Women stepping up to the mark is something that has been at the forefront of our minds here in IMAGE HQ. Increasingly we’re interested in the idea that what holds women back most is a sense of fear that sabotages an otherwise outwardly successful and confident individual. It’s hard to pinpoint where this stems from, whether we call it ‘natural reserve’ or a ‘lack of arrogance’, the fact remains that often some of the most driven and high-powered women seem to feel unentitled and continue to have issues of self-doubt and inadequacy.
BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour at the end of last year ran a Power List that received widespread attention as it included the likes of Angela Ahrendts, Alexandra Shulman, Adele and even the Queen (who scooped in the wins and landed Numero Uno.) The Power List involved a series of radio interviews whose strikingly recurrent theme was the feeling of being a fraud and of not deserving their own success. Listen to some of the amazing interviews here.
This dilemma plays itself out most apparently in the arena of public speaking. A woman who knows a thing or two about having to work with high-powered women to overcome a myriad of insecurities in order to speak up and speak well, is Margaret E. Ward of Broadly Speaking and founder of Women on Air. We asked Margaret about her insights into this phenomenon and what she suggests one can do about it…
When you deal with women around the subject of public speaking, what is it that terrifies them most? Fear of making a fool of themselves, lack of self-belief, lack of experience. They also doubt anyone would take them seriously or care what they have to say.
Do you think women are more terrified to ‘own’ what they do professionally in public? If so why or why not? Yes, it’s a confidence issue. From a young age girls are generally taught to stay in the background and be a helper or a carer. They’re not usually encouraged to speak up, form strong opinions about things, debate issues or to lead groups of people. It’s not considered ladylike. It’s assumed that public speaking/debating is a man’s domain. Of course there are some teachers and parents who make sure young girls and women get these skills. So, outspoken women are often criticised more than men and this can knock confidence.
What do you notice recurrently in the women you work with in Broadly Speaking? Many of these professional women have never received public speaking or debate training in secondary school or university. They become extremely self-conscious when getting up in front of a few people even if they’re great communicators one on one. Most of this is because they don’t know where to start: What are my key messages? Who is in the audience? How do I structure the content? Where do I stand? What do I do with my hands? How do I use a microphone? Should I use Power Point or not? How do I calm my nerves? How long should it be?
Do you think fear is a factor that holds women back, perhaps more than men? I think women have less experience and training in this area than men. Training makes all the difference – once you do something a few times it makes all the difference. Many of the all-boys schools teach public speaking, debating and leadership. The all-girls schools tend to emphasise home economics and a more gentle approach to leadership. (There are, of course, exceptions.) Unfortunately, this leaves women at a huge disadvantage in the workplace. You can only get so far in management without influential leadership skills: public speaking, debating, presentations and networking. Broadly Speaking was set up to solve this problem. We help women develop professionally so they can take their careers to the next level…ask for a raise, get a promotion or present to the board.
Broadly Speaking’s next Public Speaking: Find Your Voice class with acting coach and voiceover artist Kathleen Warner Yeates takes place on May 23rd in Dublin. For more info see here
Margaret E Ward @MargaretEWard
Roisin Agnew @Roxeenna