Prominent journalist, Catherine McGrath perceives public speaking as a professional imperative.
But throughout her long career, she’s also seen many leaders flounder; unable to speak up at work because they’re obstructed by fear. This was the impetus for her starting a unique training program two years ago, #WomenSpeaking which helps professional women establish public speaking confidence.
Yesterday, she spoke with our Editor-in-chief Tarla Lambert about the steps you need to take to improve your speaking skills at work and reassess how you think about the ‘imposter syndrome’ myth that may be pulling you back.
“Speaking in public is important because you are sharing the work you’re doing,” McGrath says. “That’s why people get nervous about it. You want to ‘win’, like a tennis player. These interactions are important. It’s a serious engagement.”
But are women more prone to public speaking anxiety?
McGrath believes there’s a definite confident deficient among women due to the fact that we simply haven’t been in the workforce for as long as men, historically speaking.
“Compared with men, women haven’t been working for decades and decades,” she remarked. “We haven’t got that history. Many of us were not trained at a young age. We’re so much in deficit training. It’s normal to have nerves at every stage in our lives. As a cohort, we haven’t had enough practice. We’re behind in all the training.”
There’s also a double standard placed on women, with McGrath saying the statistics speak volumes.
“It’s absolutely clear that a different standard does apply,” she said. “The stats show there is a lack of seniority and pay between men and women. It’s not equal yet. There are not as many women at the top. There are still not as many women keynote speakers. You look at the conferences, it’s still majority male.”
“There’s a lot more women offered jobs at junior level, but not at the top of the ranks. We need to get to the point where every woman has a voice. That’s the goal. No matter your language, background, sector, age, you can be there.”
Oh, and what should we do about the mansplainers? (Because we know they’re far from uncommon in workplaces). McGrath has some very healthy, productive tips.
“If you’re interrupted by a man, try saying to them ‘You go ahead, okay, but I’m still going to finish what I wanted to say.'”
“Or you can set up a face to face conversations. Sit down with them or ask them for a coffee. Then just saying something like, ‘I just want to raise with you — you are interrupting me when I speak. It’s really important I want to let you know this. I felt you interrupted me.’ Then see where that goes.”
1. Plan and strategise
“Planning and strategy is the key. You’ve got to have the plan and know what you want to deliver. Know where you’re heading. Be clear about your objective.” No one is going to promote your project like you. “You know that this is your job, so don’t just expect to wing it. Work on your material so that you’re in your flow. Imagine that mindset. Try to get into that mindset of, ‘I’m on fire’ That’s your target.”
2. Embrace the nerves
“Embrace the nerves, and they will help,” says McGrath.
“It’s energy. It’s good energy, the same way with any engagement. Look at what kind of energy you want and need. Embrace the nerves. Stand in your space and conjure out that personality. This is just a professional skill you can master. Get used to feeling the physical space around you. Visualise it.”
“Do it in small steps and practise on people outside of the work context. Go to post office and strike up a conversation. Have that engagement, and get used to being seen and heard.”
4. Arm yourself with meeting-ready phrases
“Think about what are three points there you really want to raise in any presentation or speech. List them. Be ready to use these phrases. Get them prepared. You want to convince people. That’s what you’re trying to do. Just because I use them a lot, doesn’t mean it loses its meaning. For instance, my meeting-reading phrase is: “Speaking is a professional and business skill you can master.”