Women in business are often perceived as being less confident in communication than their male counterparts. Asking for more pay, speaking against the grey-haired grey-suited status quo and saying what we really think are all things we struggle with.
Whilst there are many women out there with a voice (take Vanessa Vallely the feisty founder of We Are The City as an example, who worked her way into the city from her Hackney roots and now spends her spare time inspiring inner city youths to do the same,) so many of us hide from expressing our full power.
As a public speaking coach and a champion of female fabulousness, I think this is a shame. I am asking ‘Why?’ and ‘What can we do to find our voices as women in business?’
So which voice is really heard?
Like most of us, I grew up in a very masculine-seeming world. As I looked around me as a young girl, all of the experts on TV, all the political leaders, all the business leaders – all the people speaking out strongly on something or other seemed to be male. That’s not to say they were all male, but that’s what I noticed – and that’s what the evidence still points to.
In one survey of America’s top 100 speeches of the 20th Century, just 22 were delivered by women. And if you think that was a 20th Century issue that has been fixed with the emancipation of women, the same website lists just 11 of 47 important 21st Century speeches as being delivered by women. Still today, the majority of top bloggers, best selling authors and keynote speakers are male.
So what is needed to help women get their voice out there? In my opinion, we need challenge. My role is to challenge women in business towards the bravery needed to find our voice. To challenge us to discover what it is that we as businesswomen and citizens of the world care about. To challenge us to discover what we’re willing to stand up for. To challenge us to discover what we’re willing to make more important than our fear of being seen and heard.
What are you afraid of?
Because this is where the problem lies when we’re honest with ourselves: Fear.
Most of us are aware of a voice inside – whether it’s the voice that tells you to stick up for a lady being wolf-whistled in the street, or the voice that says ‘hold on, I don’t agree with what that speaker’s saying, I should speak up”.
It is fear that holds us back from letting that voice speak: Fear of judgment, fear of failure, or, worse, fear of being ignored.
Every time we let fear win we’re giving away our power to create the world we want to live in. This goes for our businesses too.
Every time we let our fear win, we’re giving away our power to speak out about a business that is powerful, useful and compassionate. We’re giving away the voice that leads us to greatness.
Finding that voice
How, then, do you go about finding your voice? It’s not like it’s lost, is it? I mean, I definitely saw it there a minute ago…
Confidence in communicating, whether it’s to one person or to one hundred, can be a flighty thing. One moment we feel powerful like we’re soaring high above mountains and the next moment the slightest knock can send us scuttling back into our shell. Is see such vulnerability as both a beauty and a downfall of the female sex. It’s beautiful because it can allow us to connect with others, but it’s a downfall because it can make us shy of other people’s opinions of us. It can make us stifle our voice.
If you’re anything like me, you might have experienced holding back from saying what you really want to say – for fear of offending someone – until it becomes so unbearable that it comes out in tears, or anger, or a spluttered mess of words.
Is there a better way of getting that voice out than gulping down a huge glass of wine, or waiting until we’re really upset before speaking out?
Indeed there is – and this is something I work with all sorts of ladies to unleash. I welcome your thoughts on how to find your voice – there are plenty of different routes. Here are three steps that I recommend:
1) Get Authentic
If you really want to find your voice, the time is over for pretending. No longer will you pander to what you think is a good sort of message to have, or what other people say is the right way to think or act. Finding your voice means identifying what really matters to you and sticking to your guns, irrespective of the discomfort others may put you through, or the discomfort you may feel in yourself.
We spend too much of our adult lives shaping our actions around what we think will make other people happy, or comfortable, rather than around what will make ourselves happy. This may seem compassionate – like you’re working for the benefit of others. Except, by and large, what we think will make others happy is just a game, it’s a social construct held together by so many other people who are also pretending. What we’re doing is sacrificing our authenticity because we’re playing safe, like we’re telling ourselves, “Whatever you do, don’t risk being disliked”. When we sacrifice our authenticity, we sacrifice our power.
True authenticity starts with the question: “What do I really want?”
To answer that question requires brutal honesty, because the answer may not be easy to swallow. But it’s the long-term route to your own personal satisfaction – and to business success.
By finding your voice, you are finding your power.
So ask yourself: “What do I want?” and “What does that mean for my business?” and “Exactly how do I want to express that?”
Your voice will be unique. It may be strange, sexy, goofy, selfish, selfless, hippy, pushy, or any other number of things. What you don’t need to do – and what holds most people back from ever finding an answer to these questions – is to know how to speak that voice, not yet.
Search for your authentic voice from a place where failure doesn’t exist. Imagine as you ask the questions that whatever you wish will instantly become reality.
2) Get Brave
Your real voice is starting to find its stage. Boys would talk about “having your goalposts set up” right about now… and I’ll say that you have begun to find the state of expression that is most true to you.
Now, and only now, shall we turn to asking how you can possibly express this voice in public. For your belief to be a message, a voice, it needs to be spoken far and wide. Here’s where the terrifying realization tends to dawn – “I’m going to have to speak about this in public.” As if it wasn’t enough to speak out these tender and personal beliefs and dreams, yes, you’re actually going to have to tell them to groups of people, possibly even large ones.
If you’re nervous about public speaking, start with your conviction. Cement yourself in your message and make yourself immovable. This is what you want. This is more important to you than anything else. You will not be fully powerful, or fully useful in the world until you have let this voice out.
Count all of the reasons why your voice is important. Usually it helps to look from the perspective of others. You are only one person, it’s easy to excuse yourself, to say “Oh, it doesn’t matter, I didn’t really want it anyway” when it’s only about you. But it’s much more difficult to excuse yourself when you have a whole line of people who are relying on you. A whole set of reasons why your voice is bigger than you.
Focus on this bigger reason and you will be brave enough to step through anything – like a woman would fight tigers to save her baby.
3) Get Out There
Fear is strongest when we’re stuck in our head thinking about something, rather than doing it. Think about the last time you were in a bar eyeing up a nice young gentleman. Did you think about it, or did you go and speak to him? So long as you’re thinking about it, he’s drinking on his own.
To unleash your voice takes action. It can be small at first – you don’t have to book Wembley Arena just yet. But do get out there, do challenge yourself beyond your boundaries to communicate with passion and authenticity.
Don’t accept failure if it appears on your horizon. Remember that your message is more important than anything. Those people who are relying on you wouldn’t want you to be put off by a negative comment, or an unenthusiastic audience, would they?
Give yourself time to learn and develop. Ask for feedback. And most of all, enjoy yourself.
Your voice is most powerful when you express it with self-belief, stability and a sense of fun.
About The Author: Sarah Lloyd-Hughes is author of “How to be Brilliant at Public Speaking” (Pearson) – released on 3rd October 2011. See www.gingerpublicspeaking.com for more information and some juicy freebies around how to become an Inspiring Public Speaker.