker personalities and how they play a role in the speaking situations they might encounter.

The discussion was just as frank and varied as I'd hoped it would be. After I shared the story of my client whose performance review included the feedback "Your presentations aren't sexy enough," one participant on Friday shared that she'd been told the counterpoint to that by the male chair of a meeting: "Now, I don't want you to be too sexy in your delivery of this presentation." In both cases, that kind of statement subtly shames the woman speaker and silences her. We talked about the historic antecedents for these boardroom statements, antecedents that stretch from the first century in Rome to the present day. The similarities were a little too striking for some, who asked, "That happens even today?" Yes, it does.

When we talked about one of the top myths about women and speaking, that women talk too much and that they talk more than men do, I asked the group what they would do if a man told them they talked too much? "I would think 'I should listen more'," said one. Mission accomplished, with a side dish of making a woman feel bad about herself and her speaking. I also came away with reinforcement of my longstanding sense that most professionals just aren't taught good public speaking or presenting skills. There's a real yearn-to-learn on this topic.

I had three goals for my workshop day this first time out, and I think we hit these marks:
  1. Raise awareness among women speakers of how they are perceived, why that pattern persists from historic times to today, and that they should persist as speakers, anyway.
  2. Share how to use the very real advantages women bring to public speaking to subvert those expectations, as well as practical tools they can use to build confidence and expertise as speakers and presenters.
  3. By the end of the day, make sure participants understand that much of what they dread about speaking has nothing to do with a fault in themselves, but with the external forces they face as speakers--and that they can take control of how they are seen and heard.
As I look back on the day, I'd like to include even more hands-on activity and interaction between the participants--the small size of the group enhanced an exercise we did in which they interviewed and then introduced one another, for example. I'd like to expand an exercise on evaluating your speaker personality, so that every participant leaves with a fuller picture of her strengths and challenges. That will mean adjusting the time I devote to different topics and the materials I use. Everyone in the workshop got a resources email from me with further reading, checklists and tips, and I'll be fine-tuning that offering as well. If you're curious, I used fewer than 10 slides for this workshop, in order to keep it more engaging, although I may consider adding few video clips for future workshops and more inspiration in the form of quotes of women speakers.

Here's what some of the participants in this inaugural workshop had to say at day's end:
  • "Loved the discussion and hearing others ask questions, and doing the exercises on my speaking style. This allowed me to think about aspects of my work I hadn't thought about before."
  • "[Most valuable were] the practical tips on introductions, negotiating fight/flight, the structure of presentations, how to be assertive when someone talks over you or is age/sexist."
  • "Glad I came!!"
  • "The information has given me a renewed enthusiasm for my next talk. I'm feeling back in the driver's seat."
  • "[Most valuable were] the message wardrobe--particularly prepping Q&A and focusing on the questions that you want before the questions that you fear. Also the fountain of information, from historical references to contemporary events and examples from Denise's clients, research and experience."
This workshop also helps me prepare for the April workshop I'm doing in the United Kingdom (details are below), as well as another US session in Washington, DC on May 15. As always, I'm happy to discuss bringing this workshop to your workplace, city or conference. Just email me at eloquentwoman AT gmail DOT com to set up a discussion.

Seats are still available for my upcoming Oxford, UK, workshop on women and public speaking. Be The Eloquent Woman will take place on 2 April. The day-long workshop will help you build confidence and competence as a speaker, and help you subvert the expectations that many women face when they speak. Please join me for this unique professional development session!

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