six things we can learn about public speaking from powerful women

Six Things We Can Learn About Public Speaking From Powerful Women

It’s International Women’s Day (8 March 2021 if you’re reading this later on) and we are gladly taking this opportunity to honour all of the generous, powerful, intelligent women in the world. From our friends and family to global leaders, businesswomen and every woman in between. To celebrate, we thought we’d share some insights and lessons for public speaking – or even just speaking up in a meeting – from powerful women around the world. 

As an office full of women here at Persuaders, we love learning from other women. In a time where women are needed more than ever to step up, lead and share their voice, here are six things you can learn from some of our favourite women – no matter who you are or how you identify. 

1. Amy Cuddy – Be Authentic

Amy Cuddy speaking on stage

One of our favourite TED Talks is Amy Cuddy’s talk on Body Language. And it’s not for the reasons you probably expect. 

Her content is interesting (though it has been heavily criticised). Simply put: Cuddy says you can fool your mind into thinking you’re more confident than you are by taking a “power pose”. You can stand like Wonder Woman with your hands on your hips or with your hands held a loft like Usain Bolt crossing the finishing line. She recommends doing this for 2 minutes – privately of course – before walking on stage. This also works for interviews, high-pressure meetings, or any other environment where you feel like you could use a little more emotional strength.  

But there’s another reason why we love Cuddy’s talk so much.

During her speech, her posture is not perfect. She is a little hunched, uses her hands a lot, and does not radiate the type of exuberance one may expect from such a topic. Yet her talk is a phenomenal success with over 47 million views and has been transcribed into over 50 languages. 

She achieves this because she is calm in her imperfection. She is human and relatable. 

While her speech contains numerous tips and tricks for mastering the art of communication and confidence in public speaking – the first lesson we can take away from this is to be authentic.

This need for authenticity is relevant to just about any situation that involves speaking to an audience, and is certainly useful in workplace settings. Whether you’re sitting across from your manager, standing on a stage, or presenting to a client virtually through zoom, being authentic is about sharing who you really are. If you are being true to yourself, it frees up your brain from trying to focus on all the things you “should” be doing, and enables you to really focus on what matters: Sharing the information you’re there to discuss, letting your personality shine through, and connecting with your audience. 

The idea is simple: If the speaker is authentic, it can build a stronger a connection with their listener, thereby improving engagement and retention. 

2. Michelle Obama – Use Storytelling

Michelle Obama holding a microphone and sitting on a red chair being interviewed

Michelle Obama has earned many labels – role model, activist, equality advocate – but it’s her role as a mother that strikes the biggest chord with many audiences. It’s this label that she draws on most frequently when addressing the public. Michelle rarely uses data to drive her point home – she uses stories of her children, understanding that this makes her highly relatable.

We’ve all heard storytelling is the most powerful tool to teach, inspire and ultimately influence! Stories forge connections among people. They pull at heart-strings and, when well-crafted, compel people to action. 

Dynamic presenters like Michelle Obama use stories to help make their point. They tell stories that are personal for them, but have a universal point. 

If you want to connect with your audience and sell them your ideas, you need to tell meaningful stories from your life experiences, and then show your audience how these stories relate to the bigger picture.

3. Maria Forleo – Don’t Shy Away From Humour

Marie Forleo speaking on stage

We have the biggest girl crush on Maria Forleo (#1 NY Times best seller, entrepreneur and business coach) for one main reason: She is ‘slap your thigh’ hilarious.

Whether she’s being interviewed by Oprah or going live on her Instagram – you can’t help but be completely captivated by Forleo’s fun, humorous and vivacious nature. 

Though it can be difficult and a bit daunting, humour is another powerful speaking tactic. When using it, remember tip #1 and don’t force it. 

