How women can be better than men at public speaking

Only the most hard-nosed male chauvinist these days would have the b*lls to say women don’t make as effective public speakers as men do. However, with some creative thought, careful writing (or at least speech preparation) and some sneaky tips from a drama coach (see below), I believe women can be better than men.

Firstly, of course, you need to ensure you observe some basic tips on how to put your material together. This applies equally to everyone irrespective of gender, but it’s perhaps more important for women to focus on being natural and comfortable with what you’re saying.

Men often can cover up poor material and a bad script by waving their arms and making a lot of noise in front of an audience; women doing that just look like braying battle-axes. Sad and un-PC, but true.  So here’s how to get that all-important material right in the first place…

Basic spoken speech writing tips

  • To get a true idea of your own natural speech style, tape record yourself is if you were talking to a friend about the whole subject, then transcribe it
  • Write in the style of the transcribed text (or that feels comfortable for you to say) – not how some people think “public speaking” should be phrased
  • Even if you want to make a formal impression on the audience, avoid long words and clumsy phrases – especially unfamiliar ones you could trip over when your stage nerves are making you edgy
  • Don’t use language you wouldn’t say in “real life,” and especially not as crutches to prop up weak content
  • Always write shorter sentences than you do for text, vary the length of them, and never follow one longish sentence with another
  • When in doubt, read it aloud – if there’s anything awkward you’ll feel yourself tripping over it

OK: now for the presenting element

In my book, “Wedding Speeches For Women,” I was very lucky to get some advice from a top London drama coach/teacher who came up with some very useful tips about women in public speaking.  Here are a few short excerpts from that …

  • A woman’s voice tends to travel and project better than a man’s because it is lighter and higher. However, this can tend to give her less “authority” when speaking.
  • An untrained female speaker should concentrate on keeping her voice as low in pitch as possible (without sounding Margaret Thatcherish!) to avoid any shrillness.
  • When practising her speech, she should do breathing exercises (the breath is the “petrol”, so to speak, for the voice engine – most people breathe too shallowly), facial warm up exercises, vocal warm up exercises and practice speaking to the end of a room, to the end of the garden, speaking while the radio is playing – all of these can help to keep the volume up.
  • Also practise speaking slowly. Record yourself doing the speech – you will probably be speaking too fast. Go at half the speed that you think feels right – then halve it again – that will probably be about right for public speaking!
  • Practice status: say the speech with your toes turned inward, your shoulders hunched, looking down or flicking your eyes around, touching your face and hair frequently. Then drop all those behaviors. Say the speech standing straight, looking straight ahead and sweeping your eyes slowly around from one side to the other, keeping your hands and head straight and still.

And what about humor?

There’s nothing more excruciating than listening to either a man or a woman telling a joke in a speech when they don’t have the knack for delivering it, or if it is inappropriate for the audience and gets no more than a polite chuckle from the event organizer and embarrassed coughs from everyone else.

When I’m writing speeches for clients who are not natural comedians, I always advise them to avoid trying to be funny because it will fall flat. Far better to be interesting, engaging, sincere and if relevant, emotive.

Much as audiences enjoy a good joke, humor is not the be-all and end-all of successful public speaking. Humor is a condiment that can add spice to a speech or presentation; but just like any other condiment, it can ruin whatever it’s sprinkled on if it’s wrong for the job.

Women are more subtle at making people laugh

In the case of mixed audiences as you would get at a wedding, bar mitzvah or other social event, I have to say I can understand how some people, especially older ones, might be offended to hear a woman tell bawdy, blue jokes in a speech. In the case of a wedding that’s probably the domain of the best man if there is one – not because it’s a masculine privilege, but because it’s boring to all but the few drunken rugby types at the back of the room.

However in cases of business or other non-social speeches, anyone telling a bawdy joke risks dying a death. And for a woman, that risk is greater. Why?

In some ways I think women speakers have an easier job of making audiences laugh, because they can get a laugh on a much more subtle level than men can – especially from the other women in the audience. Women do not need four-letter words or side-slapping hysterics; with just a smile and a few choice words you can bring the house down.

What really makes a woman a better speaker than a man?

…a presentation that’s honest, natural, fascinating and delivered effectively. No, it’s not rocket science; you can do it. Lots of us do. And by sticking to realism, strict audience-focus, enthusiasm and (dare I say it as this word has become such a cliché) passion … you’ve got it. Your presentation hits more spots than that of any man!

Good luck … and if you want to discuss this more please comment here…

Public speaking help, whoever you are!

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“The English Language Joke book”…hundreds of laughs about this crazy language of ours

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  1. Great post with some very useful tips. Thanks, Suze!

    Of course, I also totally agree with you, women can be better than men at public speaking 😉

  2. I shared your post on facebook.

    A friend asked whether it was still a commonly held belief.

    I replied, “I wouldn’t say commonly held belief but how many women do you see speaking in proportion to men? Business conferences, TV, party conferences. It gets skewed because men seem to be in positions where they get up and speak more. I hope it’s changing. Certainly the women only conferences I’ve been to I’ve found more relevant and entertaining to me. Shall we do one together Joan?”

