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‹ View all articles 16th November 2016

Male stereotypes in public speaking

Nerves and Confidence

So a few weeks back I wrote about female empowerment through public speaking. Gender issues are barriers that can seem very real, mostly because of the way we've been conditioned to think by society. I had a lovely comment from Jutta on that post... while I was doing research for this blog post.

Shouldn’t we rather talk about feminine and masculine behaviour instead of female and male behaviour? For example I know many men with confidence problems, and confident, extremely target oriented women who tend to neglect relationships.

Jutta is right. Difficulties can't be necessarily tossed onto the lap of the 'Gender' issue but in many ways the way we're TAUGHT to behave as women and men have an impact on the way we communicate.  So to our gentleman speakers... this one's for you.

Not your type... of stereotype.

“Be a man,” “suck it up,” and “don’t cry” are only a few phrases bandied about as ego-damaging constructs built into our society. There are more... lots more.

  • Men do not do housework and they are not responsible for taking care of children
  • Men play video games
  • Men play sports
  • Men are in charge; they are always at the top
  • As husbands, men tell their wives what to do
  • Men are lazy and/or messy
  • Men are good at math
  • It is always men who work in science, engineering, and other technical fields

And another bullet point list for you...

Men are:

  • independent
  • non-emotional
  • aggressive
  • tough-skinned
  • competitive
  • clumsy
  • experienced
  • strong
  • active
  • self-confident
  • hard
  • rebellious

I know, I know. This is so fundamentally wrong on so many levels. And so many of us know this just isn't accurate anymore.

How does this impact public speaking?

When we’re caught up in the turmoil of “what might they think about me?” or "This is how I'm supposed to act" it’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to hide our personalities and look and sound like everyone else.

It’s what I hear every day from clients who worry about whether they’re looking ‘professional enough’ when they’re presenting.

Gentlemen (and ladies too) do you recognise any of these feelings around your own presentations?

  • This is important – I must make sure I look the part
  • I just want to get through it without making a fool of myself
  • I must make sure I know everything about my subject
  • I can’t let them think I’m frivolous / frothy / lacking in substance
  • The boss is coming… so it has to be serious
  • Where’s my Powerpoint? That will make me look professional

Most public speakers stress and struggle about trying to “seem confident” and “look fearless”, irrespective of how they’re feeling inside. They often fall into the trap of pushing nerves away to show the audience a plastic sheen of confident public speaking. But so long as you’re pushing away your fears and nerves, you’re acting, rather than connecting with your audience.

For men specifically, many of these stereotypes have the effect of learning to talk AT an audience instead of TO them. I can't even imagine how exhausting it must be to be expected to know everything, always be competitive, and win win win! Inspiring public speaking is about letting the real YOU shine through... no matter what that looks/sounds/feels like.

Just the facts please. Emotions need not apply.

In the “Forbes” article “How to Be a Part of the Male Conversations at Work,” author Heather R. Huhman reports that women focus more on feelings and tend to talk about people while men focus more on facts and logic and tend to talk about tangible things such as business or sports.

Women are emotional, but they're NOT the only ones. An interesting recent study shows that men may very well be just as emotional or even more emotional than women. The only difference? Men hide it better. In this study, conducted by neurologists at Mindlab, men are actually much more sensitive than women when it comes to being presented with emotional stimuli.

Neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis who led the study said, 'Gender stereotypes about men being stoic and women being emotional are reinforced by our day to day consumption of media and our social interactions. This study suggests that men feel emotion just as much as women, sometimes more strongly, but are less willing to express these emotions openly due to expectations put on them by society.'

How does this impact public speaking?

Well gosh, you say, this isn't really an issue. If men are conditioned to just give information then public speaking should be a breeze yes?

Not necessarily.

Why?

  • Emotions connect us to each other. No connection means it’s difficult to want to listen to you.
  • As neuroscience is showing, the majority of our decisions are based on emotion rather than logic. We’ll understand your message if it’s logical. But we’ll believe and act on your message if we feel it.
  • Emotions aid memorability. Whether we’re laughing, crying or being disgusted, if we feel something we’ll remember what you have to say for longer.

Don't buy into the hype.

Fitting in with everyone else by sticking to the usual format of, “Here is my bullet pointed numbered and outlined in red presentation” without emotional connection or voice inflection, or any personality whatsoever actually has the opposite effect – it makes it more difficult to learn from a speaker. Our memory latches onto things that:

  • Emotionally resonant with us 
  • Are unique or memorable in some way.

It’s actually unprofessional to keep the audience at a distance by presenting a cold, calculated speech as it doesn’t allow the audience to connect with you and ultimately your message. So to be a true presentation pro, we want to see your emotion and something from you that makes your material stick out. 

We can sometimes struggle to appreciate our own capacity to influence. That’s because we see our own nerves and self doubts from the inside (which is messy) – and we see everyone else’s confidence and great performance from the outside (which of course looks oh, so impressive). Whilst we separate ourselves from ‘those who can’, we won’t allow ourselves to shine as authentic, inspiring speakers.

Isn’t it about time that you stop “giving a speech”? Isn't it time to stop buying into the gender stereotypes? Isn’t it time to become relaxed, uninhibited, and genuine? The most effective speakers don’t change. They may ratchet their voice up a notch and use bigger gestures on stage, but they always ring with authenticity.

 

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