Why presenting is a bigger challenge for women: the Catch-22 situation!
“to be heard you (read women) need to be competent, and at the same time must be perceived as sympathetic “
This is one of the main conclusion the authors of the book “Speak up dear!” draw. Women need to know how to walk this fine line (come across as both competent and warm when they present), in order to avoid the dangerous Catch-22 situation.
What is this Catch-22 situation, women easily fall into when they speak? And how to solve this dilemma? Are there women, who brilliantly walk this fine line? And what can we learn from them?
In this August Newsletter, I will reveal to you the answers to these questions and will give you concrete examples of how to break through this dilemma, so that you’ll get really noticed and heard as a women presenter! (sorry guys, next time I promise you a unisex subject ;-)).
Our general image of women (mind you, on a more subconscious level) seems to be that women are kind, but not that competent. Yes, really, I am not making this up. There have been loads of studies and research that support this. Many studies show that women are being rated as less competent than men. When test persons for example, are asked to rate the services or products of people, they rate these products higher when they thought they came from men than when they thought they derived from women. (p. 28 Speak up Dear!). Therefore, the authors conclude:
“To counter balance this, it is important for women to become comfortable in self-promotion”.
So, it is very important for women to tell and show, that they are indeed competent and professional. But, here it comes; according to the authors of the book, as soon as women do this, the public will judge them. Both men and women will perceive them as unkind and even perceive them as being unpleasant. (p. 52 Lean in. Case study Harvard Business School).
How unfair! So, women need to do self-promotion in order to be taken serious, but as soon as they do this, it will turn against them. So, here we women find ourselves in a Catch-22 situation! So, what can you do to solve this? How to counter this Catch-22 phenomenon?
“You need to come across as both competent and sympathetic!”
How to do this, as if presenting in itself is not audacious enough ;-). To answer this question, we will have a brief look at Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Face book). Who in her 2011 Commencement speech (for women graduates of Barnard college) shows that she is perfectly capable of “being competent and sympathetic at the same time ”, while presenting.
Sheryl comes across as competent and professional and she already has her reputation in her pocket (COO of Face book). She has done her homework, know all the studies, facts to support her message, she has strong gestures that support her story, a low voice and a fantastic structure to underpin her message. But, let’s zoom in on the other pillar. What is it that Sheryl does, to come across as a warm person at the same time? This can be summarized in 4 P’s : PUBLIC, PERSONAL STORIES, PLAYFUL and PURE.
You can tell by watching this 20-minute presentation that Sheryl has really put herself in her audience’s footsteps. She does not start with, I have come to tell you this and that etcetera, etcetera. She starts with how it must feel for all the graduates sitting there in the audience. What it must feel like for them. See, how often she appeals to the public, by using the word you!
“You may not remember one word I say, you may not remember who your graduation speaker is, you won’t remember that it was raining and we had to move inside, but you will remember what matters, which if how you feel as you sit here, as you walk across the stage starting the next phase of your life”.
2) PERSONAL STORIES
Her presentation is chock-full of personal stories to underpin the data she provides. By doing this, we can identify with her. As an audience you get the feeling you “know” her, which makes her like “a friend”. To support the data of the phenomenon that success and likeability are positively correlated to men and negatively correlated to women. In other word, men are liked for their success, women not. She shares her own experience with this phenomenon.
“I have experienced this first-hand. When I first arrived at Face book there was a blog out in the valley that devoted several pixels to trashing me. Anonymous sources called me a liar, two-faced, … I cried some when I was alone, lost myself a bunch of sleep. … in the end my best response was to do my job and do it well. When face book’s performance improved, the trash went away.”
She takes her subject, but not herself that seriously. It could easily have become this heavy, “ohh how terrible for me” talk. But as soon as it becomes too heavy, she puts it into perspective, by making a joke. The effect of it is that it portrays her as a likeable person. Someone you could easily be friends with. After having told how excruciating it was, having her name trashed on internet, she continues ironically.
“Then I told myself it did not matter. Then everyone else told me it did not matter. Which reminded me only of one thing; they were reading it too!!”.
Her expression, voice, gestures are truly congruent with her story. The effect of this is that she becomes credible, she “owns” her story. You believe her. For instance when she addresses her friend and says, I am grateful, she touches her heart. When she addresses her public, she slows down her tempo and emphasizes the most important words “you have bouuuuuuundlessopportunities in front of you”! She has a lot of expression in her face and it is a joy to watch. It truly underpins every sentence she speaks. Serious statistic, serious face. A story or fact that is not that great, a “not that nice” expression.
So, to all you women, who feel addressed to; put your public in first place, use personal stories, do not take yourself too serious (be playful) and really own your story (be pure). Then, you may almost permit yourself shameless self-promotion unscathed ;-)!! But, more importantly, I think you will have more fun!
1) Speak up Dear! Farah Nobbe en Nathalie Holwerda-Mieras.
2) Lean in. Sheryl Sandberg.
3) Youtube: Sheryl Sandberg commencement speech Barnard College 2011.