Why is Public Speaking Important for Women in Leadership?
©2004, Carla Kimball
All rights reserved.
I was recently asked to write an article
on this subject for the Massachusetts Women in Technology (MassWit) Spectrum
newsletter. This article represents a new, but very exciting direction
for me as it gave me the opportunity to integrate an academic research
interest from a number of years ago with my current interest in public
speaking and I wanted to share it with visitors to my site.
A couple of years after receiving my MBA in 1982, I was a struggling
computer consultant. With a year of self-training in dBase and a minimal
understanding of how computers worked, I was offered the position of software
specialist by the dean of my business school alma mater. The primary responsibility
for me in this newly-formed position would be to design, develop and teach
a computer-based decision support course for an also newly- formed executive
education program, and to teach software applications to incoming MBA
students. Gulp… While this was a tremendous opportunity for me,
inside I cringed.
Until that time I had been only minimally successful at overcoming my
deep-seated fear of speaking in public by forcing myself to speak up in
class when I was attending business school. But the thought of teaching
classes – and to executives no less – was terrifying! I was
faced with a dilemma. Either I accept this dream job that was offered
to me on a platter and find a way through my fear, or to continue to shy
away from speaking in public and plod along at jobs that really weren’t
How often has this happened to you? How often have you passed up job opportunities
because they meant that you would have to do presentations? How often
have you asked others to speak for you when, in fact, you were the expert
on the topic? How often have you hidden in the background, wanting to
be heard but afraid to speak up?
While fear of public speaking has been reported as the nation’s
number one fear, research has shown that women have exceptionally large
obstacles to overcome. In the last 20 years Carol Gilligan, The Stone
Center at Wellesley College, and other sociologists and educators have
focused their research specifically on women’s development from
adolescence through adulthood. In Women’s Growth in Connection,
Stone Center authors describe their findings that while a strong developmental
theme for women centers around relationship and connection, developing
a “voice” or the ability to express themselves is especially
challenging. Carol Gilligan, in her book Mapping the Moral Domain,
found that girls in early adolescence lose their ability to speak up.
Formerly outspoken and vocal, girls in their early teens become silent
and afraid to stand out.
Mary Belencky and coauthors, in their book Women’s Way of
Knowing, describe the various ways that women know and, therefore,
communicate. The first three modes of knowing – silence, received,
and subjective - involve women not speaking for themselves. It is only
in the procedural and constructed knowledge positions that women begin
to integrate all their voices and are able to speak up. From the procedural
position, women become adept at communicating publicly their reasoning
and objective knowledge, and from the constructed position, women are
more likely to speak from an original, complex and integrated knowledge
Public speaking requires both the ability to speak up and to relate to
others. It isn’t just about standing in front of a podium and speaking
to a large audience. It also means speaking up in meetings, communicating
effectively with clients, and answering tough questions presented by a
team of colleagues and superiors. It means being able to convey your ideas
effectively on the telephone, one-on-one and to small and large groups
of people. It is the ability to influence and inspire others and to effect
change. It means to speak with agency, credibility and authority. It means
to have impact. It means to be visible, to take a risk, to take a stand.
It also means to listen well and to establish a strong relationship and
connection with the audience. And, finally, it means to be fully ourselves,
to be authentic – to be confident enough to show our humanity, our
frailties and our vulnerabilities along with our strengths, wisdom and
By definition, effective leadership demands the ability to connect, communicate
and inspire. Daniel Goleman and others, in their ground breaking book
Primal Leadership, say that public speaking is central
to what they call “resonant leadership” and “vital to
many [leadership] competencies”. They describe the four major EQ
(emotional intelligence) competencies as self-awareness, self-management,
social awareness and relationship skills. Belencky and Gilligan refer
to a similar constellation of competencies as “connected knowing”
as opposed to the more masculine “separate knowing” which
roughly parallels Goleman’s description of “dissonant leaders.”
While women in our culture are often quite adept at the connected knowing
states of resonant leadership, until we can overcome the silence that
descended upon us in our adolescence, our natural leadership abilities
will never be fully expressed.
When I was offered that position at the business school, I made the life-changing
decision to take on the challenge. I started by teaching classes in dBase
at a local community college. While extremely difficult for me (I remember
having terrible headaches after every class), this felt like a reasonable
first step towards moving away from the self-constraining limitations
of my fear. After four very successful and gratifying years at the business
school, teaching hundreds of students and execs, I learned how much I
enjoyed sharing my knowledge and expertise in front of a room. And, my
career as a public speaker was launched.
As women, we are natural leaders. We have all the skills and competencies
necessary to influence and inspire people to change and move forward.
However, to really get this out into the world, we must allow ourselves
to be visible, to speak up, to speak out, to simply speak… While
some women are natural extroverts who find their way back to their voice
with relative ease, many of us must make conscious and courageous decisions
and work very hard to move away from the silence that holds us back and
to assume our natural roles as leaders.
Carla Kimball, M.A., M.B.A. is a speaking
presence coach, workshop facilitator and president of RiverWays Enterprises.
Over the past 18 years she has presented and coached on a diverse set
of business, stress management and communication topics to thousands of
business and service professionals. Client companies include leading financial
management, health care, and accounting firms.
Carla offers a selection of regular public speaking presence
and presentation skills programs
and coaching services for individuals as well as for corporate
groups. Carla works from inside-out and helps people become more confident
speakers while establishing a strong relationship with their audience.
Carla is a prolific writer on public speaking topics
and currently offers a 26 week subscription to The
ABCs of Presence in Speaking, Leading, and Life!, a newsletter
which presents one article and exercise a week organized alphabetically
with a unique perspective on public speaking issues. She has also distilled
her approach to public speaking presence into a workbook/audio set entitled
Carla is based in the Upper Valley region of Vermont
and New Hampshire at the intersection of Interstates 91 and 89 and centrally
located to all of New England, including Boston, Western Massachusetts,
Connecticut and Maine.
Women's Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self, Voice and Mind.
Mary Field Belenky, Blythe Clinchy, Nancy Rule Goldberger, Jill Mattuck
Tarule. 1986, Basic Books, Inc.
Mapping the Moral Domain. Carol Gilligan, J. V. Ward
& J. M. Taylor (Eds). 1988, Harvard University Press.
Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence.
Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, Annie Mckee. 2002, Harvard Business
Women's Growth in Connection: Writings from The Stone Center.
Judith V. Jordan, Alexandra G. Kaplan, Jean Baker Miller, Irene P. Stiver
and Janet L. Surrey. 1991, The Guilford Press.
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are centrally located in the Upper Valley region of Vermont and New Hampshire
close to the intersection of Interstates 89 and 91. As such we are in
in the heart of New England and close to Boston and all of Massachusetts,
Vermont, Connecticut, New York and Maine.
Travel time from:
Albany, NY — 2.75 hours
Boston, MA — 2.25 hours
Brattleboro, VT— 1.25 hours
Burlington, VT — 1.5 hours
Concord, NH — 1 hour
Hartford, CT — 2.5 hours
Portland, ME — 3 hours
Portsmouth, NH — 2 hours