This article has been selected for DeFinis Communications' “Top Presentation Strategies for Women” Blog Carnival. Enjoy posts from a variety of exceptional bloggers at http://www.definiscommunications.com/blog/blog-carnival-top-presentation-strategies-for-women
In our egalitarian, democratic [small d] world, there should be no difference in presentation strategies for women and men. Sadly, that's not quite the case. The familiar glass ceiling seems to exist in business presentations as well. Women must overcome some unique challenges to maximize their impact as speakers.
Some of these glass ceiling challenges are physical, some are perceptual and some are personal.
THE CHALLENGE: Lack of Confidence
Although men suffer from this as well, low confidence is especially familiar to many women. We don't always believe that we have something of value to say or that we deserve to be taken seriously. Many of us have also been conditioned to be less assertive than our male counterparts. So speaking up and offering opinions and recommendations, whether in meetings or formal presentations, can be difficult and intimidating.
THE STRATEGY: Developing confidence is a long term endeavor, but there are some specific practices that can help raise confidence levels for a presentation. Be extremely well prepared, know your material inside and out and anticipate what questions the audience will have. Then practice your presentation at least 10 times. Simultaneously with your rehearsal, visualize yourself feeling confident and recognizing, by reading the audience's reactions, that you are indeed providing them value.
THE CHALLENGE: Size
Women tend to be smaller than men and this lack of physical stature can make it difficult to create presence when in front of a group. When coupled with a lack of confidence, the result is that a woman not only doesn't look big, she doesn't "feel" big.
THE STRATEGY: Developing confidence in your message and your right to articulate it can help overcome the psychological aspect of smaller size. Specific tips to enhance your presence include: don't speak from behind a podium which blocks out a lot of your body; stand tall with shoulders back; get closer to the audience by standing directly in front of them or moving to the front of the stage.
THE CHALLENGE: Clothing
Although men could show up with a garish tie or a mismatch of patterns, women have so many more opportunities to commit clothing sins. These range from low cut blouses to too much or too little makeup to tight fitting pants, skirts or jackets to noisy jewelry. And, unfair though it is, women tend to be judged far more harshly for wardrobe malfunctions than men.
THE STRATEGY: The first key to dressing appropriately when giving a presentation is to think about what is indeed appropriate for that particular audience. There will be differences in terms of formal vs. casual, but good taste should not be variable. If you don't have a flair for coordinating outfits or choosing a flattering hair style, get some help. Enlist a stylish friend or use the services of an image consultant or personal shopper. Rightly or wrongly, how you look when you stand in front of an audience has a major impact on how you are perceived and the initial assumptions your audience makes about your credibility and professionalism.
THE CHALLENGE: Soft Voice
A soft or high-pitched voice can make it difficult to come across confidently and credibly because we tend to associate a soft voice with timidness or lack of assurance. If a woman suffers, in addition, from low confidence, this can be a deadly combination. A soft voice can also make it difficult for the audience to hear which then makes it challenging for them to stay engaged.
THE STRATEGY: There are many vocal exercises that can strengthen a weak voice and lower pitch. Seek out a professional voice coach for an assessment. Saying tongue twisters and humming are two techniques that are useful for strengthening vocal muscles, no matter what type of voice you have.
Putting some significant cracks in the presentation glass ceiling is very do-able. Focus, commitment and embracing these strategies will make it happen. Then...watch out for falling glass.
flickr/StephenMitchell C.C. 2.0