How to be an effective public speaker to a male dominated audience
Updated: Nov 19, 2019
Today’s blog post is authored by Linda Carroll. Linda is devoted to helping each woman as she delivers her message. As a speaker and presenter in all her various career stages, Linda learned that the world craves the insights that only women can express. Linda helps you build the skills to magnify your message, and the confidence to shrink your fears. Your own personal secret weapon!
I’ve spoken to groups of mostly men in their own fields for decades. I moved through many stages of speaker self-consciousness in that time. I have gone through feeling small and ineffectual, down to feeling totally helpless. I’ve walked into venues telling myself DAMN THE TORPEDOES THEIR GOING TO HEAR ME WHETHER THEY LIKE IT OR NOT!
I've viewed the male audience as an army that was against me, as a herd of wild horses I needed to tame, as a group of preschool children that needed cajoling, as a junior varsity football team that needed training and discipline.
Now, I just see them as a group of guys. Mixed types, mixed motivations. But there are some very common tendencies and behaviors that men in our culture hold to, and you can use those tendencies for your speaking benefit.
Here are some general tips for you, whenever you speak to a group of men:
Speak directly to the Leader or Leaders.
Most of your eye contact and focus should be directed toward the leaders. I don’t mean stare at them! Move your gaze around to the other members, but return often to the leaders.
Stand up when you speak, if it’s easy and graceful to do so. Keep your weight balanced evenly on your feet and hips - don’t rock from side to side, or back and forth. If you feel like you need to move, take a small, full step to one side or the other.
Men unconsciously equate size with authority, so stand and dress to appear larger. Take up more space.
Men also equate a deeper, more resonant voice, with size and authority. So speak using deeper tones. You don’t have to strain or try to sound like a baritone! Just speaker a little deeper, and a little more resonant.
Practice using a deeper voice.
Many fellows have unpleasant associations with high or shrill voices! They emotionally go straight back to being scolded by their mothers. Also, it’s harder for men to hear a higher pitch (remember trying to get your husband to hear the squeaky wheel bearing?)
Make it easy for them to hear you by lowering your voice pitch.
How can you practice using a deeper pitch?
Here’s an easy way: did you ever read The Three Bears aloud to children, or have it read to you? Remember talking like the Baby Bear, Mama Bear, and Papa Bear? Baby Bear was the highest pitch, Mama Bear was the middle pitch, and Papa Bear was the lowest pitch.
Well, just run through their dialogue a couple of times!
To make it most effective practice alone, in front of a mirror.
Start with Baby Bear: hold your hand out flat, above the level of your head. Say out loud: “Someone’s been eating my porridge” in a high pitched voice.
Then go to Mama Bear: hold your hand at about your nose or mouth level, and say the dialogue in a medium pitch.
Last, do Papa Bear: hold your hand at your solar plexus or tummy level, and say the dialogue in a deep pitch.
Run through this exercise a few times, whenever you practice speaking or rehearse something you want to say. Start with Baby; end with Papa. This practice conditions your vocal chords to accommodate lower tones, and brings the resonance of your voice down to fill your lungs and chest cavity.
If the Three Bears seems too silly for you to practice, then instead of the dialogue say “this is a silly voice” at the top. Then, “this is an average voice” at the middle. End with “this is a voice of authority and respect” at the bottom.
Run through this exercise on your way to work in the car. You can even do it in the restroom at work, just hum it quietly instead of saying the words. Even humming helps condition your vocal chords.
Your voice belongs to you.
It’s an instrument that is under your control, and it’s eager to serve you! You were born with the ability to make sounds because you are destined to express yourself, and one of the most direct and satisfying expressions is through your voice and words.
You have value to share, and important things to say. My wish is that these tools will help you, and my hope is that the world will benefit from the words you share.
“The secret weapon for presenting effectively is knowing in your heart, and feeling in you bones, that your message is bigger than you are, and is more important than your fears.”