“How can women learn to command more confidence in the boardroom?”
That was the question I was asked to address at a recent Georgia Banker’s Association conference. I have been an executive speaker coach for 17 years at Jackson Spalding and I have seen it all. From a CEO who had a message meltdown before a media interview to a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon who took a beta blocker (medication that reduces blood pressure) to calm his nerves before simply PRACTICING public speaking. I am in the business of building confidence for both men and women. So nothing surprises me when it comes to public speaking phobias. But the question perplexed me – do women truly lack confidence more than men?
In their recent book, The Confidence Code, journalists Katy Kay and Claire Shipman identify a “confidence gap” that begins in elementary school and continues from the playground into work. Studies show that women are interrupted more often, apply for jobs less often, and when they put themselves out there they may be penalized for being overly assertive. Meanwhile, men enjoy something known as “honest overconfidence,” meaning they innately rate their personal performance and abilities higher than they are in reality, boosting their confidence on many fronts. There is even new terminology fueling social media fodder:
- Manterrupting – a man interrupting a woman
- Bropropriating – a man taking a woman’s idea
- Mansplaining – a man condescendingly explaining to a woman
This seems to be more of a confidence gulf than a confidence gap.
So back to the boardroom dilemma – how can women command more confidence? Building confidence takes time and effort, trial and error, but there are immediate changes one can make. As the motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said, “You cannot climb the ladder of success dressed in the costume of failure.”
Here are three quick costume changes for an instant confidence boost.
- Body – Strike a Wonder Woman pose before a meeting for a surge of confidence-building testosterone. According to research by Amy Cuddy, an expansive body position can actually boost your confidence. Sit forward and be at the table. One study showed women are interrupted less often when they sit forward at the table.
- Voice – Record your voice to check for distracting vocal tics such as “uptalk” (upward inflections that make you sound uncertain) and “vocal fry” (groggy vocal patterns that make you sound disengaged). Work toward Perfect P’s – pitch, pace, pauses and pronunciation. Stop being overly apologetic. Somehow our propensity to please and not offend has translated into high-frequency “I’m sorry.” Don’t be sorry for speaking up!
- Eyes – Use consistent eye contact with everyone in the room for a confidence booster. It may seem counterintuitive because when we are nervous we tend to look away; however wandering eyes increase nerves and appear less commanding.
Download the Jackson Spalding Commanding Confidence Checklist for more public speaking confidence tips and a self-assessment.