Humour can: 

  • Put the audience at ease – A relaxed audience is one that will be more present and available to take in the information you want to present.
  • Creates a connection – Humour is the shortest distance between two hearts. It often makes the speaker more approachable and likeable.
  • Makes key points memorable – Various studies over the last decade have confirmed that humour helps people remember what you’re saying. When you present your key points with humour, those points will be more likely to be remembered. Forleo shares more thoughts on how to use humour on her blog. 
  • Makes a better impression – Your audience will remember how you made them feel more than anything else. If you make them smile and laugh they will feel good and you will leave a lasting impression.

4. Amanda Gorman – Incorporate Metaphor

Amanda Gorman speaks at the US Presidential Election

In January 2021, Amanda Gorman made history at the presidential inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, becoming the US’s youngest inaugural poet and first person to be named a National Youth Poet Laureate.

Gorman applies several persuasive techniques to her speech. However, there is one in particular that stands out: Her use of metaphors. While this is expected in poetry, it is still a very powerful tool that can be used in speeches and presentations of all kind.

Metaphors allow us to share complex concepts and topics in ways that are easy to understand and relate to. They remove apprehension relating to topics the audience may worry are too complicated, they bypass inherent biases and transcend stereotypes. The types of metaphors Gorman used at the inauguration described the movement of group of people from a crisis to the resolution of the problem in a notable period of growth. Not surprisingly in a speech about unifying the country, she weaves journey metaphors into her poem in several ways. Her words are moving and artfully composed, yet it’s very clear to the audience what her message is. 

Read the full poem, The Hill We Climb, here.

5. Jane Lu – Bring That Energy

Jane Lu at her desk

You may know Jane Lu as “The Lazy CEO” on Instagram. Despite the contradictory handle, Jane is in fact the founder and CEO of an international fashion retailer: Showpo. She’s also a keynote speaker – largely for startup events – and a mum. 

As a speaker, she often reminisces about the start of her career journey. From beginning her career in corporate finance to becoming the founder of an international retail brand, Lu speaks openly about all the ups and downs she faced along the way. She focuses heavily on her personal journey and looks back at her biggest obstacles in order to motivate future leaders to pursue their own goals and passions. 

When Lu speaks, she is overflowing with excitement, passion and female empowerment onto the stage through her energy. Her confident tone of voice and relatable stories are inspiring and motivating. She demonstrates that there’s value in doing what you love and helps her audience reflect on their own journeys. 

Bringing energy to a presentation doesn’t mean you need to scream and jump around. Be alert, be mindful of your intonation (you’ll lose people very fast if you’re monotoned), move around if you can use open body language.

6. Greta Thunberg – Have Conviction

greta thunberg speaks at a news event

We all have something to learn from 18 year old climate and environmental activist, Greta Thunberg. She is a leading, powerful voice who has inspired millions of people around the world to join the movement to fight climate change. 

Thunberg shares her personal experiences, and backs them up with – often shocking – data. She is clear in her direct language and relays a sense of urgency relating to the climate and ecological emergencies we face today. Skyrocketing to fame when she gave a passionate, eye opening speech at the U.N. Climate Action Summit in 2019, she uses “wake up call” messaging to drive the audience into action, while inspiring hope and change.

Although she speaks well and incorporates provoking statistics on current global warming trends, we are reminded that she speaks from an individual perspective. Her sombre tone of voice evokes an emotional awakening from the audience as she addresses the impact of the deepening crisis facing the younger generation. She is able to deliver powerful and thought-provoking messages through her declarative way of presenting. 

Thunberg believes in her cause wholeheartedly and watching her speak, there is absolutely no denying that fact. Regardless of what you’re discussing, if you know the topic and you believe in yourself and your message, that conviction will always be persuasive. 

Ready to level up you’re speaking skills?

Whether you’ve got a big meeting or pitch, coming up or you just feel like you’re not presenting yourself well enough in meetings, public speaker training can help. Persuaders offer group training as well as 1:1 coaching. Get in touch with our team for more. In the meantime, check out this article: Yes, You Can Master Public Speaking. Here’s How.

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