In a happy coincidence, CWIT’s March meeting fell on International Women’s Day (March 8). We could not have had a more appropriate presentation than that given by actress and speaker coach Kate Bennis, who shared with us her tips and tricks to finding our speaking voices. Here are some highlights.
No one is born speaking (literally)
It is a common misconception that there are people who are ‘naturally’ good speakers who are ‘born with’ the ability to craft a good speech. But a hard look at the formidable lists we collectively generated as to what makes a good speaker (e.g., confident, passionate, authentic) and a good speech (e.g., accessible, engaging, memorable) made the truth of the matter easier to confront: there is not an element of either of those lists that cannot be cultivated, practiced, and acquired.
Often, the secret to recognizing in yourself as a potentially great speaker lies in the context of the speech. You don’t have to be a hyper-confident person to be confident about one aspect of your knowledge. Same for passion: who among us isn’t passionate about something? Another common stumbling block: the notion of expertise. Women are far more likely than men to underestimate their competence, so it is especially important for women to check this kind of self-doubt. The point of speaking is almost never to speak as an expert, but to speak from a perspective of experience. And there is no rule that a speaker cannot engage with and leverage the expertise of others.
Start with an idea… and a listener
Kate asked us to find someone near us whom we did not know and take five minutes to share an idea we have for a topic we’d like to explore in a speech. This sort of brainstorming out loud is not only a painless way to come up with the start of an outline, it is also an excellent technique for dodging the pitfalls of negative self-talk that often stop us from taking an idea and running with it.
As for giving the speech, you only want to memorize the first and last lines; otherwise it will sound (literally) scripted. Why memorize at all? Well, it turns out that where you start a speech is very important, so it is best to plan the opening. A speech should open like a good play: in the middle of the action (in media res). The reason to memorize the last line is for the sake of the audience: a deliberate final line will provide a clear indication that you’re finished.
Don’t wait to be asked
The opportunities to speak are out there, but women often wait to be specifically asked. Why wait? Do not assume that because you have not been asked that no one believes you have anything to say. Indeed, it could not have been clearer from the hum of talk in the room during the exercise described above that we have plenty of topics we’d love to explore! And all it took to get the ball rolling was to come together in a welcoming space with open minds and ears.
This event was so inspiring that CWIT is planning to host a ‘pitching zone’ meeting before this years’ beCamp in the hopes of increasing the number of women pitchers/participants. (BeCamp is an annual local “unConference” held in the fall. [Last year’s website.])