This blog is by Cath Daley, one of our Certified Coaches on our the Lead the Change and Be Powerful Programmes. Cath’s passion is helping women to tap into their natural feminine talents to be extraordinary leaders and compelling speakers. And today, she’s addressing a thorny issue for any of us called to stand in front of a crowd.
Are women worse at presenting than men?
The answer is yes.
Why?….. because we think we are.
And it happens at all levels.
Several years ago I was at a business conference and went to hear the female CEO of a global private bank speak because it was so unusual (and still is!) to see a woman in that role and wanted to hear what she had to say.
She was introduced by a man called John and the first thing she said was “I’m sorry, I’m not as good a speaker as John so you’ll have to bear with me”. This set the bar really low because John wasn’t actually very good.
I have never yet heard a man begin his speaking slot with that sort of apology but over the years have heard many versions of that from women.
From my experience men are more likely to assess they are better than they are and tend to blag it whereas most women are likely to assess they are worse than they are and avoid it.
And it can have a knock-on effect on your leadership. Many women leaders are brilliant at what they do but miss opportunities to be more visible and gain more professional credibility as leaders because they don’t volunteer to present or avoid speaking to groups or get others to do it for them. Men get nervous too but they don’t self- sabotage in the same way women do.
So how do women self-sabotage?
1. Through Self- talk
Presenting is one of those areas where Impostor Syndrome and the Inner Critic kick in big time.
When you are put in the spotlight it can be scary – even the thought of it can trigger those negative emotions and patterns of behaviour and that’s when the self- talk starts…..
“The part of me that’s hidden away may be on display…. and I’m not good enough!”
“I know I’ll forget what I’m talking about and then I’ll look stupid”
“What if I go red? That will be so embarrassing”
“Everyone will be looking at me and I don’t look good/am too fat/ have got wrinkles etc”
“Why would anyone want to listen to me or what I have to say?”……
And although men occasionally suffer from this, as women we let it gnaw away at our self- esteem and self-confidence to a much greater extent.
2. By our body language
When you lack confidence internally it will be reflected in the way you stand and although you want to appear confident you will give yourself away.
Many women stand with their arms crossed over the body and one foot crossed over the other. We often tilt the head or touch our hair and these unconscious gestures and this body language communicate “little girl” which makes you look small and unimposing.
And this has a knock-on effect on your state as well. Research by Amy Cuddy, of the Harvard Business School, has found that a woman’s body language has a profound impact on her body chemistry. And it becomes a vicious circle because the “little-girl” stance elevates the stress hormone, cortisol, making you feel even less confident.
And one of the biggest causes of the “little girl” stance is wearing very high heels!
They may be fashionable but they add to the self-sabotage.
If you stand for any length of time when wearing very high heels you probably end up crossing one foot over the other because it’s more stable and comfortable that way and it stops you wobbling. But the consequence is that this undermines your authority because the “little girl” stance can be perceived as very defensive and it indicates a lack of confidence and you come across as shy and insignificant.
So when wearing very high heels the choice is between wobbling and looking defensive neither of which enhances your presence as a speaker.
3. Through the language we use
In her book “The Language of Female Leadership” Dr. Judith Baxter, a linguistics expert from Aston University in the UK, asks whether language is a reason why women in business are under-represented at senior levels of leadership.
She found that women are more self-deprecating and try to avoid conflict. She goes on to say that “It may be seen as a bit of weakness on the part of women, because you are not playing the game in the same way” and this can have a detrimental effect on how women are perceived as successful leaders.
Women often tend to soften their statements by using qualifiers which limit a word or phrase e.g. “I just thought,” “ I’ll try to get it done by Tuesday” or “this might be a better way” and this undermines your authority.
Qualifiers dilute your message and reduce your impact.
So what can women do instead?
Make friends with your Inner Critic and dispel Impostor Syndrome. If you’re part of the BeOne community, you can listen to the Softpower casts on Impostor Syndrome and Inner Critic to help you do this. (Not a member yet? It’s free to join, and you get access to lots of free resources: click here for access).
Leave the very high heels at home! Instead wear the size of heel that you can comfortably stand in for hours.
Instead of adopting the ”little girl” stance practise standing like a Queen for presenting. That calm and grace convey a sense of authority, and a Queen always has great inner confidence.
Avoid using quantifiers like these……
Hope to …
Would like to…?
I suppose …
Being able to present well is a skill like any other. If you feel that you need to develop your skills then make sure you get some great presentation skills training.
Many presentations skills training courses are based around acting skills and will teach you how to “perform”. In my experience they don’t work well from a leadership or a business perspective because you can come across as inauthentic so make sure that the course teaches you how to be confident being yourself when presenting.
Women are fantastic at presenting when we learn to stop the self-sabotage – and that’s easy when you know how!
Cath is one of our Certified Women’s Coaches, and is an in-house coach on our Lead the Change and Be Powerful Programmes.
To find out more about Cath, and how you can work with her, click here.
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