My 2019 mission: Increase diversity in speaking

Helen Southgate of Acceleration Partners on why women should not be afraid to take the stage and shares some tips for speaking success

Helen Southgate

Over the past few months I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the role women play within our industry. At Acceleration Partners 80% of our team is female and that’s across all levels. I know that women make up a significant percentage of all the companies in the affiliate space. Yet I continue attending events and conferences where less than 30% of the speakers are women, and I’m perplexed at why this is still the case. I am working with some of my team and other interested parties within our industry to see if we can do something about this in 2019.

In order to solve a problem, you have to understand the cause. There are some deep rooted cultural and life stage reasons why some women refrain from public speaking. As well as tangible challenges including, confidence, concerns around knowledge and experience, companies putting regular speakers forward rather than nurturing new talent, the fear of being disliked or disagreed with also seem to be at play. 

This isn’t limited to women, many men have these same fears, it just seems to be more prevalent in women. I am no psychologist, but my feeling is it is unlikely to be genetic and more of a cultural phenomenon. Many young women had few female business role models, we were often told to behave like ‘ladies’, to be polite, not aggressive, not passionate, quiet and demur.  Many of these things subconsciously learned from childhood stay with us for a long-time; if not forever. 

After speaking to people across the industry, one suggestion was that I should explain why I put myself forward to speak publicly, and the challenges I have had to overcome. I hope this will encourage other people to give it a go. 

1. Be yourself 

Many people assume that to be a public speaker you need to be confident, outgoing and have charisma. You don’t, you just need to be you.

People will see straight through you if you try to be anything other than yourself, and why would you want to anyway? Some of the best speakers are introverts. You don’t need to be loud or extroverted to have presence. People want to listen to someone who is interesting and that they can learn from.

2. Only ever speak about something you care about 

One of the reasons I speak is because I feel driven to because I care about the subject. It might be that I want to share an experience, talk about a situation that was challenging or inspire people to do something different. Regardless of what it is, I care about it.  If you don’t care about the subject, don’t talk about it. If you speak about what you are passionate and interested in and you’ll find it much less daunting.

3. You will be nervous 

People often ask me if I still get nervous before a public speaking event. The answer is, yes, every single time. Anyone that says they don’t is either lying or a robot. This is part of the whole experience, it gets the adrenalin pumping and helps you perform. The nerves don’t go away, but as you become more experienced you understand them better and know that they will pass once you are a few minutes into your talk. 

4. Not everyone will agree with, or even like you

This is the element of public speaking that I have found the hardest. Once you put yourself out there you open yourself up to criticism, this is rarely pleasant or comfortable.

But why should you care? It really doesn't matter if someone disagrees with what you are saying, at least you are creating some debate. And do you like everyone you see speak? I know I don’t, so it’s reasonable to think that someone might not like you when you speak out.  

If everyone agrees with you and everyone likes you, then you probably aren’t saying anything particularly interesting. Accept the rough with the smooth and learn to be comfortable within yourself. 

Several years ago, I had a speaking slot at PI Live, it was a small, cramped room and a friend of mine was late and couldn’t get in. They were waiting around outside nearby one of the exhibition stands when a person on that stand commented “why would you want to go and listen to her anyway?”. I delivered a good session, I enjoyed it, people were entertained and I had positive feedback.  However, the one thing that stands out from that day was what my friend told me. 

It struck me then that if you are to put yourself in the public eye then you can’t be precious about what you say or what other people think of you. And like my experience the negatives will be far outweighed by the positives. Once you learn this, believe me, it will set you up for whatever life throws at you.

Helen Southgate is Managing Director of Acceleration Partners, a global affiliate marketing consultancy.

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