    She said yes so Joan and I are going to put our heads together on how we can produce an opportunity for women to speak.

    Thanks for your interesting post.

    • Thanks for your comment Jane, and I think your idea is brilliant. Please keep us informed on how the project is going, and let me know if you want any help with speech compilation, presentation techniques, etc.

  3. Hi Suze

    I can speak publicly when the subject matter is business-based, I have a lecturn to hold onto (hides the knees wobbling!) and bullet points to follow. And I can stand up in front of a load of people and train them in certain skills.

    But this bit I absolutely hate:
    “To get a true idea of your own natural speech style, tape record yourself is if you were talking to a friend about the whole subject, then transcribe it”

    What suggestions do you have when somebody can’t stand what they sound like? Please? 🙂

    • Simple, Linda … do the tape recording and then get someone else to transcribe it! Your style will be down on paper / screen, but you won’t have to listen to it being spoken. Alternatively you could try one of these voice recognition software gizmos – early ones were a bit rough but I gather there are some really good options out there now.

      (And I bet you’re really good at presenting – you’re being too hard on yourself!)

  4. Very interesting blog post Suze

    I had to do some training for public speaking as part of my degree – not easy for a very shy person to stand in front of a large church…

    My mum is a very good speaker, she gets booked for lectures all the time, she is a trained singer, and this helps enormously in projecting her voice. Anyone who can talk about the humour of Thomas Hardy, and have people laugh – must be good 🙂

    • Your Mum sounds like a wonderful speaker and presenter, Anita! Yes, the singing training is very helpful for speaking to an audience. If you need to do some public speaking yourself you should ask your Mum for some of her tips…

  5. Jane Hatton says:

    I think public speaking is one of those things you either love or hate – not much apathy around this issue!

    I don’t know whether women make better speakers than men – good speakers of either gender are a joy to listen to, and poor speakers a real challenge to stay awake to.

    I don’t think it happens so much these days (I hope not, anyway) but it used to seem that a large proportion of men would speak with their hands in their pockets rattling their keys and loose change (no, that’s not a euphemism – they really did rattle!). I ‘d have to resist the urge to go on stage and physically remove their hands from their pockets, I found it so irritating.

    I used to really enjoy public speaking, and would love to get back into it.

    • I used to hate speaking to an audience but because I have been writing speeches for others for many years now – and have worked with numerous excellent presentation technique trainers – I’m not bad at it now and quite enjoy it. Talk about learning by osmosis!

      The rattling keys types are fewer in number now because although the presentation trainers can’t stop them braying and tub-thumping, the first thing they’re taught to do is what to do with their hands, and fortunately more and more senior staffers and execs are being put through proper training now.

      I produced a conference some years ago in which the keynote speaker was known to be very entertaining, but (I was warned) he had an intriguing habit of waving his arms around and then putting both hands in his trouser pockets and appearing to scratch his nether regions. Sure enough in the dress rehearsal both hands disappeared and it looked like he had brought several pet rats to the show in his underwear.

      Eventually I hit on the idea of standing him behind a tall, wide lectern and telling him (untruthfully) that all the radio mikes had failed and the only one that was working was the lectern mike. He was anchored; in the show we could still see his hands disappear, but at least we didn’t have to watch what he was doing with them.

  6. Nik Gurney says:

    Gender would only have an effect on style and approach; it’s largely irrelevant. An affinity for public speaking comes from the individual, not their genitals.

    You make generalisations in this post and get away with it because they’re about men; it gives me the impression that you’ve a very slight and very well hidden chip on your shoulder about the dominance of males in areas like business? It’s actually too subtle for me to be right, or you’re really good at using being nice as a means of not being nice.

    I don’t understand this article. It feels superfluous to me; a really well wrapped up way of trying, unnecessarily, to get one up on those bastard men by handing out unisex advice and throwing in the odd observation about what men do when they’re public speaking. It makes women look weak, this article, why do women need to do all this self-training to out-do men in the arena of public speaking? Some people are great public speakers, some people are rubbish at it. That’s all there is to it.

    • Thanks for your comment, Nik.

      And do I detect a very slight and very well hidden chip on your shoulder about “feminism?”

      Not to worry – I do agree with you wholeheartedly that public speaking (perhaps it should be “pubic” speaking in this case) should not be done with the genitals, although anyone who could actually manage to achieve that would make a fortune…

      Sz xx

  7. Suzan,

    I think most of your public speaking suggestions work well for either gender and I agree with one of the earlier commenters that a good speaker of either gender is a joy to listen to.

    One thing I’ve read about and seen during speeches, presentations, staff meetings, etc., is that women generally have a more difficult time establishing authority on a subject (ingrained gender roles anyone?) however, I’ve heard that studies have shown both genders respond more favorably to the female voice.

    • Thanks for dropping by David – good to see you here. Interesting what you say about both genders responding more favorably to the female voice. I wonder why – unless perhaps it’s a hankering back to listening to Mommy!

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  2. […] I’ve been involved in a couple of very interesting debates recently about the differences between men and women. One is in a closed group on Facebook so I can’t point you towards it, but the other is Suze’s stuff that I respond to here. […]

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