WBCS is excited have special guest blogger today, Merrie Spaeth of Spaeth Communication. So many of our WBEs and Corporate (Sustaining) Members are incredible communicators, but what Merrie outlines in the article below are some common mistakes that you may be victim to. With Business Works in less than two weeks, its an ideal time to tune-up those communication skills and consider how you're presenting yourself.
Do Women Make Predictable Mistakes when Presenting and Communicating?
Are Women Different from Men?
By Merrie Spaeth
Recently, we’ve seen a spate of advice articles claiming that women don’t communicate or present the same way their male counterparts do, and that women make predicable mistakes. Are they right? Yes – and no. Let’s review and critique some of the advice aimed at women – and some critiques that apply to everyone.
Is it a mistake to?
Frame a comment as a question? For example, saying “Have you considered….?” The experts say it is a mistake; we say it’s not. The advice givers recommend women jump in and say, “I propose that…” but that has a very different impact. Framing a comment as a question invites participation and positions you, the woman, as a knowledge expert.
Apologize. It depends, but the advice givers have a point. Women tend to over-apologize.
Downplay a compliment. Yes. All of us, but particularly women, are taught to downplay their own abilities. The flip side of this is that when you get a compliment for a job well done, it’s always because you’ve gotten support from your team. It’s a good idea to share the compliment with them.
Upspeak or uptalk, ending a sentence with a rising pitch or intonation. Yes, and this does seem to be a predominantly female habit. The solution is to practice rhetorical exercises and end the sentence with a lower intonation. The most complete resource is Virgil Anderson’s 1940s book, Training the Speaking Voice. (https://www.amazon.com/training-Speaking-Second-Anderson-Virgil/dp/B000…)
Ask permission rather than stating your intention, saying “Would it be okay if I work from home tomorrow to meet a repairman?” No – and yes. In this situation, you’d better know your boss or colleague. What if he or she responds, “Oh, I had planned to have you join me in that 10:00 meeting with the new client.” If you’re one of these people who ask permission for every little thing, maybe it’s a habit to consider correcting.
Over answering, going on and on. Yes, but this isn’t limited to women. In fact, we have found that males in technical fields are the worst offenders.
The biggest overall difference between men and woman are their voices. It’s not politically correct to point this out, but women’s voices tend to be pitched higher, frequently much higher, than men. This makes them sound girlish and many key audiences automatically assume this means the speaker is less competent. Generally, vocal quality is directly related to breathing. The speaker with a high, breathy voice is only taking shallow breaths and forming the sound at the back of the mouth. The solution is to breathe from the diaphragm. Virgil Anderson’s 1940s book, Training the Speaking Voice, cited above, is the seminal book on the subject and available on Amazon. There are also numerous videos on the
All the books and video use or build on material from Anderson’s book.
The second issue that penalizes women more than men is appearance. This isn’t fair but it’s a fact of life.
Business casual is terrible for women. Our advice to women is to dress one level up from their male
counterparts. If you look at female CEOs like Virginia Rometty (IBM,) or Indra Nooyi (Pepsico) or leaders
like Transportation Secretary Elaine Chou, they are excellent role models in their attire, hair style and
physical fitness. Again, not fair but a fact of life. I was asked to critique a group of PhDs speaking at a
prestigious conference. These were all highly accomplished mature women. They all dressed in black,
which they thought made them look slimmer. Several had skirts that fell several inches above the knee,
a look which is not flattering up on a stage. The stage had a black backdrop so the speakers melted into
it, leaving their faces floating across the stage. Several had hair styles that appeared to have been
adopted during their graduate school years. Again, fair? Of course not.
Common bad habits displayed by speakers of both genders:
Linking all sentences with ‘and.’ Some speakers fall into the habit of moving from one sentence to the
next without a firm ending, starting each sentence with ‘and.’ The result is blurred speech, and the
speaker never gets a good breath between sentences. This, in turn, causes increasingly shallow
breathing and flattened voice quality.
Hedged speech. Words like “kinda,” “sorta” and “pretty” make the speaker sound weak. Saying, “We
kinda want to try something new,” or “It’s sorta difficult,” or “It’s pretty good.” The goal is clear, concise
speech that sounds confident. Eliminate all hedged speech.
Not enough advanced elements. We expect more from speakers today, even for internal presentations.
These advanced elements include how to set-up a presentation for maximum impact, interaction with
the audience from start to finish, use of props as memory drivers, humor as a leadership tool, and being
a master storyteller of strategic stories.
A sour ‘listening face.’ The presentation is over, or you’re listening to a complicated question, what is
your face signaling? Few people animate their faces when speaking. Animation comes out in hand
gestures and voice. When listening, many faces go slack which can be interpreted in lack of interest. The
only way to benchmark your natural tendency is to rehearse on camera. Most people need to practice
“lifting” the face. The goal isn’t a smile; it’s to communicate “I like you,” “I’m interested in you.” Facial
expression is directly related to likeability, and that gets people to listen.
So…… (another bad habit, starting each sentence or paragraph with ‘so,’) do women communicate and
present differently from men? Do they have female habits that can limit advancement? Yes, but
communication always comes down to each individual. And (oops) each individual can assess her own
habits and strengths and begin a lifetime journey of continuous improvement.