Are Women Being Heard?
by Dana Bristol-Smith

Only 8 Fortune 500 companies are run by women, and a total of 16 Fortune 1000 companies have women in the top job. Michael Kinsman of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that women hold just 15.7 percent of top management jobs in Fortune 500 companies. There are many reasons, theories, and opinions as to why women still lag behind men in the top jobs.

But what happens in conference rooms and at company-wide meetings? When women speak, are they being heard? Some women don’t think so. Several women I recently spoke with are in the scientific field, a field dominated by men. They felt that their biggest challenge was being heard and that sometimes the same information presented by a man to the same audience would be heard and listened to with more respect and perceived credibility.

Well it seems that both women and men can learn from each other when it comes to giving presentations. Dave Zielinski of Presentations Magazine explored the subject in depth in his article From the Playground to the Podium: What Men and Women Can Learn from Each Other.

I’d like to share with you Dave’s conclusions & my thoughts on what men and women can learn from each other in the presenting arena.

What Women Can Learn From Men

1. Quash the qualifiers

Dave: Women often soften their statements by qualifiers such as I sort of thought, in my opinion or this might be a better way. Compare these statements: In my opinion, the project will work better if we bid separately versus The project will work better if we bid separately. The latter is more powerful.

Dana: Please remove the word like from your vocabulary in inappropriate places. For example: The real estate market in this area has appreciated like 25 percent in the last year. versus The real estate market in this area has appreciated 25 percent in the last year.

2. Go by the numbers

Dave: When organizing a message, many men like to announce a number before each point: Point 1 is X, Point 2 is Y, Point 3 is Z. This isn’t always good in personal conversation, but it works well in presentation settings where audiences have less patience for rambling or digression.

Dana: This is a great tactic for keeping both the presenter and the audience on track. It also helps in the development of a presentation to prioritize and organize your information.

3. Accessorize minimally

Dave: Because women have more clothing options than men, the odds are greater they’ll make apparel decisions that distract an audience. Presentation coaches suggest simple but classy attire and the minimal accessorizing.

Dana: Remember you want to keep your apparel a step up from your audience. If you are being brought in as a subject matter expert, be sure to look the part. Audiences make very quick judgments on your credibility from your appearance alone.

4. Grab authority and keep it

Dave: Whether it’s true or not, many men seem more comfortable with authority than women. Women who want to be perceived as more authoritative should minimize the factors that undermine authority—digression, indecisiveness, equivocation—and learn to be assertive in a way that radiates confidence.

Dana: Speak clearly, directly and project confidence with your voice. If you believe and know that what you have to say is important, your audience will too.

What Men Can Learn From Women

1. Temper the talking head

Dave: Replace the monologue with dialogue. Energize the audience by asking questions, getting feedback, have a conversation with the audience; don’t lecture.

Dana: Change the dynamic every few minutes – go from telling a story, to having interaction, to showing visuals – keep it moving.

2. Use inclusive language

Dave: Women tend to use words such as we, our and us, while men tend to say I, me and mine more often. Check your ego at the door and get better results.

Dana: Also remember to be inclusive by making eye contact around the room, one person at a time.

3. Cater to the audience

Dave: Men more often present from their own perspective of what they think the audience should know, rather than thoroughly researching what the audience wants to learn or hear. Men are also slower to shift gears if they sense they are losing an audience. Women, it seems, are better at accurately gauging the emotional temperature and interest level of a room.

Dana: Amen to that!

4. Emote every now and then

Dave: No matter how the genders evolve, females will probably always be more comfortable expressing their emotions than males. But times have changed for men. Crybabies aren’t exactly in vogue, but displaying honest emotions is now associated more with inner strength than with weakness.

Dana: Remember Mayor Rudy Giuliani after 9/11? He was strong, clear, and certainly emoting. Rather than coming off as weak, he portrayed strength, compassion and a human believability. These are very important qualities for a leader. If you can tap into the emotions of your audience you will always have a better connection – speak to their hearts and minds.

5. Don’t drone

Dave: Whether it’s to avoid showing emotion or seeming too enthusiastic about something, men are the champions of vocal monotony in the presentation world. The answer isn’t to talk more like a woman, but the least you can do is be a less boring man.

Dana: We all want to hear speakers who are passionate and enthusiastic about what they present. I’m not suggesting that men become cheerleaders, but a little enthusiasm, a smile and some energy in the voice will do wonders. See if this helps: Imagine a recent sports game you attended and think about what you would tell your best friend about the game. I bet you’d have some enthusiasm and energy in your voice.

The bottom line is there’s lots that we can learn from each other.

About the Author

Dana Bristol-Smith is the founder of Speak for Success, an organization that works with companies that want their people to communicate with confidence and credibility. You can email Dana